Deep Lane


I started this morning reading poetry, and couldn’t have found a better book of contemporary American poems than Mark Doty’s Deep Lane. He writes about memory, love, and human connections. Masterfully, he encases most of these themes in strikingly beautiful nature poems.

How gifted Doty is describing things as ordinary as a deer in a backyard, when he writes ”a buck in velvet at the garden rim, / bronze lightly shagged, split thumbs / of antlers budding.”

He also celebrates humanity in everyday New York City: the three barbers he visited for ten years who suddenly disappeared, the one-armed man at the gym, his old friend, Dugan, who appears suddenly on 15th Street, “—why shouldn’t the dead / sport a little style?” Read more »

New United States Poet Laureate


Just announced: the Library of Congress appointed Juan Filipe Herrera as our latest national poet laureate. The child of migrant farm workers, Herrera is the first Latino poet laureate. As a child, he traveled up and down the state of California with his parents, and later attended UCLA with the help of a grant for disadvantaged youth.

At the age of 21, Herrera was inspired by the debut book by Puerto Rican poet, Victor Hernandez Cruz.

He also writes children's books and those for young adults. Check out our list of his titles. Read more »

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World


It’s National Poetry Month, and if you want to learn more about the form, pick up this book. Hirshfield writes fine poetry imbued with a Zen calmness and childlike wonder about the natural world. Her prose is intelligent, well-written and informed by a great knowledge of poetry--both modern and classical.

But it’s her descriptions about writing poems that I like best. As she says, “Poetic imagination is muscular, handed, and kinesthetic.” She describes the poet’s reach into the world as “prehensile.”

According to Hirshfield, poets bring the world of the senses to the page, “In poetry’s words, life calls to life with the same inevitability and gladness as bird calls to bird, whale to whale, frog to frog.” Read more »

Once in the West


Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.”  In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”  

As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him.  Several poems celebrate his Read more »

Nostalgia, My Enemy


A great way to explore another culture is through poetry. This book, by one of the best living writers in Arabic, Saadi Youssef, does just that. It also provides beautiful poetry.

Youssef writes about all the traditional topics: love, nature, the changing seasons, and daily activities but he also describes his pain and anger at seeing the damage to his home country. In "A Difficult Variation" he describes his wishes for his native country, "Peace be upon Iraq's hills, its two rivers, the bank and the bend, / upon the palm trees / and the English hamlet gently dragging its clouds."

He writes deeply poignant poems about Iraq. In one he asks, “Is it your fault that once you were born in that country? / Three quarters of a century / and you still pay from your ebbing blood / its tax.” Read more »

New U.S. Poet Laureate Announced


The Library of Congress just appointed Charles Wright from Virginia to be our new national poet laureate. Some ofour best contemporary poets have brought their energy and vision to promote this ancient, ever-changing art. Recent poets laureate have included: Billy Collins, Natasha Tretheway, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, Ted Kooser, and Kay Ryan.

Some of their projects live on. Ted Kooser created a free weekly newspaper column called American Life in Poetry that features work each week by a different poet.  Billy Collins started Poetry 180 a website that has spurned at least two books that have brought accessible poetry to high school students and the general public.  Natasha Tretheway started a series on PBS’s The News Hour called “Where Poetry Lives.” It includes segments of contemporary poets reading their own work and describing how it came to be.

And what, you might ask, will Charles Wright do?  In the New York Times announcement of his  post, Wright said that he and his wife spend two summer months each year in a remote corner of Montana. He will envision his new project there, something worthy of the tradition that earlier appointees have started.  Read more »

Another Day in This Here Cosmos


If you’re looking for some interesting new poetry, go no further than Maureen McLane’s new book. Even the titles are inviting: “Another Day in this Here Cosmos,” “OK Fern,” “Tell Us What Happened in the 14th Century,” and “Morning with Adirondack Chair.” McLane writes often about travel, nature, love, but most importantly it’s all filtered through the lens of her mind. Her particular world-view is humorous and serious at the same time, and often feels edgy, new. There’s a sense that she does not take herself too seriously while at the same time, she writes in deep earnest.

One poem begins, “OK fern / I’m your apprentice / I can tell you // apart from your / darker sister.” It ends with a sincere request for the wild plant to tell the narrator what to do with her life. (We’ve all been there speaking to trees or inanimate objects.)

In “Levanto,” a beautiful travel poem, she says, “scant pines / stagger the Apennines / semaphoring….I am older / than the sea / in me.” Read more »

Give Children Words to Love...


“Poetry is a rhythmical piece of writing that leaves the reader feeling that life is a little richer than before, a little more full of wonder, beauty, or just plain delight.” - Aileen Fisher

Poet Aileen Fisher was the second person to receive the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children presented by the National Council of Teachers of English to a living American poet in recognition of their work. The award was first given in 1977. But before then and certainly ever since, teachers have recognized that poetry is a marvelous form of literature to share with new readers, reluctant readers, budding writers, and, well – everyone! Like songs, poetry is meant to be shared aloud. The rhyme, rhythm and repetition that are characteristic of poetry help children hear the different sounds of language.

“Research and experience tell us that children are most likely to be successful in reading and writing a word if they’ve had repeated experiences with hearing and saying the individual sounds in the word,” notes teacher Babs Hajdusiewicz, author of Phonics through Poetry. Poetry is an invitation to play with language, to relish the different sounds and meanings words make, and to pause and reflect on how something looks or sounds or feels. Invite your child to experience the joy of poetry and its descriptive power. You can find a wide variety of award winning poets and notable collections of poetry for children in the Library.

And join us for Storyhour Extravaganza this month, when we celebrate some of the first poems a child learns: Mother Goose rhymes. While you’re in the library you might like to listen to some Mother Goose rhymes on the iPad in the Children’s Department. (The Mother Goose on the Loose app, which can be downloaded for free through iTunes, also lets you play with Mother Goose characters and tell your own stories.) You can also pick up one of our handy pre-printed poems for your pocket - and as poet Eloise Greenfield recommends: “Give children words to love, to grow on.”




It’s National Poetry month, so I want to introduce a new book of poetry to you, Charles Wright’s Caribou.  Pulitzer Prize winner, Wright composes strong, elegiac poems in an easily accessible style and whatever subject matter they cover, all lead back to the world’s incredible yet fragile beauty. Here’s a sample from “Natura Morta”: “The tiny torches of the rhododendron leaf tips / Trouble our eyesight, / and call us into their hymnal deep underground.”

The most touching poems discover the magical world of night while also exploring the mystery of death as in “Time and the Centipedes of Night”:  “When the wind stops, there’s silence. / When the waters go down on their knees and touch their heads / To the bottom, there’s silence, when the stars appear / face down, O Lord, then what a hush.” Read more »

Little Jewels--Haiku


If you like haiku or are merely curious about the art, dive into this book. It traces the origin of the form in English from Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro” through the effusive Beats (Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsburg) to contemporary masters of these powerful small poems. In the introduction, Billy Collins describes his love for these small gems and unlike many of the other artists included here, he writes in the familiar 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. 

Here are a few of my favorite haiku included in the collection. But alas, there were so many good ones, it was hard to choose a small sample:

passport check

my shadow waits

across the border                            --George Swede Read more »

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