Poems That Endure
In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I posted a poem (by another poet) on social media. A friend said they’d wished I’d read the poem aloud because they were interested but intimidated by poetry. It was the start of lockdown in NYC and, on a whim, I decided that for one week I’d post a reading of a poem by a poet no longer alive, hash tagged #Shelterinpoems, linking with a project of the Academy of American Poets.
While I suspected people would tire after day 3 (and I’m sure many did) at the end of that week there were many requests that I continue. Many were amazed they actually liked poetry. People wrote that poetry helped quell the constant buzz of their minds and was an antidote to the corrupted language of the news. Learning in brief increments sharpened focus some said. Many wrote that this was literally the calmest moment in their day. Some said it helped them ease into the morning (poetry as morning meditation?) Some said they saved the poems for easing the mind jangle at night. Would I please continue until life calmed down?
I’ve always relied on the solace of poetry and its power to boost, incite, include and sharpen my being. I’ve been made a better, kinder, smarter, more imaginative by the power of poetry. I admit it excites me that people, mostly non-writers want to hear poems. every day for it. I try to teach a little something about form and poetics that pertains to each poem/poet I read. Then I read the poem. The whole shebang takes between 4-7 minutes. The only unifying element in my poem selections is all are by poets no longer on the earth. Actually, there’s one exception. Otherwise, selections range in time period, background/nationality/formal intentions. (I’ve included the list so far.)
What has moved me is to see each day people turn toward and crave meaning, beauty and vision. More and more I understand that it helps people hear that what we went through, however strange and unprecedented, actually has precedence. Poets of every period have reckoned with the unknown, the uncertain, great loss and dislocation. Almost every day someone comments on how “apt” the daily poem selection feels. And, of course, they are apt because we humans have lived through extreme, unprecedented, frightening times through all of civilization. Our moment does not own grief. We do not own fear. We do not own bumbling leaders. And we do not own tenderness and joy and overwhelming pleasure and the smell of lilac even as horror persists.
I stopped daily readings sometime after 150 poems and continued more occasionally. So far 175 poems. People asked for me to compile them. I said, no way but here is a sampling, each by a poet who is no longer with us but who’s work endures. If you want to look at the whole group head over to my Instagram. Poke around. Hopefully some will move you.