Does your reading go in waves and phases? Sometimes it’s all Post-Apoc all the time, and then you about-face and binge read Jane Austen until you find yourself online shopping for Empire waist gowns.
Sometimes you read Self-Help books until you’re crushed by the weight of inadequacy and are forced to read nothing but Romance until the feelings lifts.
Sometimes you get on a roll: book after book of amazing stories with unforgettable characters in breathtaking situations, and sometimes it feels like you’ve read all the best ones.
And sometimes you’re in the mood for something different.
When that happens, I suggest: read more poetry.
Poetry is hard to recommend – one person’s lament is another person’s limerick. Often there’s no rhyme or reason as to why someone likes one poem over another. Some care for couplets, others swoon for sonnets.
I confess that my poetry tastes used to run more to Dr. Seuss than the offerings in the New Yorker, but reading The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker, changed that.
The Anthologist is about a poet struggling to write the introduction to an anthology of poems. Not only is it a great story, written with Baker’s typical flair (and if you haven’t read anything by Nicholson Baker I also highly recommend The Everlasting Story of Nory) but it is also a perfect introduction to poetry. In the course of learning about the protagonist, Paul Chowder, you learn all sorts of things about poetry and poets. You’ll find yourself making notes of all the poets you want to check out after you finish the book.
When it’s time for a poetry binge, here are the books I prescribe. Some are serious and some are humourous, and some are more accessible than others, depending upon how poetry-versant you are, but all of them are worth the read.
The Trouble with poetry and other poems, by Billy Collins. My favourite is “The Introduction,” there’s a YouTube of Collins reading it here.
Li’l Bastard by Dave McGimpsey. A finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Dave McGimpsey’s poems reference literature, beer, baseball, and pop culture. And I love his titles: “Once I wanted to be an astronaut, now I wear a housecoat,” and “I did punch that guy in the neck, but it was the last game of the year at Wrigley and, in my defence, he did say, ‘Wait till next year!’”
The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Suzanne is my second cousin, but don’t let that deter you. I’d recommend her even if there were more than six degrees of separation between us. I love “Placebo” and this one: her tiny poem On Last Lines.
And then of course, when you’re in the mood for something lighter, there is the perennial favourite “I could pee on this, and other poems by cats,” by Francesco Marciuliano. Geared toward cat owners, but suitable for all pet lovers and poetry aficionados.
Have a poet or poem to recommend? Let me know!