Every Day a Poem
- by Carole McKellar
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams
Since 1996 America has celebrated National Poetry Month in April. Poetry gives emphasis to feelings like joy and sorrow. Poems not only express emotions, they evoke them in the reader. In an age of uncertainty and divisiveness, reading poetry reminds us of the beauty in nature and in each other.
Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet and writer, expressed the power of poetry when on March 7, 1952, he spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in that talk, known as “A Few Words of a Kind,” said that poetry “makes you know that you are alone and not alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”
When power leads men toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his
limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry
reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power
corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth
which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
Knowledge of poetic forms is helpful but not essential to enjoy poetry. Poems frequently contain metaphors, similes, and personification. Remember those terms from freshman English? The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org) features a glossary of poetic terms with example poems.
Poetry is no less an art because of its brevity. In fact, I would argue the opposite. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in a letter to a friend about the length of a story, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Poets’ skill in saying the most with few words is exemplified by the following verse from Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize winning poet, died on March 17, 2017 at the age of 87. I read about his death while writing this article. He was born on the island of St. Lucia, and he divided his time between the United States and his Caribbean home.
His poetry is known for its musicality and visual imagery. His obituary in the New York Times included this excerpt of the poem “Islands” from the collection In a Green Night that exemplifies these traits in his poetry:
As climate seeks its style
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water.
The Academy of American Poets, creator of National Poetry Month, lists 30 ways to celebrate the event on their website. Three of their suggested items on my to-do list are: 1) buy a book of poetry at my local independent bookstore, 2) memorize a poem, and 3) read a poem every day of the month.
One of my favorite events is National Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 27, 2017. Simply carry copies of your favorite poems and share them with family, friends, or strangers.