April is National Poetry Month, and to mark it my friend Dave and I recorded a special episode of What Should I Read Next at my house last week. (Coming soon.)
National Poetry Month has been around since 1996, when the Academy of American Poets, inspired by Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), decided to put poetry in the spotlight for April. Dave laughed about it having its own month, saying that just spotlights the inequality of poetry. Crime thrillers don’t need their own month, you know?
(Dave did note that many poets embrace poetry’s perceived irrelevance, many poets see its lower status (I feel like those two words might need air quotes) as a strength, not a liability. When not many people are reading you, and when hardly anyone is paying poets much of anything for it, there’s a real freedom to create whatever you want.)
Unsurprisingly, I came away inspired to read more poetry, especially more poetry by contemporary poets. Dave’s encouragement that poetry teaches us “to read without consuming” made me think it’s exactly what my brain needs more of in the attention-deprived digital age. It trains your brain to not rush, and that’s something that needs reinforcing for me right now.
I enjoy poetry when I make time to actually read it—something I don’t do enough. When I do read it, I typically turn to the same half-dozen poets that I know many of you know and love as well: Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Luci Shaw. I asked Dave for recommendations for branching out, and whoa, did he deliver—with 3 anthology collections I never would have chosen, or even found, for myself.
Our deep dive is coming later this month, but in the meantime I wanted to share Dave’s specific recommendations. These are perfect picks for anyone who doesn’t read poetry and wants a starting point, or who currently reads poetry and wants to branch out.
Dave’s final advice: if you want to do just one thing to support poets and poetry this April, visit an independent bookstore and buy a book by a living poet.