A poem a day

Posted February 17, 2019 by Lory in reviews / 14 Comments

Last year, during the season of Lent and Easter, I read a poem each day from the collection The Heart’s Time. I loved using this as an opportunity for reflection and contemplation.

In late 2018, poking through a bookstore bargain table, I came across 365 Poems for Every Occasion, a compilation from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day project. And I thought, why not try reading a poem every single day of the year? Though this project can be viewed online, and there are email lists and web posts of daily poetry, I find that I prefer reading poems on paper. So this little book seemed perfect.

For their Poem-a-Day email, the Academy selects one contemporary, unpublished poem each weekday and a classic poem on weekends. This collection reflects that mix, with many of the poems coming from people I’ve never heard of, and others from well-known names. All the poems fit on a single page of the small, squarish format, and there is no other information or commentary included beyond the name and birth and death date of the poet.

No monthly themes are explicitly identified, but they emerge in the reading. Many of the poems attached to January are appropriately wintry, often evoking dark, cold, or icy landscapes and soul experiences, but also new beginnings, rebirth as well as death. February focuses on poetry of love and loss. It will be fun to see what else is covered through the year.

The classic poems, I have to say, have so far been more successful for me. There have been well-loved old chestnuts, and others that I’d never come across, like this sonnet by Robinson Jeffers:

The things that one grows tired of — O, be sure
They are only foolish artificial things!
Can a bird ever tire of having wings?
And I, so long as life and sense endure,
(Or brief be they!) shall nevermore inure
My heart to the recurrence of the springs,
Of the gray dawns, the gracious evenings,
The infinite wheeling stars. A wonder pure
Must ever well within me to behold
Venus decline, or great Orion, whose belt
Is studded with three nails of burning gold,
Ascend the winter heaven. Who never felt
This wondering joy may yet be good or great:
But envy him not; he is not fortunate.

The contemporary poetry is not so much to my taste. Sometimes a line or a whole poem will speak to me, but more often I find myself annoyed by language that is either extremely flat, unmusical, and prosaic, or overly convoluted and obscure. Sometimes I think contemporary poets are simply throwing words together because they can, imagining that utterly random combinations make them appear cool and edgy.

I guess I’m old-fashioned enough to think that communication is the purpose of language. And although the meaning doesn’t have to be all on the surface, — there can be layers that I need to work for or that remain in the realm of feeling rather than intellect — if practically nothing is getting through other than random, fragmented noise, it’s not a very satisfying reading experience. It’s nice to give some new voices a chance, but I wonder if the greatness of the poets tested by time is not even more evident alongside some of these newer, weaker offerings.

Or is this horrible winter just making me surly and curmudgeonly, resistant to innovation and creativity? Let me not be too much of a stick-in-the-mud! I do appreciate the poets who work with language in original and surprising ways, but are still able to connect up with my own experience and mental landscape. So I shall keep looking for those, and letting each poem have its day. I hope to make some exciting discoveries.

Does the idea of reading a poem a day appeal to you? Have you ever tried it?

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14 responses to “A poem a day

  1. I’ve not tried this—my head needs to be in a particular gear to cope with poetry, a bit like tackling cryptic crosswords at times—but a collection of short, to-the-point, daily poems does appeal.

    I quite writing micropoems, hence my liking for brief manageable verse, but epics I find daunting. Maybe it’s the commitment, or the necessity for being in the right mood, but prose suits me more.

    Would I read a poem a day? Perhaps if all by the same author, or select handful of poets, and quality would have to be consistent (which is your criticism of ‘365 Poems’). I appear to be quite fussy!

    Sorry, seem to have waffled on a bit. I’ll stop now!

    • These poems are all short, which helps mitigate the uneven quality. If there’s a good one, I can read it several times with enjoyment. If not then it’s over soon.

    • I didn’t like the emails; I was not in a mood for poetry when I sat down at my computer usually. I like reading first thing in the morning and a book is better for that.

      Once a week is a good rhythm. If I want to keep this up, I would probably do that eventually.

  2. Kat

    I love poetry anthologies! Garrison Keillor’s “Good Poems,” an anthology of poems from “The Writer’s Almanac” on Public Radio, is another excellent collection. What surprises me is how many excellent unknown poets there are out there, though I, too, prefer the old stuff. But I did find a stunning poem by Chuck Miller, a rebellious guy who succeeded on a local level in Iowa City. My God, turns out his poetry was brilliant. Who knew?

    • I don’t mean to be snobby about unknown poets. I would love to find some terrific ones here! But so far I mostly find lines like “the sun wants to copyright my body,” and what the hell does that mean? Just putting words in weird places does not a good poem make.

      Garrison Keillor has good taste, I should check his book out.

  3. I don’t think I’d stick with reading a poem a day, but if I did the online version and they emailed me one every day I’d probably do it. I might have to look into that. Sorry you’re not a fan of the modern poetry. I tend to like all types, but I haven’t read much recent poetry.

  4. I’m sorry to hear the contemporary poems aren’t working as well for you! I don’t read much poetry but have occasionally stumbled across more recent poems online that I’ve enjoyed, so I’m interested in their newsletter with the focus on more recent works. I would also like a poem to clearly communicate something though, so I could see sharing your feelings about these particular contemporary poems. The seasonal focus of the poems also seems like fun 🙂

  5. Lizzie Ross

    I admire your energy, Lory. I don’t have enough of it (or stick-to-it-iveness) to read a poem a day, but I usually participate in National Poem in Your Pocket Day (Apr 18 this year, see https://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/poem-your-pocket-day). Also, the NYC MTA has poems posted on buses and subway cars — lovely to contemplate as I move along or beneath the streets and neighborhoods.

    Re Keillor, some of his Writer’s Almanac episodes are still available here: https://www.writersalmanac.org/episodes/2017.html. Definitely worth a listen.

    Poets to check out: Carolyn Fourche and Joy Harjo.

  6. What a lovely idea for a collection! I had a poetry diary last year, from Faber, but that was more of a poem or poetry book cover per week kind of thing, alongside your standard calendar lay-out. I think this idea is much better! And even though the contemporary stuff wasn’t quite to your taste (no problem with that), it sounds like it’s a fantastic opportunity and signal boost for unpublished or lesser-known poets, and that’s always needed. Good on the publishers for having a punt! And thank you for sharing! ❤️

    • Yes, lesser known poets deserve an chance! The daily email has given exposure to many, just a few of whom are collected here.

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