From Better to Verse: Poetry for Book Groups

A meeting of poetry is a great variation for any book group. It’s easy to prepare, an excellent last minute substitute when the book you planned to use proves difficult to obtain or when the reader whose turn it was to select a topic fails to appear. It’s a great choice when you need something short to read because your members lives have become too hectic.

When using poetry as a topic, don’t feel obligated to assign a particular poet. Everyone’s taste in poetry is different, and half the fun is mixing Billy Collins with William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson with Ogden Nash, or haiku with “Howl”.

One of my book groups tried poetry this week. Our only assignment was to select a theme for our poems and to bring at least one poem to read aloud. We heard love poems and death poems, poems of the sea, poems about music, and poems about baseball. It was a good meeting, with a hearty discussion that sent everyone home with that special book group afterglow. 

If you use poetry as a topic, you absolutely must read the work aloud. It’s when verse is spoken that the magic of most good poetry comes to life. So will most of your group members as they share their favorites with the group. At our meeting, I chose list poems, reading work from Walt Whitman, Andrei Codrescu, and Albert Goldbarth. Poems that contain lists are fun to read as a group, with members taking lines in turn around the circle. We especially had fun with Albert Goldbarth’s “Library“, in which he describes, poetically, a list of the books in his library. Seeing which of our members would get which of his juicy lines kept us laughing and sighing through the extended reading of this nine-page poem. It’s a perfect poem for book lovers, and I’ll close with it’s last two lines.

And this book can’t be written yet: its author isn’t born yet.

This book is going to save the world.

(Albert Goldbarth, Saving Lives, Ohio State Unversity Press, originally published in The Iowa Review, Spring 1999)

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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