By now, you’ve probably figured out that we’re big fans of National Poetry Month here at Coffee House Press, and not just because of all the great poem-a-day apps like this one floating around. We love National Poetry Month because we love poetry! For each of us, there is one poem that we can trace this love back to; one set of verse or stanza that made us think, “Wow! This whole poetry thing is pretty darn cool.” Here are a few:
Lindsey Giaquinto, Marketing Assistant:
The first poem I ever loved was “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. A classic, but it was new to me then. Reading it, I felt like I was in the presence of an extraordinarily observant and wise woman, someone who could teach me how to be alive and present and grateful in the world. And who could get over the lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Andrea Satter, Development Manager:
And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of they heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
-”The Tyger,” William Blake
I can hear my grandfather’s voice when I read this poem. When I visited my grandparent’s home as a child, it was typical for me to dig out a big poetry anthology from a bookshelf and bring it to my grandfather. He would not read to me endlessly, although I wished he would. So I chose wisely. I selected poems that would benefit from his deep voice and beautiful Austria-via-New York accent. One of my favorites was “The Tyger” by William Blake. I found escape and beauty in poetry. It allowed me to see the world in new and different ways. I used poetry as a way to cope with the issues of a typical teen. And I’ve been reading and loving poetry ever since.
Isabelle Wattenberg, Intern:
The first poem I loved had the humility to take up a tiny corner of the page, letting its words carry it off the paper and beyond the hour of my Intro to Literature course. Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog,” just six musing lines, introduced me not only to poetry, but to the reach of words. I love it because it takes me so far with so little, expressing a matter-of-fact wonder about the world. Every time I read it, I am refreshed by its calming story.
by Carl Sandberg
by Shel Silverstein
“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more–that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut–my eyes are blue–
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke–
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is–what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”
As I got older, discovered the young adult section, then the Stephen King section, and moved on to more and more adventurous reading, it wouldn’t be long before Shel was replaced by a more adult poetry that inspired me in a very different way. “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams was that poem. And again, it’s a very simple poem, but it filled me with a sensation that was as if I had bitten into a cold, juicy plum. That was not something I expected from a 12 line poem or from any poem, for that matter.
“This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
And since I have started working at Coffee House Press, I have continued to develop an appreciation for poetry and the ways it can transform and move you. But these two poems were the very beginning and I still love and can recite both from memory.
We’d love to hear about the poem or poems that inspired your love of poetry in the comments section!