Per my last post, the last few paragraphs, which you may have skipped:
As the sole originator (and unfortunately the sole practitioner) of National It’s High Time to Buy a Book of Poetry Couple of Days (hereafter known as NIHTT—BABOP—COD), it’s my right to announce that the Couple of Days is not over yet; and my duty to urge you to celebrate NIHTT—BABOP—COD by doing so. A few reasons and a few suggestions to follow.
A book of poetry, I repeat, makes a great gift. Bill Clinton, fond of presenting friends and lovers with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, would have gone down in the annals of great gift-givers had not he given the same thoughtful, and in his mind erotic, gift to his wife and his intern. But usually giving books of poetry will not land you in any trouble at all, in fact may aid you in your romantic endeavors (Keats’ sonnets) or solidify friendships (the amusing Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs for your pooch-loving pal). Books of poetry are personal, intimate, and say to the recipient in a way that no other gift does except slide ruler, I think you’re really intelligent. What’s not to love about a gift like that?
But to really celebrate NIHTT—BABOP–COD, you need to buy poetry for yourself. Poetry can be read in snatches, so it’s the perfect reading material for all the in-between times in your life, when you’re sitting on the toilet, idling in the carpool line, waiting at the doctor’s office, commuting (if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with public transportation or if the red lights in your town are inordinately long), watching the pasta pot, or trying to fall asleep at night.
I’m not saying poetry doesn’t deserve serious attention or a dedicated reading session. It’s just that most people reading this blog aren’t poets themselves or writing term papers and so won’t devote much time to it. And you don’t have to. Reading poetry can be like eating a granola bar—a quick break from running around, just enough calories to tide you over till the next meal, and a little fiber so you can continue your reading later in the loo. (Yes, I am scatologically oriented, and I don’t apologize for it. So much great reading happens on the toilet.)
So what to buy? I have a few ideas, but bear in mind, my suggestions are based on the assumption that you haven’t bought poetry before and don’t know where to start.
If you want a book for your coffee table or bathroom, anthologies are a good way to go.
- Any of the 3 volumes of Poem a Day. (The first has the most familiar material.) 365 poems, mostly short, across a wide range of poets, styles and forms.
- Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems series: the original, plus Good Poems for Hard Times, and Good Poems American Places (which would be a great bon voyage gift for someone travelling across the country). Keillor also has a website on which you can hear him read a poem everyday.
- Poetry 180 and its follow-up 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day edited by Billy Collins.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art has created beautiful illustrated anthologies of poems sorted according to theme. Part of the pleasure of these books is figuring out why the editors matched each poem to the accompanying work of art. I have two of them: Art and Love and Time’s River. The others, which I hope to get as gifts myself (this is a big hint, family) are Art and Nature, Art and Wonder, and a children’s book Talking to the Sun. Wonderful.
If you want more from a particular poet, buy a collection of his or her poems. Collections usually have more artistic covers than anthologies and are slim enough to fit in your purse.
- Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise. Short, lovely poems, meditations rooted in the practicalities of her rural life. I love her poems on depression and illness, but this is a joyful collection, not a downer at all.
- For the spiritually minded, anything by Mary Oliver or Anne Porter.
- Billy Collins is always entertaining, great for novices, but bears close reading too.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for a Michigan poet. Thomas Lynch is Irish and works as an undertaker. Enough said.
- Yeats. You’ve got to have Yeats around.
Go forth and purchase!