Shelf. Life

A look at what's happening at Willard

Celebrate poetry this month

Flowers outside the library signal the beginning of April, which is National Poetry Month.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am going to honor it by writing poetry, again. You see, I used to scribble poems in a spiral-bound journal when I was an angst-filled teenager. It was a cathartic process. The poetry was, I'm sure, quite bad. But that really didn't matter now that I look back on it. It was a way to express myself, connecting the imagery of thought to the rhythm of language.

When I saw an invitation in my inbox to a free, eight-day, online poetry retreat at gratefulness.org (Exploring Haiku as Gratefulness Practice) my enthusiasm returned. "I'm going to do this!" I told a co-worker, and she made the commitment to join the program as well.

I'm responsible for ordering the poetry books at Willard Library, and I want to make sure we have all the classic poets, along with the new up-and-coming writers. With Rupi Kuar's debut collection – Milk and Honey – coming out in 2014 and taking its place on The New York Times best-seller list for more than a year, there has been a renewed interest in poetry by younger guests at the library. Her latest collection is The Sun and Her Flowers.

I would encourage folks to browse through the shelves in the 800s, where most of the poetry lives, and see what we have. If you don't know where to start, check out one of the collections, such as Migration, by the great American poet M.S. Merwin, who just passed away. If you need a new voice, maybe try Whiskey, Words, & a Shovel by the very popular r.h. Sin. If you like Rupi Kuar, maybe spend some time with Courtney Peppernell's Pillow Thoughts. For something that touches on Cuban cultural identity, pick up Looking for The Gulf Motel by the amazing Richard Blanco. Don't miss Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. It was winner of the Forward Prize for best collection. And there's always the late Mary Oliver. Her personal collection – Devotions – is brilliant.

To go back in time, check out some aesthetically pleasing Japanese Haiku, like Basho or Ryokan. Or maybe admire the English Cavaliers (there's a recently purchased Dover Thrift edition in the stacks) for some flourish and dazzle. Need something to inspire transcendence? Maybe look to Kabir's Bijak, a work from 15th century India. We carry far-ranging poetry genres that span the centuries. Of course, that brings to mind Thomas Trahern's Centuries of Meditations for some intense Christian spirituality.

As for me, I'm going to kick-start my writing with the online poetry course. Seems the hard-won appreciation of middle age is calling for expression.

My songful heart sings: Everything here is given. It arises continually out of nothing and then disappears back again. Maybe endlessly, maybe sweetly only once.


Matt Willis, reference and adult services department head, is currently reading A Listening Heart: The Spirituality of Sacred Sensuousness by Brother David Steindl-Rast.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2020