Monday, April 12, 2010

Between the Lines

Magnet # 215:  Walt Whitman Caricature

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

National Poetry Month is held every April, so if you've been wanting an excuse to re-read some of your favorites, here's your chance. As monthlong celebrations go, this one is relatively young. It was created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, who wanted to bring more attention to poetry in the modern world.

As far as American poets go, Walt Whitman, featured here, is one of the most popular. His collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, which praised and delighted in the senses, gained him a great deal of attention in his day. Unfortunately, not all of it was positive as there was a good deal of sensuality in his writings, which many readers found obscene.  But he was also a proud American and praised his country and democracy.  He was an abolitionist who lived before and during the Civil War and it greatly influenced his work.  Whitman wrote several poems about the conflict and others mourning the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  He lived in New York City, where he enjoyed immersing himself in crowds of people and talking with them.  He was also friends with Bram Stoker, who corresponded with Whitman until his death and claimed he was the model for Dracula. But if Whitman's poetry doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of other options.  Of course, I've mentioned another great American poet, Edgar Allen Poe, a few times on this blog. His dark, macabre poems are pretty much the opposite of Whitman's and they prove just how much variety can be found in the form. Other noteworthy American poets whose works are worthy of sampling include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou, to name a few.

And even though National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets, that's no excuse to exclude some of the talented poets from the other side of the Atlantic. One of my favorites is Robert Browning, an Englishman who wrote during the Victorian era. He is another writer who proves there really is no limit on what a poem can be. His most famous works are dark like Poe's, but they are dramatic monologues, a kind of poetry in which an individual reveals aspects of their character to the reader in relating past and present actions. Browning often chose to focus on figures of high social standing in these works, such as a duke, other members of the aristocracy, and even a monk. But many of his characters are morally reprehensible and involved in dark deeds, often murder. Reading as they try to justify their wicked acts is riveting - as with a train wreck, it's hard to turn away and these dramatic monologues make for insightful reads. And Browning was certainly familiar with dark individuals from his own life - his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the child of a tyrannical man who ruled over his 12 children with an iron fist, refusing to allow any to marry. And those who did, including Barrett Browning, were disinherited. Barrett Browning was another English poet of note, and she began publishing her work before her husband.  Her works are often sentimental and her collection, Sonnets from the Portuguese, consists of poems documenting her growing love for Browning.  And there are, of course, a great deal of talented English poets to choose from.  And with the country's long history, there have been many eras of great poetry, such as the Renaissance, Neoclassical times, and the Romantic era.  Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote Canterbury Tales, was one of the country's first great poets.  Later, the great Bard himself, William Shakespeare, rose to prominence, as did his contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and John Donne.  The Romantic times, which began in 1798 were considered a great age of poetry with poets such as William Wordsworth, William Blake, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelly.  And in Victorian times, the aforementioned Brownings were in the company of such greats as Christina Rossetti and Lord Tennyson.  And modern poetry has been produced in England by such great poets as W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot, who was born in the United States but went on to become a British citizen.  Clearly, the British Empire has consistently produced some of the world's greatest poets for centuries, and it could be argued that they have the richest poetry of any nation.

There are plenty of ways to take advantage of National Poetry Month.  Rereading some of your favorite poems is an obvious choice, as is branching out and trying new ones.  You could attend a poetry reading or even try to memorize a poem.  And if you'd like to try writing poetry yourself, you could always join a creative writing class or a poetry group.  And with the many different styles and subject matters of poetry that exist, there's sure to be one you'd find appealing.  So join in the fun and grab a poetry book.  And if I've left out one of your favorite poets, feel free to mention him or her on here.  Let's face it, there are so many poets out there that it's pretty much impossible to name them all - just another fact that makes this type of literature so great.

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