Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top Ten on Tuesday: Poetry

April is Poetry Month, and if you think you don't like poetry, my guess is that high school English classes ruined it for you.  The fact is, poetry is multi-faceted, from bawdy to reserved, loving to angry, dreamy to precise, flowery to minimalist.  Reading poetry can actually make you a better, more thoughtful reader of prose.  I've got a list of some of the most popular poets of all-time to share, and I hope you'll consider trying poetry again, for the first time.

William Shakespeare.  Best known for his comedies, tragedies and histories, The Bard also wrote 154 sonnets, which span a multitude of subjects from love and marriage to loneliness and death.  If reading his plays gives you a cold sweat, try Shakespeare in small doses via his sonnets.  You might be very surprised at what you find.  Start with Sonnet 130, my personal favorite.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Her Sonnet 43, How Do I Love Thee?, is actually part of modern culture:  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...  Her style is philosophical and purposeful, with a draw on classical literature.

W.B. Yeats.  Yeats's poetry spans approximately fifty years, and there is a distinct difference between his earlier poems, which are influenced heavily by the occult and Irish legends and his later work, which is more physical and realistic.

Robert Frost.  Best known for The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (and miles to go before I sleep), Frost's work frequently employed settings from rural New England life (he moved to Massachusetts at nine years old and remained for much of his life) and used these settings to examine more complex social and philosophical  themes.  His work is thought provoking and lingers long after one is finished reading.

e.e. cummings.  Cummings, often remembered as the preeminent voice of 20th century poetry, was incredibly prolific, producing approximately 2,900 poems as well as two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays.  He was also an artist and painter.  Cummings's style is traditional with a twist, including sonnets, and his themes included love, nature, and the relationship of the individual to the masses.

Carl Sandburg. Recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry (and a third for a biography of Abraham Lincoln), Sandburg is particularly well-known for his work about cities, Chicago in particular.  He is sometimes attributed to be the first American folk singer, as he used to accompany himself on guitar at readings.

Langston Hughes.  One of the early-innovators of the literary art form of jazz poetry, Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He was a poet, a playwright, a novelist, and a world-traveler.

Edgar Allan Poe.  Though his later career focused mainly on works of prose, Poe's early work was mainly poetry.  However, he was actually best recognized by his contemporaries as a literary critic, which perhaps was a driving force for some of his more satirical pieces.  His style is generally referred to as being of the Gothic, dark romantic genre.  

Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson was extremely prolific, but fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime.  Her younger sister found over eighteen hundred poems after Emily's death, and the first volume was published four years later.  Her early poems are conventional and sentimental, but her later work is much more emotional. 
Walt Whitman. One of the most influential American poets, Whitman is often called the father of free verse.  He was very controversial in his time, and his most well-known work, Leaves of Grass, was considered obscene at the time of its original publication.

I hope you'll embrace a little poetry this month, and use the list I've written as a starting point for further exploration!

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