You may already know this (especially if you follow us on Tumblr!), but April is National Poetry Month. Not surprisingly, this is often a popular month at libraries! While we love to celebrate more than books, there’s no denying that libraries have a special connection to the written word. And whether you’re a big fan of poetry or not, there’s also no denying that poems are often some of the best and most creative uses of those words. From Homer to Rumi, from Shakespeare to Maya Angelou, poets and poetry have been part of human culture almost as long as language has.
It’s hard to say what draws us to poetry, but there does seem to be something that appeals to us on a totally different level than plain old prose. I personally have always thought of myself as being not a big poetry person. I certainly have never read a whole book of poetry, and have always preferred to discuss and analyze novels. But as I sat down to write about National Poetry Month, I started really thinking about poetry and my experiences, and I realized something: I have read, recited, and enjoyed a lot of poetry in my life. I have translated Sappho and Catullus and fallen in love with the beauty of their words in any language; I have memorized Tennyson and Dylan Thomas just to ensure their poems stayed fixed in my mind; I have sat rapt at performances of Shakespeare; I devoured The Ballad of Reading Gaol by my favorite author, Oscar Wilde; and I felt my heart swell the first time I read – and again the first time I listened to – Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. When it comes down to it, poetry has been part of my life for years.
But for all I’ve discovered that maybe I am a poetry person, at least a little bit, I still don’t know entirely know why I or anyone else are drawn to poetry rather than prose. I know for me it has something to do with the beauty of the words and the rhythm of meter, but I can get beauty and meter in songs or elegant prose (like anything Wilde has written, for instance!) For other people, it might be the power of the imagery, the satisfaction of a rhyme, or the way certain disruptions of structure are so jarring. It could be the mood or the meaning of the poem, or a memory it evokes. But again, those are all things that can be found elsewhere. Perhaps it is just the way poems bring all these elements together, or perhaps it is something more intangible. I’m not even sure I wish I knew – maybe some of the power of poetry for me lies in the mystery of its appeal!
This National Poetry Month, I want to challenge you to read a poem or two, long or short. But I also want to add to that challenge – think about poetry you have read and loved in the past (there must be some – Mother Goose or Shel Silverstein, if nothing else!) What poetry have you loved? What did you love about it? And what draws you to poetry? Poetry is worth celebrating, so I hope you’ll spend just a few minutes this month re-discovering why!