When I was in the fifth grade,
I won a class poetry contest with a little poem I had titled, "The Wind." My grandmother was so proud, she sent it off to have published in an anthology I think is still floating around my house somewhere. As a young, aspiring writer, I found poetry so accessible; I couldn't ever finish the books I was writing, could never seem to figure out how characters were going to develop or how the story was going to end. But poetry? Poetry, somehow, I could do.
Fast forward, and in adulthood, I find the opposite to be true. I don't write as much, but I do spend a lot of time reading, and -- I hope! -- reading a diverse range of genres: literary novels, nonfiction, graphic memoirs. Poetry, though, always seems to elude me. And I'm not alone in this. Go into any bookstore, independently-owned or otherwise, and the poetry section is always pretty small, filled with obscure local poets or classics from our childhoods.
Poetry just doesn't sell, despite many zealous booksellers' attempts. Enter Reading Poetry 101, a mini-lecture we're hosting at The Bookshelf tomorrow night to make poetry accessible to every reader.
April is National Poetry Month, and that designation gave us the perfect excuse to bring local poet and professor Jeff Newberry into the shop. Jeff is the author of Brackish, a poetry collection about the Forgotten Coast, plus he spends his days teaching literature and creative writing at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. We knew if anyone could make poetry accessible, he could.
A number of customers have asked us, sincerely, how to get into reading poetry. These readers walk up the register with stacks of diverse genres and titles, but poetry eludes them the way it does me.
I don't think poets ever intended for their work to be so difficult for the lay-reader. “Poetry is emotion put into measure," said Thomas Hardy. "The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.” Poetry is meant to make us feel something, but too often, we're distracted by the rhythms, unsure what we're supposed to do with poetry once our literary coursework ends.
Let Jeff Newberry and The Bookshelf help you find the joy in poetry. I think it's probably time.
READING POETRY 101
This Friday night (tomorrow!) at 7 p.m.
Featuring Jeff Newberry, author of Brackish