Poetry for Beginners

Poetry + Libraries = Transformation

by Kathy Welton, author of Poetry for Beginners (Steerforth, coming Jan. 2010)

In a recent New York Times article, Harold Bloom, professor of English at Yale advocates getting lost in books:

“More than ever in this time of economic troubles and societal change, entering upon an undergraduate education should be a voyage away from visual overstimulation into deep, sustained reading of what is most worth absorbing and understanding: the books that survive all ideological fashions.

There is general agreement on the indispensable canon: Homer, Plato, the Bible, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Milton. From the 19th century until now, keeping only to English and American authors, a slightly more arbitrary selection might include Blake, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Hardy, Yeats and Joyce in England and Ireland. Among the Americans would certainly be Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Hawthorne; and in the 20th century, Faulkner and the major poets: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane.”

One doesn’t necessarily need to be in school to get lost in books–or in poetry.
My fondest memories are of holding a book in my hands at a very early age. We were very lucky as a family to have both a prized library set of the Harvard Classics and an entire encyclopedia set in our house. Books that I could treasure, look at, and read while I was growing up.

Lucky indeed.

In addition, I was greatly influenced by my English teachers. I remember having to recite “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe in the fifth grade. And I am especially grateful to Diane Middlebrook, a poet and English teacher at Stanford University who showed her students how to transform and transcend destiny. I will always remember her poetry classes—and a special class when she read a favorite poem with Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” playing in the background.

So this was poetry!

These experiences with books and poetry greatly shaped my career, life, and who I am today.

I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to work with words and the world of books and be a part of the book publishing community for over 30 years. Working with authors, bookstores, and librarians has always been an essential way for me to get by and to get lost in books.

Working on a book in the For Beginners® series has been another enjoyable opportunity and experience for me. I liked the documentary, graphic, straightforward, and accessible format of the books. And the idea of creating an overview of an important subject–a book I had always wanted to read in high school and college to explain what poetry was really all about—was an opportunity of a lifetime.

As an author, I am proud to say that I am thrilled with the book’s beautiful cover. Butterflies represent transformation to me. And writing this book has been a year of transformation. I have kept the following quote close by:

“The butterfly counts not months,
but moments, and has time enough.”
Rabindranath Tagore

Why does poetry put some people to sleep and to others it seems that a “poem is like a painting?” Where did poetry come from? Why does poetry even matter?

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… like books that are written in a foreign language. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now… Resolve to be always beginning – to be a beginner.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke

These questions and others are ones that we try to answer in Poetry For Beginners.
We set out to provide a road map that will take readers on an enjoyable journey through the world of poetry.

The book’s main goal is to share the joy in poetry and to make learning about poetry as meaningful and memorable as possible.

Readers will encounter:

  • Poetry from the classics and romantics, the modernists, and beat and confession poets, as well as famous sonnets, odes, sestinas and other poetic forms.
  • How poets utilize meter, rhythm and rhyme, metaphors and similes, imagery, symbols and themes to capture our imagination and awaken our sensibilities.
  • More than 100 poets to know and poems to ponder from William Blake, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Rudyard Kipling to Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Oliver, William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and Walt Whitman.
  • A summary timeline of the poets from Ancient Greece to the present.
  • How to read and write poetry.
  • A bibliography for further reading.

My hope is that this book can help shed light on poets and poetry as well as take readers on an enjoyable voyage. Or to put it in the words of Emily Dickinson:

The Poets light but Lamps—
Themselves—go out—
The Wicks they stimulate—
If vital Light
Inhere as do the Suns—
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their

Libraries plus poetry provide the most powerful ways to transform lives and create new worlds. Thank you!

-Kathy Welton

Author Kathy Welton, Guest Blogger

Category: Musings

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