Happy National Poetry Month!
National What Month? you ask. Though more and more poetry collections are published every year, there’s no use in beating around the bush when it comes to popularity of poetry as a literary genre. In mid-2013, The Guardian reported that single-author collection sales had plummeted 50% in the previous five years alone.
Despite the dismal statistics, we don’t fear for poetry’s staying power. The world is full of art forms that are supposed to be dead by now (when’s the last time you went to the opera?), and poetry—arguably the most beautiful language-based medium—has simply too much history and too big a place in the hearts of readers to kick the bucket as a result of capricious publishing trends.
We think one of the factors working against poetry is its accessibility, or seeming lack thereof. Because you don’t have to have a literary palate to enjoy verse—in fact, we’ve got several collections aimed specifically at the inveterate sci-fi fan, YA expert, and Regency romance diehard. Plus, enter for your chance to win a bundle of Shel Silverstein’s classics!
For the fiction reader
Readers of fiction run the gamut from people interested in relationship dynamics to serious thinkers seeking bracing intellectual insights. One can easily find both (often within the same poem) in United States Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Kay Ryan‘s collection, The Best of It. With frank, spare language Ryan captures unexpected images and inverts clichés to bring new understanding to daily life.
Start with: “Surfaces”
For the history and politics buff
Author and Iraq War veteran Kevin Powers has written several poems and one novel drawing on his experience serving overseas in the military. In addition to his National Book Award-nominated The Yellow Birds, readers seeking insight into the nature of military life and combat can look to his poetry collection Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. The title poem closes on this grim but startlingly precise note: “…war is just / making little pieces of metal / pass through each other.”
Start with: “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting”
3. Love Poems
For the diehard romance reader
What is a poem if not a coded articulation of affection? And who is the world’s Love Poem Laureate if not Chilean poet Pablo Neruda? This collection of his sensual, impassioned verses will do the trick for anyone who holds a special place in his/her heart for words.
Start with: “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII”
For the sci-fi reader
Over his decades-long career, Lawrence Raab has won a devoted following with his surrealistic poems, many of which dip into themes of science and fantasy. io9 called his poem “Attack of the Crab Monsters” the best sci-fi poem of all time. With poems on everything from Rube Goldberg machines to the “recklessness of dreams,” Visible Signs will keep sci-fi lovers rapt.
Start with: “Attack of the Crab Monsters”
For the YA reader
Anne Carson‘s allusive, incantatory, and just plain weird poetry might pose a challenge to readers accustomed to the brisk pace and high-stakes plots of YA. But it’ll also appeal to anyone who loves a dark and mythic-feeling story about a confused and lovelorn teenager ( and who doesn’t?). In the novel-in-verse Autobiography of Red, Geryon, a young gay man based on the mythical Greek monster of the same name, falls in love with a guy named Herakles (based on—you guessed it—Hercules). A ménage a trois in Argentina follows.
Start with: Nox [excerpts]
For the comic book and graphic novel aficionado
When Emily Dickinson‘s full archive was made available to the public online last year, it revealed a new side of the 19th-century poet. Not only was she a genius chronicler of the self, but she was also something of a doodler, not to mention a resourceful user of writing materials. Many of her poems appear on envelopes or loose scraps of paper; some even contain decorative paper flowers. The Gorgeous Nothings presents the full collection of these ephemera. Comics and graphic novel lovers will appreciate this rare look into the visual sensibility of one of our greatest literary minds.
Start with: Three poems from the online archive
For the aspiring cook
Every cook has experienced that rare moment of downtime when the pasta water is coming to a boil, the meat is in the oven, and there are no pressing problems to take care of. Next time that happens, be sure to have—on the shelf next to your cookbooks— Kevin Young‘s collection of food- and drink-inspired poems, The Hungry Ear. Featuring wordplay by Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Gluck, and Gertrude Stein, these poems bring food to life and will appeal to every chef’s palate.
Start with: “Having a Coke With You” by Frank O’Hara