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Stuff for the Teen Age, Poetry Month
The Challenges of Finding a Pocket-Sized Poem
Thursday April 14th is Poem in Your Pocket Day. This tradition began in New York City in 2002 and expanded nationally several years later. If you go to New York City's PIYPD page, you can learn about special events that will take place that day, and even read some poems by mayor Michael Bloomberg. But let's get to the real question... how will you pick the right poem for your pocket?
First, let me begin with a story from my own past that emphasizes the challenges of finding a small poem which is worthy of both reading and sharing with others. Because the goal of Poem in Your Pocket Day is not only to carry a poem around in your own pocket, but also to share that poem with other people. And because choosing a poem can be a very personal thing, the sharing of that poem may be fraught with peril. For example:
Back in the mists of prehistory (when I was in the 6th grade) we each kept a journal in our creative writing class. I had a standard-issue black marble notebook, filled with my thoughts and musings. Except I was very careful not to write down thoughts that were TOO personal. Because our teacher was, excuse me for saying so, kind of a busybody. Now, I know that teachers who read their students' writings and see indications of abuse, suicidal tendencies, etc. are supposed to report it. Believe me, I understand that. But this teacher would read our journals and then think that she was really looking into our souls. She would then take her newfound "understanding" and spin it in embarassing ways. The day she called me up to the front of the classroom to tell me in front of everyone that I should smile more often was one of the most embarassing moments of my young life. So clearly I wasn't considering the consequences when she asked us to pick a favorite poem and copy it into our journals.
I had two reasons for trying to find a short poem. One was that I was near the bottom of the current page of my journal, so I wanted to pick a poem that would fit in the remaining space. The other was that earlier that year (or was it the year before?) a teacher had asked us about our favorite poems and when I'd said that most of my favorite poems were several pages long, the entire class had burst out laughing. FWIW, "Annabel Lee" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter" each took up several pages in my parents' 1957 edition of Poems to Read Aloud, so I wasn't lying. Anyway, in an effort to escape further public humiliation I decided to look through my parents' book and copy the shortest poem that I could find. I chose this one, a poem that I had never read before, but which was short and easy to understand. It's by Oliver St. John Gogarty, who lived from 1878-1957:
Death may be very gentle after all:
He turns his face away from arrogant knights
Who fling themselves against him in their fights;
But to the loveliest he loves to call.
And he has with him those whose ways were mild
And beautiful; and many a little child.
So... you see where this is going, right? You guessed it. That teacher was TOTALLY FREAKED OUT by the poem I chose. She was convinced that because I'd chosen a poem about death, and about the possibility of a child dying, that I was not long for this world. It took a lot of explaining to get out of that one.
So if I can impart no other piece of wisdom to you, it's this: if your favorite pocket-sized poem is one that's going to make your teachers (or even your friends) think that you're a little nuts, then pick TWO poems to keep in your pockets. Put one in one pocket in case anybody asks you to share it, and put one in the other pocket just for yourself.
So now that THAT'S out of the way... where can you find some great poems?
If you stop by your local library, we have lots of books of poetry available for you to check out. If you want to start browsing, look for the 811 call number for poetry by American authors, which is where you'll find most of our poetry books. And as you browse through the 800s section, you can find poetry by authors from all over the world. Here are a few titles that are definitely worth checking out:
- The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur
- Love, Ghosts, & Facial Hair by Steven Herrick
- Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda (bilingual edition)
- A Lion's Hunger: Poems of First Love by Ann Turner
- The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel [Pssssst! No better place to look for the smallest poems!]
- In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African-American Poetry edited by E. Ethelbert Miller
- Love: Selected Poems by e.e. cummings
- Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls edited by Betsy Franco
- Slam Dunk: Basketball Poems edited by Lillian Morrison
- The United States of Poetry compiled by Joshua Blum, Bob Holman, and Mark Pellington
- Stone Bench in an Empty Park selected by Paul B. Janeczko [American haiku poems in town/city settings]
- Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Life, Love, and Victory edited by Lori M. Carlson
Another place you can look for poetry books is in the fiction section. Many authors, especially authors who write for teen audiences, have written novels in verse. Ellen Hopkins and Sonya Sones are two of the authors who have each written several novels in verse, but there are more authors who have written in this format at least once. You can check out a blog post I wrote last year about Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams, in which I included a list of other novels in verse.
And since we are no longer in the mists of prehistory but in the here and now, you also have plenty of websites available if you'd like to search for poems. In addition to the websites that I linked in the first paragraph of this post, here are a few more sites where you can find lots of good stuff:
Poetry 180 - This website (which is also available as a book) is a collection of poems selected by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. It's designed for high school students to hear or read one poem per day during the 180 days of the average school year.
Classical Poems from Passions in Poetry - The Passions in Poetry website features more than just classic stuff (you can explore the site to find modern poems divided by subjects like love, sadness, and friendship). But I wanted to highlight the classic section because that's where you can find poems from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, and Emily Dickinson. One advantage if you're looking for shorter (pocket-sized) poems is that next to the title of each poem there's a listing for "size." The lower numbers will give you smaller poems, so this can definitely save you some time in your search.
The Poetry Archive - Listen to poets reading their own work! This website features historic and contemporary recordings, so that you can hear poems the way their authors intended them to be read. Each poem appears as a sound file and in written form. There's also a special search option that you can use to limit your search to short poems.
Columbia Granger's World of Poetry - Accessible with your library card, this database contains 250,000 full text poems and 450,000 citations, as well as poetry commentary, poets' biographies, and literary glossary terms.
So... do you have a favorite poem, or a favorite book of poetry? And what poem will be in YOUR pocket on April 14th?