April is National Poetry Month… designated so in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

(I once sent in a poem to Poetry magazine, based here in Chicago, which they promptly but very politely… rejected. But it was like job hunting; I appreciated that they took my work seriously enough to email a personalized rejection!)

National Poetry Month is an effort to recognize and promote poetry as an accessible art form for everyone. Too many people, I think, see poetry as an avant-garde art form, like free form jazz or abstract painting or spoken word performance. Conversely, some might view poetry as an archaic medium, in line with opera, classical music, and Shakespeare – created long ago and certainly not modern.

As someone who tends toward minimalism, I love poetry’s spare piecing together of carefully chosen words. Although there are epic poems that are page turners in themselves, my favorites tend to be poems that explore simple topics and evoke powerful imagery.

As an example, I turn to a work by Ted Kooser, contemporary poet and U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) who is known for his clear and honest verse.

Tattoo

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

Does this poem not create a story in your mind? Reading it is like watching a scene in a movie, only your imagination does the job of envisioning the man at the yard sale. The moment is familiar and real. And the poem is written from an observational point of view, as if you were sitting behind the sale table just noticing this person and perhaps wondering a bit about his past.

I also lean toward poetry about nature and stillness, but you can find poetry about every topic and walk of life imaginable.

And the practical part about reading poetry? It only a few minutes to read a poem! You can carry a slim volume in your bag to read when waiting in line or in your parked car.

And I feel the best way to end the day is with a mug of herbal tea and a poem, giving me something to focus and reflect upon as I drift off to sleep…

Poetry is ancient; poetry is as modern as today. Check out the Poetry section of your local library or book shop and you are sure to find a title that you can relate to and a poem that stirs in you.

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