Friday, April 9, 2010

Four Poets For People Who Don't Read Poetry

Poets are an admittedly clique-y bunch. We like to reference other poets and poems in our work, and we tend to stick to pretty academic and art-focused subjects. But occasionally, a really great poet will break out of the mold and become loved by poets and casual readers alike. And if a poet is particularly fantastic, he or she manages to get under the skin of even non-poetry readers. So here are my recommendations for the five poets who might spark the interest of people who don't read or like poetry, including links to the poets' Poetry Foundation pages featuring some of their work.

1. Philip Larkin: I know I constantly rave about Philip Larkin on this blog, and it's for good reason. He's a ridiculously good writer who knows how to play the line between emotional resonance, humor, and a heightened sense of language. He writes about everyday subjects and everyday people because he always saw himself as just another guy, a librarian who happened to write mind-blowingly-awesome poems. Even better (or worse, if you're a Larkin addict like me), he only published four slim volumes in his entire life, so his Collected Poems make for a sweet and satisfying read that won't take longer than a week. If "This Be the Verse" doesn't make you laugh and "Aubade" doesn't stir something in you, I worry you might not be human.

2. Charles Bukowski: I'm a little wary of suggesting Bukowski, since he's not exactly my cup of poetry tea. But for some reason, a lot of non-poetry-readers love his work. He's super-observant and writes in a conversational style that's easy to read. Plus his work is often so funny or preposterous or perverted that people can't help but be charmed by his down-and-outness.

3. Yusef Komunyakaa: Komunyakaa was one of the first poets I fell in love with. If I had to recommend one book of poetry by a single writer, I wouldn't hesitate to name Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau first thing. It's about his experiences in Vietnam, and it reads as beautifully and deeply as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried or any other war book ever written. It's an absolute must-read for anyone who loves books or humanity.

4. Anne Sexton: I was a little over-ambitious as a middle-schooler and made Anne Sexton's collected poems the very first book of poetry I read. Yikes - talk about an education. She writes about really angsty subjects: her battle with depression (she eventually committed suicide), sex, and being a woman in a man's world. A lot of people compare her to Sylvia Plath, who ended up being more famous. But you know what? I'd take Anne Sexton over Plath any day of the week. Sexton's a great poet to start with if you are mad at the world and need to find a way to quietly vent.

I hope this will be a nice starting point for all of you non-poetry people out there. And if you have any other suggestions for good "starter" poets, let me know!

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