We don’t know too many people who get excited over poetry these days (except for us). So, instead of lecturing on how wonderful it is, we thought it might be nice to just share some of our favorites; poems that, if students allow them to, will inspire, spark debate, or simply sit with them for a day, an hour, or maybe just a moment.
For the poetry beginner, it may seem daunting to read a poem; the rhythms, the rhymes, the metaphors can be exhausting. Poems do take effort–we won’t lead you astray there. However, once that understanding is unlocked, a secret is shared between poet and reader.
A tip for students on reading poetry:
- Read the poem once, from start to finish, without pausing to decipher. Enjoy the language and the flow of the lines.
- Let the poem sink in and think about what it means to you.
- Then go back, perhaps stanza by stanza, and ask what each line means, what the author’s intention may have been, and how the language he or she wrote made it interesting.
- “The Art of Drowning”, by Billy Collins
In this poem, Collins writes about the final seconds before drowning and why there is a flash of life instead of “an invisible hand turning the pages of an album of photographs…”. His digestible poetry seems lighthearted at times, or “surfacy,” but his work reveals universal questions even after the humor fades.
The Art of Drowning
I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.
After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn’t you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.
How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn’t any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.
Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,
a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.
- “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnet 130)” by William Shakespeare
How could we write a blog post about poetry without mentioning the master of Sonnets? Shakespeare’s lyrical poetry is studied all over the world and we think this poem in particular is evidence of his superb grip on the English language and the real truth of loving someone.
In “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun,” Shakespeare pokes fun at the traditional sonnet where women are usually compared to unrivaled things such as the sun, the stars, and brightly colored flowers. Instead of following suit, Shakespeare explains his love as someone with dull skin and bad breath.
My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
- “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks
What has become a high school classic, this poem by Brooks is deceivingly simple. One afternoon she happened to drive past a pool hall in her community and saw the young men inside playing. She wondered what they were thinking, and decided to write the poem.
The poem asks the question, who are “we”? What might happen if “we” dropped out of school, and didn’t chose a life of education?
When Brooks refers to “Jazz June,” she is talking about the music and the month. Jazz is a freeing type of music, and June is a month of great weather, beautiful flowers, and a leisurely time of year.
After reading the poem, check out how Brooks reads it herself. Her voice and diction are incredible and will bring a whole new meaning to the poem.
We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Poetry is something most of us forget about living our day to day to lives, but it’s the poets that remind us to slow down, to observe, and to think about being human.
We hope you liked the three poems we’ve chosen this month and maybe will venture into other poets’ work as well. To get some ideas, click here. Whatever poetry you may enjoy, please take a moment to slow down this month to read some.