Last week, one of my daughters came home with a handful of acrostic poems, written in school, and the other daughter brought me a children’s poetry book she’d found at her school’s used book sale. Both girls—like all children I know—grew up on nursery rhymes and songs and clapping games and continue to love poetry. For children, poetry is an important part of both reading and living in the world. Poetry captures their imaginations and their delight in language.
Why does poetry seem so much less central as we become adults? As a poet and a professor of creative writing myself, I’m always thinking about the role of poetry in our lives and what it can teach us.
I’m thinking about American poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) who explored this question in her wonderful book The Life of Poetry, first published in 1949 and recently re-released by Paris Press. Rukeyser writes, “A poem does invite, it does require. What does it invite? A poem invites you to feel. More than that: it invites you to respond. And better than that: a poem invites a total response.”
Or, a hundred years earlier, her predecessor Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “There is no Frigate like a book / To take us Lands away / Nor any Coursers like a Page / Of prancing Poetry. . “
This week, I took my daughters on a poetry tour of Baristaville local bookstores, from Watchung Books and Montclair Book Center in Montclair to Words in Maplewood, all of which have wonderful poetry sections. I’ve spent hours browsing in these stories, reading new books of poems, and now, inspired by all the great American poetry now being published, I’m buying new poetry books for all my holiday gifts. From National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes’ Lighthead, Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s Maggot to Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora, poems inspired by science, there is a range of amazing new books of poetry on the shelves of these stores, just waiting.
We want to be transported. We want to be drawn closer to ourselves. We want to be invited to feel. What better way than to re-discover poetry?
Nicole Cooley has published five books, most recently Milk Dress and Breach, two collections of poems in 2010. She directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-CUNY. She lives in Glen Ridge