Book Buzz: 5 Great Poets
Walt Whitman said, "To have great poets, there must be great audiences," which is pretty much the reason for National Poetry Month.
The Academy of American Poets came up with the brainstorm and designated April 1996 as the first month to celebrate the evocative art form. The idea caught on. Five Aprils later, Langston Hughes, a voice of the Harlem Renaissance, earned a spot on a U.S. postage stamp. For the 10th anniversary of National Poetry Month, the Empire State Building was set ablaze in lights, and there are poetry contests and readings every year at this time. President Bill Clinton, who threw a gala at the White House, lauded poets who "enrich our culture and inspire a new generation of Americans to learn the power of reading and writing at its best."
To cap this year's festivities, let's enjoy a sampler of verse from some of the very finest:
1. From Pulitzer Prize winner Kay Ryan:
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space --
however small --
should be left scarred
by the grand and
More about the poet: Ryan is a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" recipient and former Poet Laureate of the United States.
Latest book: The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. "Her voice is quizzical and impertinent, funny in uncomfortable ways, scuffed by failure and loss," says reviewer Dwight Garner of The New York Times. "Her mastery, like Emily Dickinson's, has some awkwardness in it, some essential gawkiness that draws you close."
2. From Nobel Prize winner Tomas Tranströmer:
He lies awake, hears the woolly flutter
of night moths, his moonlight comrades.
His strength ebbs out, he pushes in vain
against the iron-bound tomorrow.
And the God of the depths cries out of the depths
'Deliver me! Deliver yourself!'
More about the poet: Tranströmer won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Latest book: The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, translated from the original Swedish by Robin Fulton. "What most distinguishes Tranströmer's poetry is an almost preternatural knack for metaphor," writes reviewer Bill Coyle in Contemporary Poetry Review. "Each of the metaphors is startling and sheds new light on a common experience. At the same time, each seems, in retrospect, to emerge naturally from its subject, in part because the poet makes so little fuss about what he is doing, in part because his sly sense of humor leads us to lower our defenses."
3. From California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera:
My father drove a pink Ford down the main drag in Tijuana.
All the women loved him, no one has ever smiled sweeter.
My pocket is full of ancient coins.
I keep a silver box of African and Zapotec amulets and hair
near my bed, a tarnished sword and acrylics.
Lightning zig-zags like a dog's tail
everytime I throw a stone in Southern Arizona.
I have fallen in wells and risen.
More about the poet: Herrera is a past winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry.
Latest book: Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems. "Many poets since the 1960s have dreamed of a new hybrid art, part oral, part written, part English, part something else," observes The New York Times' Stephen Burt. "An art grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual too. Many poets have tried to create such an art: Herrera is one of the first to succeed."
4. From Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize winner:
Does God love gold?
Does He shine back
At Himself from walls
Like these, leafed
In the earth's softest wealth?
Women light candles,
Pray into their fistful of beads.
Cameras spit human light
Into the vast holy dark,
And what glistens back
Is high up and cold. I feel
Man here. The same wish
That named the planets.
More about the poet: Smith is a former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University and writing instructor at Princeton University. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry this month for her new book.
Latest book: Life on Mars: Poems. The poet's father was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope before his death in 2008. "Life on Mars is Smith's wide, far-ranging elegy to him," observes The New Yorker's Dan Chiasson. "Its alternating cosmic breadth and intimate focus derives from the shared situation of poets and astronomers, squinting to glimpse immensity. The book is by turns intimate, even confessional, regarding private life in light of its potential extermination, and resoundingly political."
5. From former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins:
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears. . . .
More about the poet: Collins is a former State Poet of New York
Latest book: Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems. "The cadence of Collins' work is immensely powerful, but never overpowering," writes reviewer Rick Kleffel of the blog Bookotron.com. "There's a measured tone to every poem here, as he delicately leads the reader out of the reality we touch and into the world that we feel. . .. Read any poem, then listen to your own thoughts. You're a different person. Your self-awareness will have a more defined shape. The world around you will be both simpler and more mysterious. And it will definitely be more fun."
SecondAct asks: Who is your favorite poet, and why? Share your thoughts in the comment field below.
Read more: Pulitzer Winners and Those Who Came Close
Previous Post: 13 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Carole King
Next Post: References: Don't Assume an Old Boss Still Loves You