One of the most treasured books in my home library is “One Hundred and One Famous Poems,” a book that belonged to my mother. This anthology helped plant the seed for my own life-long love of poetry, introducing me to some of the greats I still frequently revisit, such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Browning. I realize now that the works in it came from a fairly narrow — mostly dead — demographic, but it provided a starting point from which to branch out. With the approach of World Poetry Day on March 21, and National Poetry Month in April, the time feels right to mention a few poets whose work I’ve enjoyed recently. They are all alive and still writing.
Like so many others, I was mesmerized by poet Amanda Gorman’s performance during the presidential inauguration in January. Her powerful cadences and message of hope resonated deeply. Now, Viking Press is publishing “The Hill We Climb” as a book, due to be released March 30.
“An American Sunrise” by Joy Harjo, current poet laureate of the United States, reflects on U.S. history as experienced by those whose roots on this continent predate the country’s founding. The voice in many of these poems is haunted, but strong at the core, with mentions of angry ghosts and guardian trees. “Directions to You” is one of my favorites from the collection. “You will not always be lost / You are right here / In your time / In your place” the narrator says to one whose entire tribe has been forcibly displaced.
In Marianne Chen’s debut book, “All Heathens,” most of the works radiate from the center of Chen’s family experiences and their Filipino culture. Within that framework, she hits on universal struggles around identity, place and family. A poem titled “When the Man at the Party Said He Wanted to Own a Filipino” evokes all the feelings experienced by anyone who’s ever been in a vulnerable position and had a run-in with that drunk guy. You know the one. Chen dives deep into a rumination on the constant strategizing necessary to survive the world in the face of racism.
As I was reading “Life on Mars” by Tracy K. Smith, I was overcome with happiness that someone finally published a book combining three of my areas of interest — poetry, science fiction, and David Bowie. A couple of these poems punched me in the gut, while others had me quietly nodding my head in recognition. I might have exclaimed aloud, “Wow! Cool!” a time or two. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, will be one of the panelists at the Unbound Book Festival’s online keynote event, Friday, April 23.