I’ll start with a confession. I’ve never particularly liked poetry. I read everything quickly, skipping words and phrases that seem extraneous. I want to get right to the heart of a story, a description, an insight. I rarely linger. I rarely pause to reflect. This is odd coming from an author whose novels tend to be long and descriptive, but my attention span is short. My mind resembles a hummingbird.
I was not a literature major in college, nor did I study writing, so my acquaintance with poetry is meager. Then I had the good fortune to hear poet Billy Collins lecture at Chautauqua Institution several years ago. I was entranced.
Recently my husband told me about an idea for daily meditation. Read a poem, then find a word, a phrase, an idea to reflect on that day. Note he did not say analyze or memorize, nor beat to death? For many of us that’s all poetry has ever meant. Tear a poem apart, word by word, find its inner essence by destroying it. Agonize over the poet’s intent, then, in a sing-song voice, recite the words to a classroom of uninterested peers, stumbling with anxiety.
Billy Collins, who was our national poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, wants to change that. In conjunction with the Library of Congress, he helped create the Poetry 180 website referring to the 180 classroom days in most American high schools. Included on the website are a poem for each of those days, chosen with a high school audience in mind and chosen to be read out loud. These are accessible poems, deep and meaningful but not meant to be dissected. They are meant to be loved at first glance, caressed, absorbed. They are meant to change us and change our understanding of the world and the genre.
Every Sunday I’d like to explore a poem on this blog. For those of you who want to join us, I’ll be posting a link to a poem, either one from the Poetry 180 website, or perhaps one from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor or another source. We won’t be analyzing, and unless you’re so taken with a poem you can’t resist, we won’t be memorizing. We’ll be reading and reflecting.
What’s your part? Just slow down a little and come along for the read. If you’d like to tell us what the poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored. But there are no demands or imperatives. The photo on today’s blog will appear each Sunday along with a poem’s link. Out of respect for copyright, I won’t be posting the poem of the day on the blog, but it will be just one easy click away. If I have something to add, I will. If you have something to add, please do.
Today’s poem is entitled Introduction to Poetry, and it’s by Billy Collins himself. Come “walk inside the poem’s room” with us today and every Sunday. You will be welcome.