100 Poems That Matter

If you read my brief reviews of poetry books, you can tell that I don’t understand most of the poems. It could be the language barriers or I just don’t get poetry. Fortunately, Richard Blanco, Academy of American Poets education ambassador and Barack Obama’s second inaugural poet, explains the art of reading poetry in the introduction of 100 Poems That Matter, an anthology selected by poets.org. He gives us the license to read poetry without having to understand the meaning behind the work. He writes:

We often listen or sing along to songs without knowing exactly what all the lyrics mean, but we certainly do know how songs make us feel. In other words, we first allow ourselves to experience the feeling of a song, without trying to decipher what it means, precisely. It’s important to initially engage poems in a similar way and accept that, even though we may not fully understand them, we can feel them. If you are deeply moved by even just a few lines from one poem in this book, then you get poetry. Like music, poetry instills in us a complexity of emotions; as we ponder those emotions, we learn the deeper meaning of the poem. What’s more, there are many different styles and periods of poetry, just as there is in music. It would be silly to say that you don’t like music because you heard a song you didn’t like. Yet we often treat poetry this way, as if all poems are the same. Which is to say, give yourself permission to not necessarily love every poem in this collection, though I’m confident you will find at least one that will stir your whole being because we naturally do get poetry in the same way we get music. Read that poem aloud over and over again, the way we repeatedly play our favorite songs and sing along to them. Let the poem sing in you.

I read the entire anthology and found a few favorites. I will be sharing them on this blog. The book design is just lovely. The typesetting is so damn gorgeous.