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Staff Picks:  Reading Selections for National Poetry Month

April as National Poetry Month promises to be a powerful celebration of the versified word.  For some enthusiasts, running the circuit of spoken word gatherings and author readings is the real method of enjoying poetry.  For some, though, a good solid, industrial-strength collection of poems, read during a coffee break or on a sunny porch with a glass of iced tea nearby, is really the ticket for paying homage to this once-a-year fête of verse.

        For April, this month’s Staff Picks include collections of poetry from Edgar Allan Poe, North Carolina writers, classic Chinese, Persian, and Japanese poems, a young adult fiction selection about poetry and its effect on an inner-city classroom, and correspondence from the renowned poet Rainer Maria Rilke.  We hope that these will inspire you on to other great reads in the world of poetry.    


Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. Something’s going on in Mr. Ward’s high school English classroom in the Bronx. When Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone writes a poem instead of an essay for an assignment, Mr. Ward discovers that almost all of his 18 students have been inspired by their recent study of the Harlem Rennaissance to write poetry of their own. Because of this interest, Mr. Ward starts Open Mic Fridays, a time when students can share their poems and their lives. Through the raw honesty of their poetry, the students find surprising differences and similarities about each other. (Recommended by Brandon Bensley, Children’s Services)

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1902, Franz Kappus, a military school student and aspiring verse writer, first initiated a series of letters to Rainer Maria Rilke, then coming on his own as poet. Letters to a Young Poet shows Rilke’s side of the correspondence, comprised of 10 letters written between 1902 and 1908. In these letters, he offers Kappus his ideas on composing poetry and the experiences needed to write it. Throughout, his well-penned letters are infused with a wonderful sense of gentle criticism - indeed, the reading of these even today can resonate with the would-be wordsmith. (Recommended by William Hicks, Information Services)

Read excerpt from the letters here.

The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia by Inayat Khan; translations by Coleman Barks. One of the beautiful gifts to come to us from the Middle East is Persian Mystical poetry. You will be surprised to find that these writings from the 13th Century are still applicable today. Of the poets included, Rumi is the one most will recognize, but the others will become known to you by way of a translator’s introduction to each section. These “lectures” are not very long and definitely add to the reader’s enjoyment and understanding. This book is less than 200 pages and is a treat to read. (Recommended by Cheryl Jenkins, Circulation)

Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume I, Poems edited by Thomas Olive Mabbott. Mabbott certainly numbers among the great Poe scholars, and it is a pity he did not live to see this, his opus, in print. Mabbott selects the “best text” of each of Poe’s poems, relying on all known manuscripts, printed texts, revisions, variants, etc. Each poem is thoroughly introduced and annotated, providing biographical/historical background, as well as discussion of composition and bibilographic problems relating to first publication and attribution where relevant. For students studying the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Mabbott’s work can be considered the final word. (Recommended by Tim Cole, Information Services)

Ten Thousand Leaves: Love Poems from the Manyoshu.   Translated from the Japanese by Harold Wright   895.61 M29

One day, I copied down a poem from this book but forgot to write down the book’s title.  For eleven years afterwards, I was on a continual search for the book’s name.  One day, a woman called the library asking about information on haiku poetry and when I went to the shelves to find books for her, my eyes fell on this book, Ten Thousand Leaves.  As I usually did when I found collections of Japanese poetry, I decided to look inside for the poem.  The book nearly fell open to the very page it was on!  These poems are not haiku, but tanka, a similar form of poetry consisting of 31 syllables divided into five units.  This collection consists of 136 love poems drawn from the Manyoshu, a larger anthology of poems on a range of subjects compiled during the eighth century.  Written by royalty and peasants, warriors and priests, these lyrical tanka use nature imagery to express the many facets of love and longing.  For those who are interested, the poem I finally rediscovered is No. 20.  (Heidi Cary, Information Services)

Li Ching-Chao, Complete Poems
895.11 L69

Li, an internationally famed Chinese female poet, was born in the 11th Century.  She was not only known as a poet, art collector, literary critic, painter, calligrapher, but also as an esteemed political commentator.  She was the only female poet and political commentator before and after her time (the Sung Dynasty).  Her tz’u poems (one of the genres of Chinese poetry) are full of sublime conception, grandeur, and beauty.  Unfortunately, many of her lovely tz’u have been lost and only 16 remain.  (Belinda Lam, Information Services)