Michael F. Recommends

April is National Poetry Month, bringing
Verse out of the library stacks,
Mixing emotion and imagery,
Stirring open minds with new ideas.
-- adapted from/inspired by The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Poetry’s a funny thing.

You may remember being taught it in school—and hating it. There are many potential reasons. Poetry is often experimental—it breaks the rules and doesn’t use paragraphs, spaces, or even punctuation the way we were taught. Teachers were big on meaning: figuring out what the poem and poet meant. Some teachers may have told you what it meant, according to them, and that spoiled poetry forever. You may also think poetry is only poetry if it rhymes.

So here’s poetry—an entire national month devoted to it, and me telling you why you should care and read it, or at least try.

But before you close your tab or browser in disgust—an experiment. How many of you like music and songs? (Feel free to put your mental hands up if you want). Consider these questions:

How many songs rhyme or have a specific rhythm? Have you heard musicians like Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, or your favourite called a poet, or even a great poet? How often do you remember certain songs because of how they made you feel, or when and where you first heard them? Ever wonder or talk about the meaning of a favourite lyric?

Maybe poetry isn’t quite so foreign, is it? Poems, in many cases, are songs without music—and one of their goals is to make you feel. Here are a few examples to get you started—hopefully without feeling like homework!

A Kick in the Head Book Jacket

A Kick In The Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul B. Janeczko & Chris Raschka (illustrator) 

For those who enjoy learning how things work, this is a concise guide to 29 major forms of poetry. Aside from the simplicity of its language, it shows specific examples, often in quite humorous ways for the visually inclined.

Don't Read Poetry Book Jacket

Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How To Read Poems by Stephanie Burt 

In addition to the reverse psychology of the title, this book has a chapter called “Difficulty”. As a poet, she knows her subject. The introduction deals with the diverse ways poetry fills daily life: from quotations by characters in an X-Men comic, to people at a religious service debating the difference between Bible translations.


The Iliad Book Jacket

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer

Like prose literature, poetry can be any genre—and fantasy is no exception. Centuries before Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings, you had two of the original epic fantasy stories in The Iliad and The Odyssey. War. Battles. Gods. Monsters. Quests—it’s all in here. For those people who might prefer listening to poetry, we have the two epic poems in a number of audio formats, print and eBooks.

African American Poetry Book JacketAfrican American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song by Kevin Young

Change is another constant of poetry. Various poets have chronicled great events and transitions through the ages—and the struggle for civil rights and freedoms is no exception. Classic African American poets like Langston Hughes are represented here, as are equally important women like Anne Plato and Phyllis Wheatley.

Classic Haiku Book JacketClassic Haiku: A Master’s Selection by Yuzuru Miura

Poetry, like music and song, is universal. Every culture on Earth has forms of poetry, and the Japanese haiku is both well-known and little understood by some. Working inside a framework of three lines and seventeen syllables (five-seven-five), haiku create pictures or snapshots rather than stories. This particular edition includes the Japanese text, which makes an interesting visual comparison to the English translation. This book is also available as a Hoopla eBook.

Bones Book JacketBones by Tyler Pennock 

This book is one of the newest Canadian, First Nations poetry titles in our collection, and introduces the idea of poetry as biography. Tyler Pennock uses his personal experience as fuel for his poems, and it shows. It can be hard to read at times (from the subject matter, not how it’s written), but it also illustrates how poetic suggestion and implication can have more impact than straightforward prose. This title is also available as a Hoopla eBook.

Beyond This Dark House Book JacketBeyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay 

People familiar with Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy novels may think I’m cheating here--or making a point to bring this blog post full circle, but these poems are not fantasy. This is another example of modern Canadian poetry and shows that poetry can be a tool for a specific purpose. Kay wrote these poems because he had things to express that prose—a novel, paragraph, or sentence—couldn’t. I cheerfully admit those who think I’m such a fan I’d read anything he writes are not wrong either!