The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Happy National Poetry Month!

"Take a Poem" by flickr user pedrosimoes7

Take a Poem by flickr user pedrosimoes7

Take a Poem by flickr user pedrosimoes7

Well, it's officially April. Not only does this mark the start of National Poetry Month, but it's also time to begin our countdown to the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, which will take place April 29-30 in Washington, DC. To kick off the next few weeks of couplets and quatrains, we pulled together a collection of thoughts on poetry, taken from interviews and podcasts the NEA has conducted through the years. And of course, you'll find thoughts from some of the Big Read poets themselves. Enjoy!

"I don’t agree with [W.H.] Auden that poetry makes nothing happen, because it’s had such a huge influence on me and many people that I know. But it changes us one by one. If it’s aimed at that kind of universal change, it usually turns out to be crap." ---Phil Levine 

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know about it. Is there any other way?" ---Emily Dickinson

"Poetry is describing the indescribable. Poetry actually encompasses those most interior moments that we have when we're struck speechless because emotion, some kind of emotion, has rendered us so." ---Rita Dove

"We tend to underestimate the psychic costs of writing lyric poetry. It’s already a dangerous effort that requires considerable amounts of character and self-awareness. And when we consider that the fear of coming to terms with one’s own unique humanity is a major hazard in the writing process, it’s thrilling to discover what becomes possible when that fear is diminished." ---Gregory Pardlo

"I need poetry to refresh myself all the time. If I don’t do that, I think I am dying. Poetry or a thought or a noise can give me a rebirth, deliver me again and again." ---Xi Chuan

"Poets biodegrade in short periods of time. If there’s any chance that the poem might have a half-life after the poet’s death, that’s wonderful. Not all of us are so lucky." ---J. Patrick Lewis

"My  main goal as a writer is to keep surprising myself." -- Suzanne Buffam

"I think that most writing is an effort to save one's life. I think we are trying to find a place where we can live. You know, mark out a little territory for ourselves that is congenial to us. So that lots of times, my poems are trying to find a place where I can breathe. I affirm the things that I don't find affirmed elsewhere." ---Kay Ryan

"Whoever needs an inner life also needs poetry." ---Zhou Zan

"If a poem is successfully recited you’ve stepped into somebody else’s skin. The poet asks you, 'See what I saw. Feel what I felt. Hear what I’ve heard. Think what I’ve thought.' And that’s a very empathetic experience for us to have. I think that’s why poetry enriches us. Poetry can take common everyday language and hold it up in front of a light so you look at it in a completely different way." ---Natalie Merchant

"Poetry enlarges our interior lives. It allows us to see the world anew." ---Brian Turner 

“To feel greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural / Beauty, is the sole business of poetry." ---Robinson Jeffers

"I sit with a thousand words in my head trying to make something shiny and real out of them." Nikky Finney, on writing poetry

"Good poetry is good poetry and it spans oceans. It spans cultures. It spans working styles or lifestyles and has a general appeal to anyone and everyone if it’s written well and if it’s presented well." ---Joel Nelson

"For me poetry is just as capable of telling stories as any other genre." ---Gary Jackson

"I didn’t always understand why (or if) a poem was beautiful, but it seemed clear that poems were stranger and more emotionally charged than anything else we read in school." --- Ken Chen


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