What to Read When You Don't Read Poetry

Maybe you don't read poetry. That wouldn't make you unique by any stretch of the imagination. But allow me to be bold and suggest that maybe you just haven't found the right poetry yet.

Poetry is a continent with many countries and you could never hope to visit them all. And while I can't prove it, I think there's a kind of poetry for every kind of person on this planet, and a poem for every mood and situation they find themselves in.

Here are some people and places you should consider visiting during National Poetry Month 2015, from the local and familiar to the foreign and exotic.

Start with a classic. Get acquainted with 'Leaves Of Grass,' by Walt Whitman, considered by many to be the father of both free verse and American poetry. He spent his life refining and perfecting this book and you owe it to yourself to read it. It's a universe of perfectly broken language.

Or maybe you'd like something grittier. Seedier. Less noble and more contemporary.

At the darker end of the rainbow to Walt Whitman, there's 'You Get So Alone At Times' by Charles Bukowski. It's filled with alcoholism, sex, gambling and the flotsam and jetsam of the human condition, all of it superbly and almost casually observed. It's like listening to someone describe the end of the world while making a sandwich.

If you're looking for something with a sense of purpose, give Saul Williams' 'Said The Shotgun To The Head' a chance. It's a brilliant and brutally inspiring example of poetry as commentary and protest.

On a similar note, 'The Rose That Grew From Concrete,' by Tupac Shakur contains the early thoughts of one of hip-hops greatest lost talents.

While still in the world of music, how do you feel about Leonard Cohen or Yoko Ono? Leonard Cohen was an award winning poet way before he started writing music. His latest, 'Book of Longing,' from 2006 will give you a rare insight into the man behind the legend and the heart that occupies his chest. And Yoko Ono's book, 'Acorn,' is a kind of magical set of directions, exercises and experiments, with the directions and exercises themselves being poetry.

Or maybe you're looking for something to move you closer to yourself, something philosophical and spiritual. If you are, read the 'Tao Te Ching.' It's speaks to the poetry of a life well lived in short, bite sized bits, like Psalms or Proverbs.

On the other hand, how about video games? If you like video games, listen to the author of 'Ready Player One,' Ernest Cline, in his early slam poetry days. I heartily recommend his spoken word album, 'Ultraman is Airwolf' (available for free on his website) and, regardless of whether you're a nerd or not, the poem 'Dance Monkeys Dance.'

Have you lost someone you loved? 'Crush' by Richard Siken, which was heavily influenced by the death of his lover, is a heartbreakingly beautiful catalogue of sorrow and loss. It plays with light and shade in a way many writers and even painters could only hope to.

Maybe no one died. Maybe you're just being trolled. Listen to the poem 'Troll' by Shane Koyczan. It's an incredibly moving portrait of Internet trolls, who they are and what they mean.

For me, personally, my current favorite poem is 'Lighght' by Aram Saroyan. You've just read the whole thing. It's one word long.

There's a lot out there, some strange and some familiar. But whatever you decide to read, let me give you one rule to keep: If you're not enjoying it, stop reading it.

It's art, not work, and if it's not working for you, it's not your art. Move on to something else. Skip. Jump around. We don't, or at least, shouldn't, read poetry to impress others or to try and prove something to ourselves.

We read poetry because it's exhilarating to recognize ourselves in someone else's words, and it delights some sacred part of us when we see a familiar part of the world in a new and strange light.

So start searching wherever you want but whatever you do, start. Because if you're lucky, somewhere on the continent of poetry, you will find yourself, living and breathing as someone else.


What book would you give to someone who doesn't read poetry? Let us know in the comments.