It is a truth universally acknowledged in book-loving communities that if you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right books. With so much out there – romance, mysteries, short stories, cookbooks, self-improvement, etc. – there really is something for everybody. Even devout lovers of the written word, however, sometimes shy away from poetry. The distaste for poetry reaches as far back as Socrates, and the notion of saccharine sing-songy rhymes and cliche metaphors for love and loss deter many readers. Poetry comes in so many styles, though, that if you don’t like poetry, you probably haven’t found the right poet. Whatever your taste, chances are there is a collection of poetry whose tone, content, and style mimic that of your favorite prose. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are some poetry and prose pairings to match you with your new favorite bard.
If you like “Wuthering Heights,” you may like the poetry of Sylvia Plath. The intensity, passion, pain, and jagged beauty resemble the tumultuous romance and rugged moors of Emily Bronte’s imagination.
“I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free – / The peacefulness, so big it dazes you, / And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets. / It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them / Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.” – “Tulips” from “Ariel.”
If you like the prose (both fiction and nonfiction) of Wendell Berry, you may like the poetry of (well, Wendell Berry, but also) Mary Oliver. Both elevate the beauty of the natural world and offer a simultaneously grounding and uplifting view of how we can find meaning, both as individuals and as a community.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” – “Wild Geese” from “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.”
“Does my haughtiness offend you? / Don’t you take it awful hard / ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard?” – “Still I Rise” from “The Complete Poetry”
If you like “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” you may like the poetry of Ocean Vuong. The narrators are verysimilar. Yunior’s Dominican roots color his narration of his own life and that of Oscar, with him frequently evoking Trujillo’s violent and devastating regime in the Dominican Republic. Vuong, a child of Vietnamese parents, frequently speaks through the lens of the violence his family experienced during the Vietnam War. In both works, the narrators struggle with coming of age and establishing a sense of identity.
“Your father is only your father / until one of you forgets. / Like how the spine/ won’t remember its wings / no matter how many times our knees / kiss the pavement. Ocean, / are you listening? The most beautiful part / of your body is wherever / your mother’s shadow falls.” – “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” from “Night Sky With Exit Wounds”
If you like “House of Leaves,” you may like the poetry of Richard Siken. The dark, gritty tone grappling with the panic and confusion that dominate Siken’s collection “Crush” resembles Johnny’s journey with the manuscript. “War of the Foxes” speaks more to The Navidson Record itself, and the meaning of art and the importance (if any) of artistic criticism.
“We have not touched the stars / nor are we forgiven, which brings us back / to the hero’s shoulders and the gentleness that comes / not in the absence of violence but despite / the abundance of it.” – “Snow and Dirty Rain” from “Crush.”