National Poetry Month recommendations?

It’s National Poetry Month in the US, and it has me thinking…I’m someone who really loves words and creative usage of language, but I’ve never gotten into into poetry. I think that was largely influenced by my middle/high school education, which treated poems as encrypted messages from the poet that could be unlocked through analysis and not works of art to be appreciated in their own right.

Anyway, that’s something I’d love to correct.

For those of you who enjoy poetry: what are some of your favorite poems/favorite poets? What is it that you enjoy about them?

Franny Choi for wonderful contemporary queer conceptions of technology and sexuality
D Gilson for lovely and painful poems (also great essays) about the struggles of growing up queer in the conservative Midwest
Erika Meitner for the construction of new American mythology (although not in the classical sense of the word)
Sharon Olds and Claudia Rankine for being amazing in all the ways

I’ll stop here for now. I could do this for a while.

Is this a good place to ask for recommendations on lit about how to read and write poetry? Because with like one exception (Saul Williams Dead EmCee Scrolls) I’ve never been able to read poems in a way that has… made me feel them, I guess?

Like if someone were to give me a critically acclaimed poem that was supposed to be very emotionally resonant chances are I wouldn’t get it. Often I think this has to do with the formatting of poems and not so much the words they contain but I really don’t know. I’m probably just approaching the material wrong.

It would be cool to me, to finally feel like I understand and also maybe write some stuff of my own.

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Same that’s kind of why I made this post in the first place. I would love to understand how to enjoy it!

Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’ve seen a really helpful piece on poetry analysis, though I’m sure it’s out there. This may not be helpful, but it really works to find someone who is good at analyzing poems and let them totally break down a good poem for you, to show you just how vertical and layered it really is. (So, if you can take a poetry analysis class in your spare time, excellent.)

I can try to do this later (although I think it’s tougher to do in a setting like this), but the first step is to realize that it takes a lot longer to really read a poem than most people give it. You have to read it and read it and read it and then look at every word and how it’s deployed, every line break, every bit of punctuation, really think through the imagery that’s being constructed and the tone that undergirds each line.

To be honest, it takes a lot of patience (and a lot of reading, maybe even writing, poetry), which is why I totally understand that a lot of people are like, “Nah, I’m good.”

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Gertrude Stein is one of my favourites. At the same time, I feel like she’s kind of “a poet’s poet” while also breaking down a lot of this kind of attitude that a poem is a thing that needs to be deciphered to figure out what it means.

On the face of it, her work oftentimes presents a combination of words where it is “obvious” that it doesn’t mean anything. Then the question becomes how does it make you feel, and perhaps as importantly, how would a different arrangement of words make you feel differently.

Susie Asado:

Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
     Susie Asado.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
     Susie Asado.
Susie Asado which is a told tray sure.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips hers.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must.
     Drink pups.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins. It shows a nail.
What is a nail. A nail is unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.

What if “sweet” were repeated four times or six instead of five? Would the sound of that feel different to you?

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Oh what the heck, this is self promotion of the most disgusting sort, but I am inordinately proud of it, so please have a look at Three Denominations

It’s not good, other than I’m proud of pulling off a 3rd-degree acrostic poem. You know those poems where the first letter of every word spells something out. What if the first letter of every word in that also spelled something else out. and again.

(oh btw it is about acid and don quixote)

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I also feel like I don’t “get” a lot of poetry, but here’s three I love. Probably less abstract than the stuff some people might’ve bounced off of before:

Fatimah Asghar - Partition
https://twitter.com/asgharthegrouch/status/1029853141343203328

Mary Oliver - Wild Geese
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv_4xmh_WtE

Tracy K Smith - My God, It’s Full of Stars
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55519/my-god-its-full-of-stars

Andrea Gibson is a personal idol of mine. Their writing focus on queerness and trauma. They have videos on youtube you can watch. Honestly, I prefer my poetry read to me, rather than written down.

Actually, I would say the general take in contemporary poetry, and the way it’s typically taught these days, is that abstraction should be secondary to concrete dramatic situation and imagery.

Here’s a favorite recent example, from Franny Choi:

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I 100% feel this and it makes me so sad because it took multiple classes with really good professors as a literature/cw student (kind of ironic I guess) to break me out of this mindset to the point where I could actually enjoy reading poetry. I think part of the issue is that actual contemporary poetry rarely gets taught in favor of “Old Masters”-type stuff, so we rarely get exposed to poetry written with respect to the world we know. (Not to say poetry can’t be timeless and relatable across generations, but it’s often treated like that’s the default and I feel like that pushes people away). People usually have tastes in poetry as they do in other media, and, for me, part of starting to enjoy the medium was figuring out that it’s okay to not enjoy certain poems in the same way I don’t enjoy certain books or films. Which is like, a super basic thing in terms of consuming media, but it was so hard to grasp for me with poetry.

(That said I’ve always really loved Dover Beach, I think for the same reasons I love post-apocalyptic fiction and Dark Souls anything that’s super melancholy, but that was my exception.)

There are some really great suggestions here already (and I am not a poetry expert in any sense whatsoever, just a fan), but a personal favorite of mine is a poet named Sally Wen Mao. She has a couple of books—Mad Honey Symposium and Oculus—that do some creative and interesting things with cycles and form and plot threads throughout different poems. She also has a poem called Lavender Town, and yes it’s about what you think it’s about. Re: my previous comment about poetry written with respect to the world we know.

I also really enjoy spoken word; it’s always been easier for me to get into a poem if it’s read aloud. A personal favorite there is What’s Genocide by Carlos Andrés Gómez (Major CW for discussion of genocide, self-harm, suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and racism).

I will be avidly following the other recs in this thread, which are awesome. Thanks for making it!

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Oh sure, sorry, I’m not making a judgment on contemporary poetry or anything like that. Googling tells me that abstract means a specific thing when it comes to poetry, but these were just examples of some stuff I thought might be good gateways in. The Franny Choi poem is also good!

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A friend recommended me Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch as a book to read to try and help me understand and begin writing poetry. I’ll report back if I find it helpful!

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