Even though I try to do a good job of balancing the books I read between memoir, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, sometimes things get off. A bunch come in from the library all at once or I have a particular commitment to read a specific book. Maybe one book just leads naturally into another which, in turn, leads me down a rabbit trail.
Last month, I read both We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates and When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. While one was a compilation of articles about race during the Obama administration and one was a memoir culminating in the founding of the Black Lives Matter Movement, both dealt with some heavy and uncomfortable topics.
I finished When They Called You a Terrorist feeling overwhelmed. I thought, perhaps reading something completely different would help clear my head while I processed Khan-Cullors’ story. After several starts and stops, I just wasn’t connecting. The stories and information I had just spent time with needed more time to absorb.
A friend suggested poetry to help me pause, breathe, and give space to what I had just read. The library came through and Counting Descent by Clint Smith arrived just in time. These are not light poems, by any means. They deal with the realities of being a black man in today’s world. And yet, by the very nature of the medium gives space for really big topics.
It reminded me of the importance of always having a book of poetry on hand. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite collections.
The Gift by Hafiz
I kept this volume of poetry in the playroom when Bea was small. As she toddled around and explored, I sat in a chair by the window and snuck in a poem or two a day. Frank’s aunt gifted me my copy and told me to open it at random – this would be my poem. I opened to page 139, “Muhammed’s Twin.” It continues to be one of my favorites in this collection.
Leavings by Wendell Berry
This volume by America’s farmer-poet was one I loved reading first thing in the morning. As a city dweller, I can easily lose sight of nature and Berry kept me rooted in the land. His poetry reads like a prayer, helping me to pause and notice my surroundings – from the chirping of birds to the rustle of leaves.
Selected Poems by e.e. cummings
I’ve had this since high school and keep returning to it. I love cumming’s style and his ability to help me re-notice the most ordinary of things. One of the first postcards I mailed to Frank when we were dating was a cummings poem. I feel like he’ll always have a special place on my shelf of poetry.
When I finish Smith’s powerful collection, I already have Hagar Poems by Mohja Kahf ready and waiting. I’m remembering to always have poetry on hand and part of my reading routine.
What about you? Do you regularly read poetry? What is your favorite collection?