My husband and I have an uneasy truce in the argument over whether the words or the music is most important in a song. I contend that the words dictate the mood and kind of music to reflect the meaning. After all, the lyrics are poems set to music, right?

So in observance of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing three of the new volumes of verse that we have in our collection.

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker presents an archive of black everydayness; a catalog of contemporary folk heroes. Her poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration. She connects themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification while exploring the troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans.

If you have not heard the phrase before, a “Magical Negro” describes a black character in a film or literature who appears for the sole purpose of saving a white person – often through special powers. Think The Legend of Bagger Vance or The Shining.

In an interview for NPR, Parker, the 2017 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, said,”I really wanted to rethink that trope because you never get to know those characters and their interior lives or anything like that. They’re there to serve a purpose.” she says. “And I wanted to reimagine the black experience as having much more agency than that.”

The next recommendation is based on real events. In Soaring Earth, Margarita Engle details her teenage years in Los Angeles against the turbulent backdrop of the Vietnam War.

In vulnerable verse, she addresses the notions of peace, civil rights, freedom of expression, and environmental protection that are once again under threat. Despite these circumstances, young Margarita was able to find solace and empowerment through her education.

Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate and the first Latino to receive that honor.

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Shout – A Poetry Memoir – When she was 13- years-old, Laurie Halse Anderson was a shy, bookish girl who was raped by a boy she trusted. She has since become known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault.

Inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed in the years since, she has written a poetry memoir that shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. I also recommend listening to the audiobook version.

Poetry can transform, and as Dan Rifenburgh in his essay on writing, “In addition to qualities of memorability, musicality, imagination, and invention, we expect poetry to touch us at an emotional level. Take the passion out of poetry, and we are left with something dry and rather ridiculous.”

Happy National Poetry Month and happy reading, Susan C.

If you’re not sure how to get the most out of a poem, we also have titles to help with that such as the not-so-new treasure, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry by Edward Hirsch.

One response to “National Poetry Month, A Reader’s Advisory”

  1. Lila Avatar

    I’m with you, Susan. The words are definitely more important…


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