2019-04-01 / BookBag

Gems of Literary Culture

By Maria Burchill
Schlow Centre Region Library

It’s National Poetry Month, a month in which libraries and schools across the country celebrate those small, medium and epic gems of literature, poems. As a culture, we often overlook the occurrence of poetic form in everyday speech. Our lives are full of poetry, from the quiet thoughts we have when looking at an unmarked, snow-covered hillside to the time spent appreciating music lyrics. Poetry, like literature, is a deeply personal preference and is deeply cultural. You know what you like. This month, stop by Schlow Centre Region Library and check out a few of the treasured titles below or find another favorite. We have a broad selection from which to choose and have even updated the catalog on the Short Story Dispenser to include contemporary poems from authors around the world.

Few collections of poems have had the reach of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. T. S. Eliot’s wonderfully lyric poems even inspired the internationally renowned Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which is the fourth-longest-running Broadway musical in history. The edition at Schlow is illustrated by the late, great American artist Edward Gorey. His mischievous drawings augment Eliot’s poetic tales of the whimsical, wistful and, sometimes, naughty feline characters. Originally published in 1939, this collection proves that poetry can be fun, accessible and a staple of many librarians’ bookshelves.

For the classicist, poetry can be an epic adventure. Homer’s The Iliad, a poem dating back to ancient Greece, is widely accepted to have begun life as spoken word. Performance of poetry is a tradition that is alive and well across the country in the form of poetry slams and other lyric performances. Detailing the accounts of brave Achilles, The Iliad is one of those literary works that can be read bit by bit without feeling like you must commit to the whole.

Poetry can be powerful. Not to be missed is the winning title of this year’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. The award is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Penn State. Each year a jury reviews the best poetry books for young people published during the previous calendar year. This year’s winner is Andrea Davis Pinkney for Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. A children’s book of poems about the legendary Civil Rights leader, the 2019 jurors enthusiastically recommend it for its collection of powerful poems and “ethereal, swirling watercolor illustrations” by Brian Pinkney. Another plus: Andrea Davis Pinkney will visit the area and accept her award July 13 at the annual Bookfest PA!   

Poetry can be eerie or unsettling. It’s probably clear by now that I have a fondness for gothic literature, which isn’t for everyone. Still, Edgar Allan Poe is a favorite of mine, and I return to his poems and short stories often. Famous for “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee” and others, Poe’s work can be found in multiple collections and forms, and has inspired film, television and even music (I’m thinking of Alan Parsons Project here).

Adventurous, whimsical, eerie and powerful, poetry can inspire a broad spectrum of feelings and comes in a variety of genres. It’s in countless books at your library. This month, take a few minutes to read a poem, new or old, favored or inscrutable. Contemplate the creative restraint that the form requires; maybe even try to write one. Those moments will be well spent! •SCM

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