Off the Stacks: The Librarians' National Poetry Month Picks
As we're deep into National Poetry Month, librarians and literary mavens Talya Sokoll and Emily Tragert of the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts have shared with us a sampling of favorite poems from their fellow faculty members for the April edition of their GrubWrites series.
April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate we asked English faculty and the library staff to share a poem they love. Check out the poems they chose below, and if you have a poem of your own to share, we’d love to hear about it!
Teacher Kim L.
Louise Erdrich, “Advice to Myself.”
I have this poem posted on the wall of my office at Nobles and at home. I need the advice that Erdrich offers to herself — and to the world. She challenges our definition of what we “need” to get done to get in a day and urges us to pursue the authentic over the mindless and routine.
don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
Teacher Gia B.
Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early.”
Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I had taped to my bathroom mirror for a while. I wake up really early to walk my dog and get some work done before school starts, and this poem captures the good part of that. I don’t always greet the sun like this, but I like the idea, at least, of starting the day with “happiness and kindness.”
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
Director Erin T.
e.e. cummings, “spring is like a perhaps hand.”
I selected this poem because it’s appropriate for the season and because e. e. cummings’ writing and style gives me something to think about. At first I usually say, “hmm?” but then I reread the lines and like to come up with my own interpretation. Plus, cummings' poetry reminds me of my husband — his poetry was the first we read aloud together.
A few lines:
spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window, into which people look
Assistant Amy M.
Linda Shelburn Reagan, “Forget Me Not.”
I read this poem at my mother’s funeral. It’s touching, emotional, loving and so true. This poem I feel in my heart, and truly believe our loved ones are always with us.
Run the last mile with a smile on your face.
My arms will be waiting when you finish the race.
Always remember, my love is right there
In the beat of your heart,
On the wing of your prayer.
Teacher Alden M.
James Dickey, ”The Shark’s Parlor.”
A confession of sorts regarding this poem. I am not from the South, and I hate fishing … but I have loved this poem since I first read it, perhaps because it reads as a great story encased in a poem. It is the tale of a couple of young “good ole boys” who go shark fishing from a Gulfside cottage; the cottage is subsequently wrecked by the shark as it is hauled inside.
Here is a quotation:
The shark flopped on the porch, grating with salt-sand driving back in
The nails he had pulled out coughing chunks of his formless blood.
The screen door banged and tore off he scrambled on his tail slid
Curved did a thing from another world and was out of his element and in
Our vacation paradise cutting all four legs from under the dinner table
With one deep-water move he unwove the rugs in a moment throwing pints
Of blood over everything we owned knocked the buckteeth out of my picture
His odd head full of crashed jelly-glass splinters and radio tubes thrashing
Among the pages of fan magazines all the movie stars drenched in sea-blood
Each time we thought he was dead he struggled back and smashed
One more thing in all coming back to die three or four more times after death.
And here is James Dickey reading the poem.
Teacher Martha D.
Mary Oliver, “Summer Day.”
“Summer Day” is included in the “Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools” project that Billy Collins initiated when he was U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003). Like many other readers of this poem, I love the final question of the poem:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I love how “Summer Day” reminds me to “pay attention” to the world before me, to “kneel down in the grass,” to consider what I might do with my “one wild and precious life.” I love that the final question of the poem is worth asking today and yet again some other day. I hold this question close to me.
Librarian Emily T.
Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet.”
The day after 9/11, someone wrote this poem in chalk on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. It was a beautiful and comforting thing to see and I have loved it ever since.
A few lines:
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
Librarian Talya S.
Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Crazy Woman”
I love this poem because, when I read it for the first time as an eighth grader, the speaker’s feelings of being different really resonated with me.
I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”
Teacher Charles D.
e.e. cummings, “since feeling is first.”
I really enjoy the opening line’s assertion that feeling is first; the use of the word “since” shows there is no doubt from the narrator. Moving through the poem with that premise in mind, the theme of love over intelligence becomes reinforced in multiple ways. When the narrator asserts that
the best gesture of my brain
is less than your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other,
the flirtatious move has been elevated to a status above the best gesture of the narrator’s brain; a truly sublime experience it must have been to witness that eyelid flutter. These lines and this poem remind me how important it is to pay attention to the emotional connections we make with others, not just in romantic relationships but in all relationships that we have.
Talya Sokoll and Emily Tragert are librarians at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA. They are both proud graduates of the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science. Although they are separate people, they have many similar interests and are often mistaken for sisters, including by their own mothers. They enjoy traveling and are always on the lookout for Jewish delis and feminist bookstores wherever they go. They share a mutual obsession with The Rock.See other articles by The Librarians