April is also National Poetry Month. If you are like the average American, you’re able to shrug it off pretty well. You might even complain that there seems to be an awful lot of verse on NPR lately. If you hunker down, it will all be over in thirty days. But this month, I want to get you worked up a little bit. I want you to do more than grimace and roll your eyes when someone brings up poetry.
Let me ease you into this. If you absolutely refuse to read poetry, then you might be able to read one book around poets. A great place to start is Nicholson Baker’s novel The Anthologist (ISBN: 9781416572442). It’s great fiction, but you might pick up a few good tidbits about poets in the process. If you think that all poets are coo-coo, then a good place to confirm your suspicions is the hilarious novel Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter (ISBN: 9780061916045).
Perhaps you are the kind of reader that feels reading fiction is a waste of time. If you are a nonfiction junkie, I suggest that you start at the “softer” end of things with The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch. (ISBN: 9780393334876) His memoir about being both a poet and undertaker is surprising. If you want the hard stuff, then I suggest you dive into Edmund White’s biography, Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel (ISBN: 9781934633205). This well-muscled book trims away all the fat from often-overstuffed literary biographies.
Okay, if you haven’t snatched up one of these books—then maybe you just want to read one good book of poems for National Poetry Month. I can keep a secret.
If you only read one book of poems this year make sure it is an anthology. Anthologies don’t guarantee that every poem is a winner, but they give you a little taste of a lot of work. Give yourself a wide range of poets to mock and disparage.
The very best anthology I have read in several years is It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup edited by Jerry Williams. (ISBN: 9781590202821) I will ignore your choking sounds. Yes, this poetry is all about what happens when people crack up. Divided into three categories: One Foot Out the Door, In the Middle of the Storm and the Aftermath, this anthology gives you the entire range of human emotion from rage, guilt, adoration to relief. Best of all, most of these poems are excellent. I would buy the entire anthology for Amy Gerstler’s “F*** You Poem #45” alone.
So this month, give poetry a chance. Check out one of these books. I promise not to tell anyone that when you suavely pass this book off as a gift for someone else—you were really getting it for yourself.