If you want to clear a room, most people would agree that yelling “Fire!" works nicely. However, if you don’t mind a more leisurely exodus, the word “poetry” will do.

Although poetry doesn’t inspire dread like say, Ebola or April 15—it certainly seems to make a lot of people nervous. “That stuff is over my head,” I've heard some folks say, if poetry comes up in conversation. “I had enough of poetry in school,” is another well worn comment. Such attitudes make a poet’s job tougher when it comes to marketing our collections. We have to sell poetry in general before we even begin trying to sell our own books.

Since my second collection, Telling Tales of Dusk (Press 53), came out in September, 2009, I’ve been trying my best to dispel the myth that poetry is just for academics and that it’s too abstract or difficult for the average person to understand. I often start off a poetry reading with a little poem called, “Tomato Sandwich.” This poem is about as simple as you can get other than nursery rhymes, but works hard to convince even a skeptical gourmand that “…eating a garden tomato sandwich in your own kitchen is finer than a café lunch in Paris.”

I often use “Tomato Sandwich” as a tool in poetry workshops for young people, encouraging them to write about their most or least favorite foods. “Don’t just tell readers how you love or hate it,” I say to them. “Make them taste it, see it, smell it, feel it!” A good poem doesn’t just “tell” a story—it pulls the reader into its mini-universe like a 3-D movie.

And there are a lot of good poems out there and wonderful poets—with books that are often left out when it comes to summer reading lists. So here are a few (among dozens) that I’d recommend to you as you head out to the beach, or whenever you can steal some time for a memorable read. I hope you’ll give these books and any other book of poetry you might find appealing as you wander around your favorite bookstore, a chance to entertain you. (And if you can wait until Fall for a good one, try Isabel Zuber's Red Lily, coming out in September, 2010).

1. Telling Tales of Dusk, by Terri Kirby Erickson (You thought I wouldn’t put MY book at the top of MY list? :o)
2. Thread Count, by Terri Kirby Erickson (Um, why not list them both?)
3. Delights & Shadows, by Ted Kooser
4. What is This Thing Called Love? by Kim Addonizio
5. Love and Other Collisions, by Joseph Mills
6. The Fractured World, by Scott Owens
7. Dream Work, by Mary Oliver
8. After the Fairy Tale, by Maureen A. Sherbondy
9. The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, by Joy Harjo
10. Sure Signs, by Ted Kooser
11. Paper House, by Jessie Carty
12. Selected Poems, by Rita Dove

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Comment by Terri Kirby Erickson on July 18, 2010 at 7:29am
Hi Julie...yes, I have that kind of mother, too...lucky us! She always read to me when I was a child. And now, she is so supportive of my writing career--both my books and all the anthologies where one can find my poetry, are proudly displayed on her coffee table... Not every person is so fortunate, however, to have a parent who values the written word. I think of this when I face a group of young people, some of whom are still very eager to learn in spite of never having been exposed to poetry other than in a classroom setting. A young man came to one of my workshops last week and told me that he wants to be a rapper... I was delighted that he had made the link between making rap music and poetry! I feel very honored and humbled to be in a position of influence, however small, in a young person's life. Happy Sunday, Terri
Comment by Julie Mihaly on July 18, 2010 at 5:02am
Great list! Thanks so much for sharing, Terri. As for getting people, especially young folks, interested in reading for pleasure, any and all efforts are appreciated. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without the joy of books, and yes, poetry. I think the fact that I had wonderful teachers and a mother (from an even more miniscule Southern town than the one in which you currently reside- no stoplight) who loved books and words helped instill a similar love in this girl. The written word in any form now has TV, video games and the internet as competition, but even Twitter can accommodate a haiku....
Comment by Terri Kirby Erickson on July 16, 2010 at 6:11am
I'm glad that my blog entry is creating this "conversation!" I'm doing my personal best, in my own small way--by speaking to high school creative writing classes and conducting poetry workshops for teenagers for the past two summers--to encourage young people who are interested in writing poetry, or to spark an interest in at least reading it for pleasure as they did when they were small. I spend more time than I should on the Internet, actually, so have seen a lot of interesting blogs, etc., about poetry. I would love to think that poetry ranks right up there with the top ten list of best selling novels, but I really don't think we're there yet. I do believe, however, that more people are being are being drawn to poetry as a result of poetry slams, poetry blogs, National Poetry Month publicity and for many other reasons, so perhaps that will change. I happen to live in a very small Southern town (one stoplight!), and was invited to do a book signing at a slightly larger town (well, I sort of invited myself!). Most patrons seemed more interested in the best selling novels on the shelves than in a living, breathing author of poetry books! (I think I sold four books that day and one was to my MOTHER!) In fact, the owner informed me that they only carried "a few" poetry books. So, we each have our own experiences, and what I've said here reflects mine. Thankfully, my book is available in lots of venues, and was actually #8 in the country in poetry book sales on Amazon in February, thanks to an endorsement by syndicated columnist, Sharon Randall. Anyway, I would LOVE it if the number one best seller in the country, overall, would be a collection of poetry. I vote for Ted Kooser's Delights & Shadows! Thanks, everyone...
Comment by Maureen E. Doallas on July 16, 2010 at 5:17am
Poor teaching of poetry to children may be one reason that you hear such comments. The thing is that many excellent children's book are poems (consider the rhymes), and children delight in them. Then somewhere along the line in a public school that delight gets extinguished.

I recently featured on my blog a video of Bill Murray reading poetry to the workers who constructed Poets House in New York City. It took a bit but a few of the guys got into it and all of them had a good time listening to Murray read.

Take a "stroll" around the Web. There are so many things happening there in poetry. I've written about them on my blog, in features such as my Saturday Sharing. I take part in a number of online poetry groups, such as TweetSpeakPoetry. So, I agree with the others. Moreover, my experience is that many more people than might be imagined are writing poetry for themselves and an enormous number of them are posting their poems on their blogs. There are so many poetry blogs! If you Google the phrase, you get almost 5.7 million (million!) hits. It doesn't matter whether the poems are "good" or not. People are writing.
Comment by Terri Kirby Erickson on July 16, 2010 at 4:25am
I agree that poetry gets a lot of respect--just not as many readers as prose. It seems to be more intimidating to the general public, or at least that has been my personal experience. I do appreciate the recommendations, Jenne, and am very familiar with Poets & Writers, etc. And yes, we do create poetry in "isolation," Dawn--but the "circle" is not complete without someone to read our work. I am always aware, when I'm writing a poem, that ultimately someone will read it. It may be that "single perceptive reader" that I'm thinking about, but he or she is certainly a presence, albeit invisible, in the room. So in essence, I am not as solitary when writing, as I appear... Also, my memories of people and places surround me when I'm working. The "characters" seem so real sometimes, I'm surprised they don't take shape and speak! Thanks for all the great comments...
Comment by Dawn Potter on July 16, 2010 at 4:04am
I agree with Jenne here. Yet I'll also note that art, by and large, is created in isolation. Poetry may be a form of communication, but we make it in solitude. And sometimes a single perceptive reader is the miracle.
Comment by Elisa Rodgers on July 13, 2010 at 7:55am
Thank you for sharing this with us. I will definitely be checking out the recommendations.
Comment by Terri Kirby Erickson on July 10, 2010 at 7:56am
Thanks so much, Patricia! I wish you great success with your own writing...
Comment by Patricia A. McGoldrick on July 7, 2010 at 11:44am
Terri, great post!
I love POETRY--to write, read, draw or sing it.
Tomato sandwiches, especially in summer, are the best!



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