Poetry for the Rest of Us

Nine poets to read all year long


Laura Miller
April 29, 1996 10:30PM (UTC)

While there are few things better than good poetry, it's also true that there's nothing worse than the bad stuff. The events and coverage tied to National Poetry Month this April have, for the most part, ignored this painful fact. We've had newspaper articles and contests and open readings and festivals in shopping malls in which children were given crayons and sheets of butcher paper and urged to try their hand at the art. Like almost all poetry institutions, the celebration inevitably and inexorably veered toward the interests of poets, rather than readers.

That's not surprising when you observe, as the poet Eamon Grennan does, that "more people seem to write poetry than read it these days." The essay that kicked off the New York Times' Poetry Month coverage began with notes of feeble hope inspired by the success of the movie "Il Postino" (about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda) and the sales hike enjoyed by a volume of W.H. Auden's verse when some of it was read aloud in the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Then this article, like most of the musings on Poetry Month, wobbled a bit and tipped over into the usual moanings about the lack of a real audience for poetry -- a lament echoed in the introduction to every single poetry anthology I've picked up in the past few weeks. Such complaints mean little to the reader; these writers are speaking for and to the poets.

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With every sign that what's needed is not more poets, but more poetry readers, National Poetry Month observances still lean toward the "anyone can do it" approach to increasing poetry's popularity. Of course, anyone can and should write poetry if they so desire. It's expecting the rest of us to read it that's beyond the pale.

And yet, good poetry can and does move and delight readers every day. In the homes of friends who would never claim any specialized knowledge of the form, I've spotted individual poems, clipped from magazines or xeroxed from books, and taped over desks or magneted to refrigerators. Here, these readers found so much meaning that they wanted to keep the poems readily at hand. What better demonstration of the importance of poetry in people's lives?

Unfortunately, not much of the literary establishment is geared toward connecting the average, intelligent reader with the kind of poetry that inspires such passionate attachment. Surprisingly little of the National Poetry Month coverage included any actual poetry at all. By presenting this assortment of poets -- culled from the suggestions of SALON readers and friends, as well as our own favorites -- we hope to help correct that.

Select the name of one of the poets listed to the left and you'll find a page with a brief interview and a (with one exception) previously unpublished poem. If you like what you read, you can select the title of the author's book -- cited at the bottom of each page -- and order a copy from Borders.

This selection is highly personal and slightly random. We make no claims to the comprehensiveness or supremacy of our list -- only to having discovered authenticity and pleasure in the poetry found there.

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Laura Miller

Laura Miller is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."

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