I wrote this post for my Tiny Footcrunch publisher (Unsolicited Press!) to post during National Poetry Month:
My mother was so excited when I told her Unsolicited Press was publishing my book of poetry - excited and proud and just over the moon in that special motherly way. She immediately started listing everyone we needed to tell.
“Your father! Mama and Papa! Cousin Laura down in Tennessee!”
“And hey, Mom, you could even read it with your book club!” I chimed in.
Awkward silence. “Mmm, maybe . . . hey, let’s FaceTime your brother!”
Even with the most exuberant and joyful of parents behind it poetry couldn’t quite sneak into The Book Club. Perhaps it’s due to post-traumatic stress from high school english class, a fear of not understanding the work or just an unease about change. Whatever the case, poetry is not a staple of most book clubs.
To be fair, there are some dedicated poetry book clubs (including some online - do a quick search and you’ll find some fantastic choices!) but they are the exception, not the rule. So then, why and howshould you add poetry into your book club?
The why is easy. It will break up the routine of novels, allowing your members to experience something different and unique. Poetry is usually a shorter read (time for reflection notwithstanding) and, in this fast-paced world where everyone has a million things to do, your members might just feel relieved to ditch those 400 pages of prose. Remember those “choose your own adventure” books? Each book club member can bring a different book of poems or single poem to the meeting, either their choice or guided around a certain theme. Putting poetry on the plate makes for a more complete dish.
How is a little trickier. The discussions you have (sprinkled in around the gossip and wine, I know) can be guided or more organic. I will use my upcoming book, Tiny Footcrunch, as a template for some possible exchanges:
You get the idea. The questions range from the standard tell your favorite poem and why to something more fun like what television show a certain poem might enjoy. All of these aim to break up the mundane and everyday - the monotony - a book club might develop.
So the next time it’s your turn to pick a book for book club, remember that a collection of poetry is out there waiting for you.
Oh, and please recommend it to my mother’s book club.
Joshua Bennett is a very intelligent and witty poet. His observations and metaphors are arresting and spot on. His perspective and the subject of many of these poems make him extremely relevant. I recognize the intelligence of these poems.
But these are the kind of poems that make you say, “Hmmmm.” These are poems that send you to Google to conduct research that somehow spirals out of control. These are not bad things, but I personally prefer poems that make me look inside myself, poems that make me ask the deeper questions than any search engine can provide answers to.
Once or twice I was moved while reading The Sobbing School, but mostly I thought, “nice play on words/ideas/etc.” My reaction reminds me of my views on hip-hop, which is relevant as several of the poems in this collection deal with hip-hop culture. I've heard it said that some of the greatest lyricist in hip-hop are those that have the cleverest and most inventive lyrics. MF Doom is one rapper that is often mentioned as one of the greats. Doom is clever, but he has nothing to say. His style is cartoonish and follows no logic. Now, I'm not trying to draw a direct parallel between Bennett and MF Doom, because, frankly, Bennett is clearly reaching for a space in between, where wit and relevance meet. Unfortunately, my mind was so tied up with the logic that I was not in the page emotionally. For better or worse, feeling is what I am looking for in hip-hop and in poetry.
Favorite poem in this collection: “Anthropophobia.” That's one I felt.
This is part of a poem by Sarah Kay. I saw her perform it on TED below. She also did this one. I loved her performances and wanted to share part of her magic for National Poetry Month. I've attached her books to this post as well, but the full text of the poem this except comes from, B (If I should have a daughter), can be found here. But it's so much better to watch her perform it.
Out of the shadows and into the light
With secrets and lies,
Conspiracies and spies.
The government plays deadly games.
The people pay for their childish mistakes.
As the soldiers take their aims,
The players raise the stakes.
Who will win?
The cheaters of course.
The story will spin
And the guilty will feel no remorse.
This is how the game is played.
It’s a tough world out there
With the cards undisplayed.
*Written when I was 16/17 c. 2003 about the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq.