"writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm"
-- Merriam-Webster dictionary

The Academy of American Poets designated April as the National Poetry Month. Every year since 1996, we celebrate poetry in the month of April, the month that T.S. Elliot described as the cruellest month in his poem, "The Wasteland":

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding  
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing      
Memory and desire, stirring                
Dull roots with spring rain.                   

Contrary to such a morbid view, I think it is only fitting that April is the month we celebrate poetry since it is also the month of William Shakespeare's birth.

While Shakespeare is renowned for being one of the greatest writers and dramatists in the English language, I want to focus on his Sonnets, which were published in 1609; the last of his works to be printed. I love the Sonnets: they are short - a mere fourteen lines, perfectly formed - that neatly encapsulate so much expression, emotion and thought.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets so you have plenty to choose from and you don't have to read them in any order. The beauty and lyricism of Shakespeare's sonnets are undeniable. Three of my favorites are: sonnet 116, Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments, sonnet 29, When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes and sonnet 18, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day.

You can find a book of Shakespeare's sonnets in any of the branches of the Mercer County Library System. Or check out the Book-on-CD, From Shakespeare with Love, a collection of famous and some lesser known sonnets read by actors.

But Shakespeare is not the only sonneteer.  To get a taste of sonnets written by different poets, check out The Art of the Sonnet by Stephen Burt and David Mikics. This book highlights sonnets by various poets such as John Donne, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mariane Moore and many others. A veritable smorgasbord of sonnets, this book also includes helpful commentary and criticism.

Another of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, whose poems, just like Shakespeare's sonnets, are without any titles and numbered, and some of them are just as short as the sonnets. Succinct and cryptic, though crammed with images and emotions, Dickinson's poems are finely nuanced.  Even though the subject matter may be abstractions like fame, love, hope and fear, the imagery is so concrete that it stays with you long after you finish reading one of her poems. Here are the first stanzas from two of my favorites:

Poem number 254:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And number 1263
There is no Frigate like a Book 
To take us Lands away, 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of prancing Poetry –

To read more Dickinson's poems, along with background information, check out Dickinson : selected poems and commentaries by Helen Vendler.

If you have never had much patience with reading poetry, I implore you to grab an anthology of poems and read them out loud, by yourself or with a kindred spirit. Read a poem more than once. Give it time. Be patient, for "Poetry matters because it serves up the substance of our lives and becomes more than a mere articulation of experience...it allows us to see ourselves freshly and keenly. It makes the invisible world visible. It transforms our politics by enhancing our ability to make comparisons and draw distinctions. It reanimates nature for us, connecting spirit and matter"
--Jay Parini, Why Poetry Matters.
- Rina B.


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