The Academy of American Poets has been at the forefront of celebrating National Poetry Month since its inception in 1996. April was chosen because students are still in school and April will not conflict with Black History Month in February or Women’s History Month in March.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to share some of my favorite poems and poets with you. Some of them you’ve probably heard of before and some, maybe not.
One of my favorite poets is my friend Richard Smyth. Some of Richard’s poems are online at his website and you can even listen to some of them. One series of poems I like by Richard are his Fireman poems. Here’s the link to listen to the mp3 of Richard reading his poem The Fireman and His Search for God. Richard read my favorite poem, The Summer Day by Mary Oliver at my ordination.
I also love slam poetry and one my favorites pieces I’ve seen in person was a poem called Girls Don’t Play Hockey by Valerie Lawson. Because I worked as a teacher, and was very much the kind of teacher in the poem (I think), and because my wife is a teacher I love What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali.
The teacher in Taylor Mali’s slam poem isn’t quite Mr. Keating urging his students to gaze in Uncle Walt’s eyes in Dead Poet’s Society, but here’ my favorite from W.W. anyway:
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
One of the best courses I took as an undergraduate all those years ago was a class in Irish Poetry and Drama. W.B. Yeats I saw coming. The Stolen Child is one my favorites, especially the version set to music by The Waterboys. What I didn’t see coming in the Irish Poetry class were poets I had never heard of before, like Bill Simmons:
The end is in sight now. In the beginning
I had reservations, I was the reborn Christ
perparing to heal the world’s fever with simple
truths and courage fit for the sacrifice.
Marriage changed me. The hero was ashamed
to fail to make one woman happy, I think,
to find himself nonplussed in argument,
lazy, impressionable, fond of a drink.
Now he is glad, with effort, to provide,
food for his wife and children. He feels at night
like a glass globe sheltering the flame
of family, his little world’s uncertain light.
He is teacher, but all he hopes for now
is to get the students talking, coax the shy
and tease the pompous, help them to clarify
their indignation a little. I still try!
That soaring mind I had survives, locked
in its cabin, roaring enigmas for commands
at serviceable Simmons, the first mate
busy at what he seldom understands.
I loved the poetry part of that course, but as much as I love theater I don’t remember a lot about the drama part of the course. I did, however, have a great experience at a show about a poetry reading. Sarah Jones’ Bridge and Tunnel, a one-woman show about race, immigration, and modern American Life in New York City’s outer burroughs is set in an open mike night at a poetry reading in Queens. It’s a fantastic show.
One of my own:
In God’s Room
I wonder sometimes
If God looks down at the world
and then sits in the middle of her room
and draws her knees to her chest
and wraps her arms around her legs
and rock back and forth
and back and forth
and back forth
and back and forth
Poetry and theology are, of course, deeply intertwined. Our spirits cry out for artistic expression. Our souls do not want us to just state the facts, our hearts want to be poured out on the page, cried out to the universe, sung out to God. What else, after all are the Psalms? Many other sacred texts take poetic form as well. Poetry is the music of theology.
What are some of your favorite poems and who are some of your favorite poets?