Today’s Post comes to us from Reference Librarian, Gina Wise.
(note: Whenever possible, poem titles link to online copies of the poem; author names link to the catalog to see other works)
When I studied poetry in high school, I was alarmed at the amount of meaning that could be inferred from a short line, stanza, or entire poem. At that point in my life, analyzing poetry was a mostly unpleasant task, whether it was T.S. Eliot’s lengthy, complicated “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock,” or William Carlos Williams’ short, deceptively simple “The Red Wheelbarrow.” It was satisfying to understand the point (once spelled out by the exasperated teacher), but the effort toward understanding was unnatural and daunting.
Classroom discussions fraught with poetry analysis followed me as I began undergraduate studies at Rutgers University. However, during my freshman year something unexpected happened—I began to enjoy reading poetry. I largely thank Professor Robert Kusch, as it was his class that introduced me to Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool.” We discussed the amazing amount of poetic devices packed into this sparse poem, including rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, assonance, word placement, line length, and breaks. The result is a simple but significant message. I immediately recognized a change as the white space on my 8.5 x 11 photocopy of this short poem filled with notes written all the way to the edge— I was interested. After our class discussion, I understood “We Real Cool” more thoroughly than I thought possible. As amazing as this was, I also loved the poem for its sound. Even today, I can’t read it less than three times in a row. Like a favorite song, I have to press the repeat button. I found that this is another reason to love poetry. It’s not necessary to pick a poem apart to uncover a deeper meaning— instead, you can simply enjoy the way it sounds.
During April, which is National Poetry Month, you’ll notice books of poetry on display in our libraries. We hope that passers-by will be encouraged to flip through these books and discover a poet of interest. Our libraries also house an extensive collection of poetry in the 820s. It’s an easy section to browse, but if you’re unsure where to start, I’ve gathered staff recommendations at the bottom of this post.
In addition to checking out a book, there are several other ways to explore poetry during National Poetry Month.
Did you know that the Town of Brookline has a Poet Laureate program? The program was established by the Brookline Selectmen in 2012. Past Poet Laureates Judith Steinbergh and Jan Schreiber have each held 2-year terms, and their books are in our library collection. Applications for the 2017-19 Brookline Poet Laureate are currently in review. Look to the Brookline Commission for the Arts website for the committee’s next selection, information about the program, and past Poet Laureates.
The Public Library of Brookline offers the Taste of Poetry program, a monthly poetry discussion established by librarian Rosalie Bookston. I now lead this well-attended group the first Thursday of each month from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Brookline Village Conference Room. We read aloud and discuss a packet of about six poems by a published poet—no preparation required. Taste of Poetry members appreciate the deeper understanding gained from group discussion. We also look forward to the company of fun, spirited poetry enthusiasts.
In addition to this discussion group, the Public Library of Brookline provides Hunneman Hall as the monthly meeting space for the Brookline Poetry Series on the third Sunday of each month. At these events, one or two established poets read, followed by an open mic. The Brookline Poetry Series was founded by poet Dianne Collins Ouellette, whose mission was to create a quality venue for local poets, both published and yet-to-be published; to create a place for a multiplicity of poetic voices; and to create a series particularly dedicated to featuring the work of Brookline poets. The schedule and more details are on our library website.
Finally, www.poets.org, www.poetryfoundation.org, www.masspoetry.org, and www.brooklinearts.org are all excellent resources. I hope this post has inspired you to explore poetry a bit further during April, and perhaps beyond.
Poetry Suggestions from our Staff:
Isaac Ball, Library Page, Brookline Village
Ovid, Metamorphoses—particularly the story of “Philemon and Baucis,” wherein an elderly couple is host to the disguised gods Jupiter and Mercury. In return for their hospitality, they were spared from the next natural disaster and were turned into intertwining trees upon their deaths. In the original Latin the work is full of puns and vivid imagery.
Krista Barresi, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
One of my favorite poems is “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.
Julie Barrett, Library Monitor, Coolidge Corner
My favorite poet is Mary Oliver; her poetry about nature always moves me.
Callan Bignoli, Assistant Library Director for Technology, Public Libraries of Brookline
My favorite poem is “Romance Sonambulo” by Federico García Lorca, a surreal ode to things we want and cannot have. Read in the original Spanish, it’s rhythmic and flowing in its sound and form; the English version is sharper and less poetic. There’s something fitting about that as the poem describes a beautiful pain.
Batia Bloomenthal, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
Pavel Friedmann, “The Butterfly.” Friedman was born in Prague in 1921 and was first deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and then to Auschwitz where he later perished in 1942. The poem itself was found on a piece of paper after the camp was liberated. I admire the strength the young poet must have had to be able to create art in a place such as that.
Robin Brenner, Teen Librarian, Brookline Village
Crush, Richard Siken. I adore his imagery, rhythm, use of repetition, and his sense of feelings roiling under the surface of everyday activities and encounters. Here is “You Are Jeff” from this collection.
“Dirge Without Music,” Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have always loved the defiance of this poem, and I think of it often when I need a reminder to continue to be strong in the face of hardships.
“Dulce et Decorum Est,” Wilfred Owen. I have always appreciated the World War I poets for managing to put into words the horrors and effect of that war on its soldiers. Wilfren Owen I find particularly powerful, and this is his most famous poem.
“Let America Be America Again,” Langston Hughes
“Still I Rise,” Maya Angelou— which I almost always want to hear HER read because her voice is amazing.
“Nunc est Bibendum,” Horace. I have a strong memory of translating this poem in my Latin class in college and really enjoying it — as a poem that starts out as a celebration of the death of Cleopatra, but then twists to remark on what a remarkable and powerful foe she really was.
Bill Davidson, Library Assistant, Coolidge Corner
I am fond of Marianne Moore. I was introduced to her poetry in high school. I love her choice of words and how she arranges them on the page. Her list of suggested car names for the Ford Motor Company, for the infamous automobile later named the Edsel, is quite a hoot. Incidentally, the Boston rock band Bullet LaVolta took their name from Marianne Moore’s list.
Catherine Dooley, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
I enjoy T.S. Eliot and Adrienne Rich, particularly her book The Dream of a Common Language. I also like Nikki Giovanni, Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, W.S. Merwin,
Maya Angelou, Rumi, Sharon Olds and Rabindranath Tagore.
Araceli Hintermeister, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
My favorite poet is Billy Collins. I don’t frequent poetry a lot, but I encountered Billy Collins through some stop motion animation and really fell in love with his narration. Here is an example- “Forgetfulness.”
Sam Hunter, Library Page, Brookline Village
My favorite poet is Richard Siken, particularly the poem “Wishbone,” which can be found in Crush, his first, and so far only, book of poetry. Siken utilizes unusual line breaks and metaphors to challenge the reader’s interpretation of the book’s content.
Jim Kass, Library Page, Brookline Village
I am a fan of Mary Oliver.
Bryan Kreusch, Technical Services Library Assistant, Brookline Village
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself.” This poem moves like a river from one image to the next, into and out of lives and bodies and places. “What I shall assume, you shall assume…” He invites the audience to become a part of his experience, sharing in his unique view of the world.
Bruce Macbain, Circulation Library Assistant, Brookline Village
William Blake, “Jerusalem.” Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Roy MacKenzie, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
I really like T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” Percy Shelley‘s “Ozymandias” and “Haiku by a Robot” by Nathan Beifuss.
Andy Moore, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
George Bilgere has published six books of poetry and lives and teaches in Ohio.
Judy Nudelman, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
Adrienne Rich, “Cartographies of Silence.”
Kerry O’Donnell, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
Walt Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass. The way he paints pictures with his words is mesmerizing, and often rhythmic in spite of his use of free verse. Favorites include: “Song of Myself,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “O Captain! My Captain!” and “I Hear America Singing.”
Caroline Richardson, Children’s Librarian, Brookline Village
“Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye is speaking to me right now. I’m also a fan of “Litany” by Billy Collins.
Damian Ruff, Business Manager, Public Libraries of Brookline
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.
Paula Sharaga, Children’s Librarian, Coolidge Corner
Mary Oliver, “The Wild Geese.” Her poems link nature with the heart of being human. Many were written when she lived in Provincetown, a landscape I know well and love.
Sara Slymon, Library Director, Public Libraries of Brookline
Abbey Stephens, Children’s Library Assistant, Brookline Village
I love Rupi Kaur‘s new(ish) book of poems, Milk and Honey.
Maureen Sullivan, Reference Librarian, Brookline Village
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
Danielle Szende, Children’s Library Assistant, Brookline Village
“The Drunken Boat” by Arthur Rimbaud and “The Bronze Horseman” by Alexander Pushkin.
Stephen Toropov, Library Assistant, Putterham
Tracy K. Smith, who won a Pulitzer for her book of sci-fi poems titled Life on Mars. Her mixture of pop culture and personal reflection is fascinating, and she does a lot to blur the lines between “high” and “low” art.
Khara Whitney-Marsh, Library Assistant, Putterham
Here are some of my favorite poets that never fail to uplift and delight, heal and restore me. David Whyte, “Everything Is Waiting For You” and “The House of Belonging.” Denise Levertov, “The Breathing.” Antonio Machado, “Last Night As I Was Sleeping.” Mary Oliver, “The Swan.” Mary Oliver’s poetry is particularly dear to me. Even if I’m indoors, when I sit down with one of her collections, I call it worshiping in the Church of Mary Oliver. Because I can see and feel and smell and love whatever part of Nature she is celebrating with her magic words.