Monday, March 28, 2016

Get Ready for National Poetry Month

by Shari Randall
Occasionally I miss my old library job, especially now as we move toward April because April is National Poetry Month.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, my library branch always put together displays of poetry books, decorated the building with posters of poems and poets, and reveled in poetry. One year we even provided “pocket poems,” copies of poems on little slips of paper that patrons could carry with them, ready for reading at a moment’s notice.

During the other eleven months of the year, books of poetry languished on our shelves, the exception being children’s poetry. You just can’t keep poetry by Shel Silverstein on the shelf. But in April readers who never thought of themselves as poetry lovers would stand at the book display, dip into an anthology for a moment, and find themselves standing in the same spot for ten minutes, captivated by a poem. The book displays that we feared wouldn’t move had to be restocked over and over.

What does National Poetry Month have to offer Writers Who Kill? Poets and writers both work with words, obviously. Both move “in the world by means of words” as poet June Jordan said. Novelists can learn so much from poets, who distill emotions and events into just the right words, economy and power being their stock in trade. Of all the things I do in order to become a better writer – taking classes, reading expert advice, studying classic novels – reading poetry teaches me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

So celebrate poetry. Check out what our fellow wordsmiths are doing at And keep a poem in your pocket.

Two links to explore:

What is a Poem? By Dan Rifenburgh

Do you have a favorite poem or poet?


  1. Reading your words brought a cascade of memories. Poetry is the universal first language of childhood books. The rhyme scheme gets encoded in our DNA I think. Although I don't visit the poetry section in bookstores any longer, my favorites line my shelves at home and I often turn to them as I would old friends.

  2. I enjoy poets who use everyday language and images without relying on indepth knowledge of Greek, Roman, Norse, and Chinese mythology (or the equivalent). I prefer English because poetry rarely translates well in rhythm, texture, and nuance.

    And I love Shel Silverstein, having introduced both my children to him.

    ~ Jim

  3. Hi Kait, I think you are absolutely right about the rhyme schemes becoming encoded in our DNA. I read an article about nursery rhymes rhythms being prevalent in rap music - those tough rappers having absorbed those long ago poems and stories without realizing it!

    Hi Jim, always good to meet another Shel Silverstein fan. I, too, prefer the less flowery, more direct poetic approach. Gee, now I am thinking of Shel Silverstein. Forgive me if I break into poetry…one of my favorites:
    If you are a dreamer, come in.
    If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
    A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer.
    If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire.
    For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
    Come in! Come in!

  4. Poets express themselves with an economy of language and vivid imagery that all writers can learn from.

  5. at some point in my life, I would tune into Garrison Keillor's daily poetry reading on NPR and listen, with my eyes closed, unless I was driving.

    Different seasons evoke scraps of poetry (I wandered lonely as a cloud, in just spring, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness).

    And as I fall asleep at night: "Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing, Beloved from pole to pole..."

  6. Hi Warren, that's exactly it. Poets can capture so much using so little. I am in awe at poetry's power.

    Hi Margaret, I thought I was the only one who had a high school English teacher who made us read Rime of the Ancient Mariner! That is a gorgeous line though, isn't it?

  7. Shari, I've been writing poetry since I was a teenager. Some of the earliest poetry most children hear are nursery rhymes, but I have a feeling not as many children do anymore.

    When I was teaching third grade I put up a new poem on the wall in large print with maybe some sketches I drew to go with the poem. They had something to do with the month or season or maybe a unit we were studying. When it first went up, I asked the children what they noticed about the poem, whether it was the rhyme scheme or other things. Then I'd call on children willing to try to recite as much as they could without looking. No matter how many lines they could do, I told them that was good. In the last month of the school year, there were twelve or thirteen poems still up. Each day my students would choose a poem to recite. If it was word perfect and they knew the poet, they got a star. Once a child had received a star for all the poems posted, they were able to pick a book of poetry from a box of poetry I'd bought throughout the year.

    I have many poets I enjoy, but probably my favorite poets are Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Billy Collins to name just three.

  8. My kiddo is writing poetry for his high school English class right now. He's not thrilled, but I think he's forgotten how much he loved reading and listening to it as a little guy. We have more than one Shel Silverstein volume on our home shelves and many happy memories of reading them together.

  9. Poetry shows us another way to use language to enrich our lives. The imagery and the emotion invoked are timeless.

  10. Poetry can been both inspiring and daunting for me. I tend to want to "get" it too soon, and frustrate myself. If I just read, and re read, and then focus on what speaks to me, I really enjoy it!

  11. Gloria, I wish all kids could have you for a teacher. Your classroom sounds like it was filled with joy. I am also a fan of Dickinson and Collins. Haven't read as much Frost, beyond Birches and The Road Not Taken.

    Julie, I wish your son could have Gloria for a teacher!

    KM, yes, poetry is enriching. There have been so many times when a particular line spoke to me, in such a powerful and deep way. Same thing can happen with literature, sure, but there's something about great poetry that is so immediate and almost physical.

    Hi Carla, glad you survived the Day of the Peeps! Learning poetry in school has made me feel like I am supposed to "get" poetry, too, instead of just enjoy it or let it do its own thing. Some things from school I have to unlearn.