Who reads poetry? Actors, lawyers, professional baseball players, journalists, steelworkers, psychologists, musicians, visual artists, veterans, doctors, cartoonists, anthropologists, clergy, novelists, midwives, activists, philosophers, critics, photographers, economists and biologists, among many others. The anthology "Who Reads Poetry: 50 Views From Poetry Magazine" collects 50 short essays by people from all walks of life, discussing when, how and why they appreciate poetry — and how we can, too.
Many of the contributors trace their entrance into poetry, confessing to not always understanding it, or struggling with the false belief that there is a "right" way to read a poem. Several explore some of their favorite poems along with the reader, inviting us in to their interpretations, or sharing the joys of reading poetry aloud, to savor the music and power of spoken, concentrated language.
One of the highlights of the collection is the connections each person makes between his or her profession and the experience of reading poetry. As Nalini Nadkarni, a biology professor, writes: "Perhaps the deepest value of poetry for the sciences is its articulation of the feelings that scientists themselves harbor for what they study — passion, deep curiosity, and a sense of stewardship."
Mariame Kaba, a social activist, writes, "Poetry can help lift the ceiling from our brains so that we can imagine liberation." Jeffrey Brown, senior correspondent for PBS Newshour, states: "Literature has long provided me with a connection, a way in. I have seen the world, traveled the world through poetry and learned much from it of the power and process of giving an account."
Steelworker Josh Warn regularly memorizes poems, and says, "A good solid poem in your cortex can be almost like ballast in a ship's hold. If turbulent mental activity surges, speaking a poem to oneself can be a way to even out the waves."
This collection appeals to the habitual reader of poetry and to the reader who has been wanting to read more poetry. We find that people like ourselves and people unlike ourselves all agree on one thing: Poetry has a lot to offer, and is not only relevant, but necessary.
"Who Reads Poetry" provides us with many differing perspectives on the reasons we read poetry, how to incorporate poetry into our lives, and, most important, how poetry makes a difference both to individuals and the world at large.
As war correspondent Chris Hedges tells us: "Reading great poems … helps us to cope with our own insecurities and uncertainty, allowing us to plunge to the very depths of our inner being, depths that often lie beyond articulation."
Kris Bigalk is the author of "Repeat the Flesh in Numbers," and serves as director of creative writing at Normandale Community College.