Friday, December 28, 2012

Three Poet Laureates

I'm always trying to read poetry (at least one poem a day) and increase my knowledge of contemporary poets. So I thought reading the work of a few poet laureates of the United States would be a good place to start.

Philip Levine's term recently ended. I caught the tail-end of his presentation at the National Book Festival, and became interested in reading some of his work. I selected What Work is, for no particular reason. I think I need to read a few more of his poems to get a better feel for his work. I thought he had very vivid imagery.

Ted Kooser was selected as poet laureate when I was in graduate school. At the time, I was taking a course that was run as a writers workshop. After the announcement the teacher went to the store and purchased one of his books. She read a couple of his poems to us at our next class. I always remembered that even though it took me several years to purchase one of his books. I chose Valentines because it's available on my Nook. Each year, from 1986 until 2007 Kooser wrote a poem for Valentine's Day and mailed it to an ever-growing list of women. He had to give it up because postage to mail postcards to 2,600 women was way too expensive. This book is a collection of those poems. Generally, these are not mushy romantic poems. The poems are not difficult or full of obscure references. They're all short, so it's a good place to start if you fear poetry. I loved this collection. I wanted to read more immediately, but unfortunately, there weren't any available at the time (on my e-reader, as it was at night when I finished). I asked for some other Kooser books for Christmas, so I'm reading one right now. Ted Kooser is my favorite of the poets I've been reading.

This first book I read with Billy Collins's name on the cover only had one or two poems by him in it. As part of his work as poet laureate he created a website and program called Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools. The poems were to be short, modern, and accessible. The idea was to take away the threat and return the enjoyment to poetry and make it a part of everyday life. He collected these poems into a book called Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. When I found a copy at a book fair, it seemed like a perfect way to increase my knowledge of contemporary poets. It does have excellent, short, accessible poems in it. My copy has a least a dozen strips of paper sticking out of it marking poems I especially liked. This book has a sequel that I will be purchasing.

I also read The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems by Billy Collins. I picked it just because of the title. It is another collection with some beautiful poems. I don't feel like there was anything threatening about any of the poems here. Just words and images strung together the way they're supposed to be.

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