Poetry is an invitation: R.S.V.P.
Poetry is a handful of silver coins, shaken and shivering, clink clicking. Prose is a paper bill, less inviting to the senses, in the other hand. Poetry asks for you to be present, aware of your senses and alert to meaning. It calls for you to hear its rhymes, feel its rhythms, and converse with its words.
Poetry is an invitation, somatic and cognitive. It requests the pleasure of your company – open to your sense perceptions and willing to open up your sense of what’s true. A poem “is an experience” says Edward Hirsch, in his introduction to Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion. Reading poetry pleases Hirsch, a poet and lifelong advocate for poetry, because “suddenly my perception is heightened, my viewpoint altered (challenged, confirmed), and my world realigned.”
Here is an invitation to poetry, in the form of a list with notes. This gathering is a welcoming one, even for reluctant guests. These materials are accessible and approachable. If you converse with a poem you meet here, with curiosity and awareness, your time will be well-spent.
Selected by the Academy of American Poets (2015)
This collection offers diversity and timing, presenting 365 poems arranged in synchrony with the seasons and year. It is fine, of course, to read one poem upon occasion, or to select a poem or two at random, if that’s what works for you. If you do decide to read one poem per day for a year, according to the plan proposed by this volume, then “you will find yourself befriended by poetry” (as Hirsch puts it).
Edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (2004)
Each poem in this anthology has been selected as a favorite by a general reader, who briefly explains its personal significance. The companion DVD has 27 short documentaries about some of these readers and their chosen poems. Together, these materials are meant “to offer a way into poetry,” according to editor Robert Pinsky. Ultimately, presenting great poetry in a context of reader appreciation works to create an intriguing dialogue on the relationship between poetic meaning and individual experience.
Many of the most notable poets from the 20th century – and even a few from the 19th century – read their own works aloud on this set of three CDs. A companion book provides a print copy of these audio poems, along with additional poetry, biographical information, and critical essays. Hearing a poem voiced by its author is a valuable experience, one that can result in a greater understanding of an individual poem. For me, listening to these tracks led to more laughing, as I found new humor in certain poems. In addition, I learned more about the history of recorded sound, particularly through listening to the Tennyson, Browning and Whitman readings, all recorded around 1888, soon after Edison invented the phonograph.
by Roger Housden (2012)
In this volume, author Roger Housden pairs 10 poems by other authors with his own reflections on transitions and loss. Housden writes with clarity, helping readers to engage deeply with poetry. His thoughts on sorrow and resilience also are good company for anyone working with grief.
by Claire and Michael Morpurgo (2013)
This fictional scrapbook imagines and remembers being young and exploring the outdoors. Nature poems by recognized poets are pieced together with paintings, drawings, and journal entries original to this book. In this format, an old poem can be looked at in new ways, and well-known lines reconsidered. Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” for example, emerges from behind a transparent overlay showing a rider and horse moving quickly through a shadowed wood. The contrast between this illustration page and Frost’s scene encourages readers to reexamine the familiar words of this poem. Reawakened in this way, I enjoyed revisiting this old friend.
Poetry is an invitation – for any time, to the present moment. R.S.V.P.