Happy National Poetry Month! Poetry is a fundamental form of expression and we are excited to celebrate poets this month and beyond April. Writing poetry allows us to express our feelings and process thoughts in a creative flow and cadence. Reading poetry allows us to connect and find meaning in our life experiences. To celebrate, the Texas Book Festival staff is recommending some of their favorite poems. Check out the full list below.
Idiophone by Amy Fusselman
recommended by Claire Burrows, Deputy Director
“I can’t sleep in this uncomfortable New York City cab.
It keeps moving.
It’s like the bed in The Nutcracker.”
Amy came to the Festival in 2018 with Idiophone, and her work is so full of curiosity, and brilliance, and honesty. I also get a real sense of compassion for people, and a very open love of writing, creativity, and art. These are all beautiful things to have in our lives right now. Plus, she’s just super cool.
“Six Unrhymed Sonnets” by Diane Seuss
recommended by Gavin Quinn, Programs and Financial Coordinator
“. . .I drove
to the sea, wandered aimlessly, I stared at my tree, I said
in my mind there’s my tree, there’s my tree I said in my mind,
I remember myself before words, thrilled at my parents’”
Seuss’s new collection frank: sonnets is out now.
I love the gentle flow of images in these sonnets, shifting from the world of the mundane to the natural world and back again.
“My Empire” by Kaveh Akbar
recommended by Gavin Quinn
“The new missiles can detect a fly’s heartbeat
atop a pile of rubble from six thousand miles away.
That flies have hearts, one hundred and four cells big, that beat.”
Akbar’s new collection Pilgrim Bell will be released on August 3, 2021.
In a few lines, this poem sparks wonder with the juxtaposed immense distance between a weapon with the small fragility of a fly’s heart.
“Black Woods” by Kevin Prufer
recommended by Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator
“Do you know where our child has gone?
I’m sorry. Do you know what has become
of him? I’m sorry. [ .] Is he hiding”
Appears in the March 2015 issue of Poetry.
I grew up in Houston, which is how I know of Kevin Prufer. There’s something familiar about being in constant fear that you’re going to lose a young loved one to all that’s sinister beyond your own home. You can only protect children for so long before they’re old enough to wonder and wander beyond your reach. This poem reminds me of my younger brother, and specifically, how scary it is to be an older sister to a young Black boy in America. Even worse, I can’t imagine how scary it is to be a joyful Black boy living in this country. I don’t ever want my brother to feel trapped, but I don’t want him to become lost.
“Poems” by Nikki Grimes
recommended by Ke’ara Hunt
“I am hardly ever able
to sort through my memories
and come away whole”
Appears in the March 2021 issue of Poetry.
Oh to be human with a mind that moves, shakes, captures, and frails. Even the mightiest of us struggle to sort through our thoughts, choosing one memory over another to cherish or bury. We keep so much inside: Our mind acts as a place to revisit pleasant moments lost in time or as a gatekeeper to thoughts that we wish we could extract from our brains. All thoughts make us who we are, and personally, I like to think that my mind is a carousel and each of my memories are winding away and toward me at the same time. If I have unpleasant thoughts, I know that they’ll momentarily leave me and I can enjoy a moment of peace from their hold on me. If I revisit a thought that I cherish or that inspires me, I’m sad when it dissipates and something else stands at attention. This poem (about poems and about the weight of the mind) is one of my favorite things to return to when I catch myself drifting…
“Aubade at Bosque Redondo” by Carrie Fountain
recommended by Lois Kim, Executive Director
“Almost nothing has changed
about the world. We’re still bound
to go on having this hunch”
From Carrie Fountain’s Burn Lake (2010).
My first encounter with Carrie Fountain’s poetry was hearing it spoken live from the poet herself. It was about ten years ago and I was at a benefit where Carrie was one of the speakers. Her powerful reading stopped me in my tracks. Ok, I was already sitting, but she was (and still is) an arresting presence, crisply and evocatively delivering powerfully shaped words that say and do so much. “Aubade at Bosque Redondo” is from Burn Lake, Carrie’s first book of poetry. The poems in this National Poetry Series Award-winning book are a marvel, redolent of the New Mexico of Carrie’s childhood and imagination, conveying the personal and universal implications of history, desire, and experience. We are so lucky to have Carrie as part of Austin’s literary community. She served as the 2019 Texas Poet Laureate, also writes YA fiction, has been a Festival author, and memorably emceed the 2019 Texas Book Festival Gala. For those looking for transcendence in the everyday, you’ll want to grab a copy of The Life, Carrie’s newest book of poetry (whose cover alone will bring you joy every time you look at it) when it is out in the world at the end of April.
Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa
recommended by Lucy Vélez, School and Community Programs Coordinator
“To survive the Borderlands
You must live sin fronteras
Be a crossroads”
Meditación Fronteriza by Norma Cantú
recommended by Lucy Vélez
“Rio Grande flows
from the Rockies to the Gulf
holy waters heal the border scar”
“In Defense Of Santana’s “Maria Maria” Ft. Wyclef & The Product G&B” by Ariana Brown
recommended by Lucy Vélez
“this is as much about music as it is permission: to allow oneself
to know most music, including mexican, is black at the joints.
to be grateful to caribbeans for preserving blackness”
From Rattle #58, Winter 2017.
During this National Poetry Month, I would like to highlight and recommend critical poetry by Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Cantú, and Ariana Brown as must-reads for anyone interested in Tejanx voices. You will be blown away by their critically candid description of a life sin fronteras (without borders).
“Abdullah Abulbul Amir, or, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar” by Unknown
recommended by Nicole Wielga, Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator
“The sons of the Prophet are valiant and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear
And the bravest off all was a man, so I’m told,
Called Abdullah Bulbul Amir…”
Published in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, Selected by Hazel Felleman.
I come for a long line of storytellers on my father’s side. My earliest memories with my grandfather were of him telling me these magical stories about how the robin got his red chest, and how he tutored a young Albert Einstein. I remember being mesmerized by how he just had these stories in his head that he could recite at the drop of a hat.
When my father passed away, my grandfather pulled out this book called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Felleman. My great uncle Dave grabbed it and flipped to page 281, where the poem “Abdullah Abulbul Amir, or, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar” was written. I began to read it for them and my great uncle Dave told us that he and my father, as they were similar in age, had been told by my grandfather that they had to memorize that poem and recite it for everyone during the next big family gathering. This was their version of initiation into the Wielga storytellers. During the rest of that week that I was at my grandparents’ house, every night I would read a few poems from that poetry book and it would calm me down during such a hard time of grief.
“Sonnet 55” by William Shakespeare
recommended by Nicole Wielga
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time”
With my background in theatre, I have spent a great deal of time devoted to the bard Willam Shakespeare. While “Sonnet 18” (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’) might be the most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets, “Sonnet 55” holds a special place in my heart as I had to study it in focus at college. This particular sonnet is about how this poem will forever be a reference point of the writer’s love to the person it was written about, as the words of the poem will outlive his life.
“Indian Summer At Land’s End” by Stanley Kunitz
recommended by Susannah Auby, Development Associate
“The season stalls, unseasonably fair,
blue-fair, serene, a stack of golden discs,
each disc a day and the addition slow.”
From Passing Through, 1995.
My heart breaks a little bit every Labor Day and so I have always found the Indian summers to be especially poignant as they allow us to hold on a little bit longer to that sacred season of long days unbound by the usual restrictions.
“Advice for Former Selves” by Kate Baer
recommended by Susannah Auby
“Burn your speeches, your instructions,
your prophecies too. In the morning when
you wake: stretch. Do not complain. Do not…”
From What Kind of Woman, 2020.
Thank you Kate Baer for permission to unapologetically change plans and for the reminder that we owe the best of ourselves just as much to our failures as to our triumphs. This is the poem that I should have read when I was starting my adult life yet it would have meant nothing to that focused 21-year. Now it means everything.
“August” by Mary Oliver
recommended by Matt Patin, Literary Director
“We did not know [our neighbor] was sick, but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman who is balancing a sword inside of her body.”
Printed in the August 1993 issue of Poetry.
“Days” by Karle Wilson Baker
recommended by Matt Patin
“Some days my thoughts are just cocoons—all cold and dull and blind . . . Other days they drift and shine—such free and flying things!”
Printed in Blue Smoke: A Book of Verses, Yale University Press, 1919.
“Recreation” by Audre Lord
recommended by Matt Patin
“moving through our word countries
writes into your flesh
you make of me”
Published in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, 1997.
These verses captured or revealed with such brevity and precision an emotion or thought or state of being that I wondered, Why hasn’t it always been described this way?