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It's been called the small pond in the great literary ocean. And with April being National Poetry Month, as established by the Academy of American Poets, may we ponder anew, or renew, the pond of poetry.

"But I don't understand poetry." That is a common complaint for why people do not read poetry, despite its contributions in providing depth, beauty, and truth to one's life.

The solution to a lack of understanding poetry is to find poems that you understand. We often read about what we know about. For instance, I do not turn to poems with references to Greek mythology characters. I know very little about them and would not understand poems revolving around them.

On a related note, our reading preferences are based on our reading tastes. We turn to literature with subject matters that appeal to us. I like horses, and nearly four decades ago, I found a poet, Maxine Kumin, who wrote poems about horses, such as "Ars Poetica: A Found Poem," "Praise Be," and "Jack" (the latter two titles being names of horses).

Another reason people do not read poetry is lack of exposure. In some communities, poetry is not emphasized in school or at home. And if you can find a poetry station on your television network (among the news, sports, and variety shows), I would like to know where it is.

My interest in poetry sprouted in 1981 upon taking a class, "Introduction to Modern Poetry," through an extension program of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, held on several Saturday mornings at a local bank. The instructor was Bruce Weigl, who told us attendees that if we wanted to write poetry, we needed to read a lot of poetry. So my treasure hunt began.

My most dramatic discovery occurred in a Little Rock bookstore when I was thumbing through the book American Primitive by Mary Oliver. I landed on her poem "University Hospital, Boston." My reaction was palpable. I dropped my jaw and backed up a few steps.

And I had just learned in class that a good poem expresses sentiment, but not sentimentality. Somehow, Oliver knew how to execute a considerable amount of sentiment without stagnating the poem into mush.

Now, for an invitation: April 18, this coming Thursday, is "Poem in Your Pocket Day 2019," another outreach of the Academy of American Poets. We are encouraged to share a poem of our choosing with people we come in contact with on that eventful day. Yet if approaching strangers sounds a bit daunting, how about sharing one poem with just one person on April 18?

It could be like Christmas in April. It could be a new conversation piece. It could be a new exercise in freedom of speech.

Like spending time and effort to find that one special gift for a significant other, I am in the throes of deciding on my one poem. As of this writing, I am leaning toward "Mother" by Ted Kooser, but other poems by other poets are fervently circling the pond, eager to be presented on Poem in Your Pocket Day. To name a few: "The Lilies of Landsford Canal" by Susan Ludvigson; "Late Spring" by W.S. Merwin; "This Light" by Lily Peter; "Cardinal" by Bruce Weigl; and "A Christmas Hymn" by Richard Wilbur.

Hopefully, outstanding poems are coming to your mind, too, and you will decide to honor the month of April as National Poetry Month and April 18 as Poem in Your Pocket Day.

And to one degree or another, a good number of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette readers will discover, or re-discover, a durable bond in the pond of poetry.


Linda L. Scisson of Little Rock has been a participant in Poem in Your Pocket Day for several years. She has written poems, but prefers reading and promoting poems, such as those listed above.

Editorial on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: Ponder poetry

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