Personal Librarians share Favorite Poems and Poets in Celebration of National Poetry Month
In celebration of National Poetry Month we asked our Personal Librarians to share their favorite poet and/or their favorite poem. Join in the Libraries National Poetry Month celebration by sharing your favorite poetry on our Social Media Sites. Be sure to tag #DragonsCelebratingPoetry so that we can see your comments.
- Alexis Antracoli
- Nancy Bellafante
- Jay Bhatt
- Sharon Brubaker
- Steve Bogel
- Gary Childs
- Kenneth Fisher
- Tom Ipri
- Janice Masud-Paul
- Larry Milliken
- Emily Missner
- Adam Mizelle
- Tim Siftar
- Kathleen Turner
- Shawn Woodson
One of my favorite poems is Michael Wigglesworth’s epic Day of Doom, originally published in 1662, describes the Day of Judgment when God sentences sinners to hell. While it may seem a bit of a stretch for the modern imagination Wigglesworth’s poem is richly descriptive, evoking an image of sinners startled out of their slumber by the return of Christ to earth.
I love how the poem captures the sentiments of another time so forcefully, taking the reader into the hearts and minds of people whose worldview is now so foreign to us. The Day of Doom reminds us that the past is really a foreign country, but one we can visit. Thankfully, we can also come home relatively easily!
When I was a teacher, I discovered the poetry of Billy Collins. His poems seem simple on the surface but they are truly the thoughtful work of a craftsman, an artist. His verses are clever, funny, warm, and truthful. You must listen to Collins read his poems; his comic delivery is perfect, and he has a wonderful voice (reminds me of Kevin Spacey, another favorite of mine). Below is a stanza from his poem, “Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.”
The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Listen to this NPR interview to hear Collins recite the entire poem.
"Resonating Vibrations" by Jay Bhatt
traversing thousands of miles
in the universe
through intuitive satellites
and a source of
to creative writing
of compassion and comfort
and those who can feel
receive and transmit
empathy and kindness
"Digging" by Seamus Heaney
“If poetry and the arts do anything,” says Irish poet Seamus Heaney, “they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.” The last three lines of Heaney’s poem Digging, “Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it,” fortify me, inspire me to keep going.
These three lines reference not only Heaney’s commitment to his father and grandfather, they indicate the strength of his convictions to his chosen career, poet. To Heaney writing poetry, is as a traditional, laborious, and sustaining a craft, as farming. Digging begins,” Between my finger and thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun….” The pen is comfortable; Heaney digs with it, uncovering connections to family, career, and daily life.
I don’t have a favorite poem or poet, but here is one that I like. It’s by Raymond Carver, best known for his short stories, but who wrote a lot of poetry near the end of his life. This poem was written after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s filled with the complexities, ironies, ambiguities, and awkward humor that make up the doctor-patient relationship.
"What The Doctor Said" by Raymond Carver
He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong
I really enjoy Jim Carroll. Granted Carroll isn’t a poet alone. Jim was also an author and musician. His work was unflinchingly honest and it led me to explore Beat-related authors such as Alan Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs. What he was writing while he was teenager was absolutely inspiring and frightening. A basketball player, an artist, and a heroin addict were all valid terms to describe Jim as a young man. This following piece is from his published autobiographical journal, the Basketball Diaries.
“Little kids shoot marbles where the branches break the sun into graceful shafts of light… I just want to be pure.”
I don’t know that it’s one of my all time favorites, but [in Just-] by E. E. Cummings is certainly one that I like. I remember when I first came upon the works of E.E. Cummings, I couldn’t understand why the text was lower case and sometime in “shapes” on the page. I still can’t say I understand it all, but I liked the novelty and that’s what drew me to investigate more of his poetry and poetry in general.
Tom Ipri, Liaison Librarian for Media Arts & Design
I would have to say that e.e. cummings is one of my favorite poets. He is experimental and intellectually challenging and yet very emotionally engaging. Despite his adventurous use of syntax, one can also glean some meaning from his works because the emotions are universal and accessible. Among my favorite of his works is "somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond."
When I was a little girl I found a volume of poets from the Harlem Renaissance in my grandfather’s house. I immediately fell in love with Countee Cullen. I don’t think I initially appreciated the meaning of his poems but I loved their cadence and the images they formed in my mind. My favorite was From the Dark Tower. Whenever I hear or read it I think of my grandfather and how much he sacrificed to create a better environment for his family.
“From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullen
We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made to eternally weep.
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.
I tend to like political poets. One of the poets whose work has remained with me for many years is the Latino poet from New York, Martin Espada. I first encountered his work at a reading in 1992, shortly after I moved to the Bronx. The mostly brief poems captured aspects of city life that I saw, or heard about, at the tail end of a troubled time for New York. Poverty, racism, immigration, abusive landlords, crime, and a lack of real justice all appear in his powerful work. The 1993 book City of Coughing and Dead Radiators is in the Libraries’ collection, here, and is one that I own myself.
Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Joeffy] by Christopher Smart. It is the best poem ever written about a cat.
Kurt Schwitters was a collage artist, author, sculptor, print-maker and poet of the Dada movement in Germany in the 1920’s. My father, a composer, occasionally performed Schwitters’ Ursonate, a twenty- minute sonata in nonsense syllables. His interpretation was kind of a wild, dynamic incantation that dad would go into at home to get a laugh out of me and my brothers.
As older boys, we would go to his performances and watch him recite like a madman on stage, always getting a rise out of the audience. Later on in a college composition class, I chose a Schwitters work in translation, Murder Machine 43, to set to song with marimba accompaniment.
"Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein
Silverstein inspires creativity with irreverence for convention and authority. The pen and ink illustrations are hilarious too.
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W.B. Yeats
For the sense of peace, simplicity and self-containment.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Khalil Gibran was a was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer. In America, he is best known for his 1923 book The Prophet. Most of Gibran’s writings deal with Christianity and the idea of spiritual love, but it’s his many quotes and his poem titled “On Children” that initially caught my attention.
"On Children" by Khalil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.