April is National Poetry Month. Poetry is an ancient art form that is hard to define as there have been many styles and interpretations. There are certain styles of poetry that read like song. Like the wonderful sonnets of William Shakespeare with their iambic pentameter, where each line consists of a certain number of syllables and rhyme. To the epic poems of Allen Ginsberg which read like free form jazz pieces. It can have form or it can be an explosion of vivid images. There have been many schools of poetry from the Romantics, the Modernists, the Beats, to the Confessionals and beyond. We have some great titles in the library where you can explore the different voices and styles of this ancient art form.
The Romantic poets of the 19th century brought poetry to a new plateau. They were interested in the spiritual qualities of life, a return to nature, and how life in all its tragedy and sorrow is full of beauty. Lord Byron, who became the model for the romantic poet, lived his poetry and had a fantastical life full of adventure, love, and tragedy. Lord Byron’s epic poem Don Juan is essential reading.
Walt Whitman is considered to be the foremost American poet of the 19th century. His masterwork Leaves of Grass which he worked on throughout his life contains most of his written verse. Walt Whitman revolutionized poetry not only with his subject matter but with its sprawling lines and exclamations. He had many editions of his masterwork and took poems out or added new sections so that each edition of Leaves of Grass is a lifelong conversation with his work and his identity as an artist.
Ezra Pound is considered one of the more controversial figures of the 20th century and his actions during his lifetime call into question his reputation. He led the way for many avant-garde schools of poetry and art. Regardless of his questionable actions The Cantos is considered one of the defining book length epics that encompasses the school of Modernism.
Langston Hughes is considered the penultimate African American poet of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. He portrayed the African American communities of the early 20th century when they were a little heard voice in American society. He used his words to speak out against the racism and discrimination they as a people faced. For an overview of his poetry check out The Selected Poems of Langston Hughes.
The Beatniks forever changed the way people viewed poetry and the spoken word. They rebelled against the conformist McCarthyism of 1950’s America. Combining elements of jazz, free verse, Zen Buddhism, overt sexuality and drug use in their verse the Beats which included such artists as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder tore apart the fabric of post-war propriety and led the way for the counterculture of the 1960’s. In the library we have one of Ginsberg’s later chapbooks, The White Shroud, as well as a compilation of some of Kerouac’s prose and poetry in The Portable Jack Kerouac. We also have a great collection of Snyder’s essays and poetry entitled The Gary Snyder Reader.
Feminist voices also became very important in the world of poetry. Adrienne Rich became an important voice for not only the women’s liberation movement but also Gay Liberation. Like African American voices, women voices were also unfairly ignored in many areas of the arts. But women like Adrienne Rich won much acclaim for her sharp words and eloquent style. Check out a collection of her work entitled Blood, Bread, and Poetry.
Come celebrate National Poetry Month at the library by checking out these suggested titles. Poetry touches on subjects and feelings that prose or even visual media simply can’t touch. Maybe these poets will inspire you to take up the pen yourself and write. Pay a visit to the library and ask a librarian to direct you to even more poets we have in the library.