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Tag: billy collins

Poetry Isn’t Just for the Poets

by Treehouse Editors

M.G. Hammond

Most of the time when I recommend a novel to a friend who isn’t so obsessed with literature, they consider it without hesitation or complaint. However, if I suggest they read a poetry collection, they usually stare at me like I just asked them to brush up on quantum physics. Common responses include:

“Sorry, I just don’t really understand poetry.”

“I thought I was done with English classes.”

“You mean read the entire collection?”

Even within the literary community, the genre of poetry seems to have this strange veil surrounding it. When one of our fiction editors, Rachel, wrote her awesome “Five Poems” blog entry last week, I was thrilled to see that it seemed to have been an enriching experience for her, but even she admits that poetry makes her “a little nervous.”

When did poetry start to intimidate people? In my grandmother’s day, people actually read poetry for, you know, fun. So why is it now associated with some highbrow academia that should be left only to the devoted poets?

Former U.S. Poet Laureate and literary superhero Billy Collins observed this same phenomenon surrounding poetry when he decided to create his Poetry 180 project with the Library of Congress. The program is aimed at incorporating poetry into the daily lives of American high school students. Collins pulled together a collection of 180 poems by various contemporary poets that can be read each day of the standard 180-day school year. The goal is simple: to remind young people that poetry can be an enjoyable part of everyone’s lives. Collins writes on the program’s website, “Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written, contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience.”

Somewhere along the way, reading poetry became a painful thing for students. If the only exposure young people get to poetry is lessons on scansion and imagery, it’s easy to see how the subject can become tedious. As someone who is currently working towards a degree in poetry, even I have to admit that delving deep into the craft can be really overwhelming at times. But just because poetry is complex doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. Reading a poem should be a personal journey for anyone, a journey in which no one can tell you you’re reading it wrong or your interpretation is incorrect. This comfort with the genre has to start with young people, so if you currently attend or work for a high school (or know someone who does), I strongly encourage you to introduce Poetry 180 to your school. And if you’re like me and enjoy an old-fashioned book you can hold in your hands, there is also a printed collection of the 180 poems.

As National Poetry Month comes to an end, I hope all of you Treehouse-dwellers will be inspired to dust off that old Robert Frost collection or copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And if that’s not really your style, go check out a local poetry slam. You may just discover a new favorite pastime.

5 Poems My Sister Told Me to Read (Bondurant)

by Treehouse Editors

Rachel Bondurant

When M.G., one of our poetry editors, suggested we do something on the site to honor National Poetry Month, I initially excused myself from participation. It isn’t that I don’t believe poetry should be celebrated, but that I have a shamefully limited knowledge of poetry. I’m a fiction writer and thus, a fiction editor. To be honest, poetry makes me a little nervous.

Usually when I don’t know enough about a particular subject (politics, movies, history, etc.) I defer to my older sister, who knows plenty. Not wanting to be left out of honoring Poetry Month, I sent her an e-mail asking for five recommendations. She immediately responded with a list of twelve poems.

“Five,” I wrote back. “I said give me five.”

Reluctantly and with much difficulty (I know because she told me so), she managed to get the list down to five. My sister is an actress—not for money, but for love of the craft—and to me, she is a true artist. So when she says these poems are worth my time, I don’t argue; I read. Here is the list, in no particular order, and how they made me feel.

  1. As Once the Winged Energy of Delight” by Rainer Maria Rilke – I found this poem to be subtly empowering and incendiary, with phrases like, “Wonders happen if we can succeed / in passing through the harshest danger,” and my favorite line: “And being swept along is not enough.” Which is a pretty gentle way of saying, “Do something.”
  2. The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver – I have to be honest with you: When I started reading this one, I momentarily doubted my sister’s credibility. I asked her for poems to turn me on to the craft, and she sends me one about a grasshopper. But by the end of the poem, I had decided this might be my favorite. In our editorial meetings, we talk about what Johannes affectionately terms “money lines.” You know one when you see it, and I saw a big money line at the end of “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”  Whoa. Okay, Mary Oliver, I hear you.
  3. The Revenant” by Billy Collins – Billy Collins takes a big risk with this poem by potentially angering dog lovers everywhere. It’s written from the point of view of Man’s Best Friend, who is writing to his owner from doggy heaven after being put to sleep. If Mr. Collins is right, it turns out we might be mistaken about the whole notion of dogs loving their owners unconditionally. For my part, I’ll definitely remember this poem the next time I find myself using that ridiculous baby voice to speak to my Jack Russell.
  4. A Story that Could Be True” by William Stafford – Heartbreaking and thoughtful, this poem makes me think of missed opportunities, finding my identity, and losing something I never had hold of in the first place.  It’s the kind of piece that makes you question your whole life and whether you’ve been the kind of person you could have been.
  5. Prayer” by Marie Howe – Speaking of missed opportunities, Marie Howe really knows how to make you feel like a jerk for not taking the time to appreciate what you have. Read this poem, and then take a couple minutes to think, rest, appreciate, and enjoy.  It doesn’t matter what the object of your thinking is—just don’t get up too quickly.

In addition to writing and editing fiction, Rachel Bondurant moonlights as a criminology student. She’s also Treehouse‘s marketing coordinator and resident Twitterer. When not tweeting for them, she tweets for herself (@rach_in_limbo). Rachel hails from Texas, knows Monty Python and the Holy Grail by heart and is deathly afraid of clowns.

5 Things You Should Read (Cross-Smith)

by a contributor

from Leesa Cross-Smith, author of A Modest Guide to Truculence/Survival: Girls

  1. Gospel of John, The Bible – I love Jesus. The story of Jesus is unrivaled as my favorite story of all time.
  2. War by Sebastian Junger – Junger has a way of laying something out and then circling back around it and unpacking it to make sure you really get it. I love that. And he says these gorgeous, important things about war, in general, … as well as the lure of war to young men. Things like “don’t underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time.” This is a rough beauty of a book and I love it.
  3. The Beach by Alex Garland – Garland does that thing (more than once) where he writes about something I wouldn’t normally necessarily be interested in, then earns my interest because he’s such an awesome, compelling writer. The Beach is one of my favorite summery-sit-outside-all-day-and-only-come-inside-to-refill-my-drink-and-get-snacks books.
  4. “Man in Space” (poem) by Billy Collins – Because Billy knows what’s up and so should everyone else.
  5. “North Country” (short story) by Roxane Gay – Roxane writes about a lot of things and I love when she writes about bearded, outdoorsy Carhartt overall-wearing men who are good to women. I love those men, I love reading about those men and I write about those men too. Roxane is one of my favorites.