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Culture Connoisseur: My World Poetry Day Selection

A few poetry books from my shelves.

Pitchfork has this video series called Over/Under: in an episode, an artist or band gets a random set of subjects and things. They then have to say whether that subject or thing is overrated or underrated, with a little bit of explanation about why they feel that way. If I had my own episode of that video series and the subject was “reading poetry,” I’d say it’s deeply, deeply underrated. I’m an avid fiction and non-fiction reader, but I often find poetry to be much more compelling when it comes to presenting an idea or figuring out emotions.

Most people shy away from it because it seems like too much of a brain workout, but I guarantee you’ll feel much better about yourself and your skills the more often you do it — just like a physical workout. I promise that there are poems out there that you’ll like, despite the poems you were forced to read in high school and hated. I also promise that in the poems you think are too esoteric, like Shakespearian sonnets or long epics, you’ll find some aspect of relatability. The more poetry you read, the more you’ll figure out who and what you like.

In honor of World Poetry Day, I’d like to share a few poems that I constantly return to or think about — even though my days of studying poetry in a classroom are behind me. Every time I reread these, I find new facets of emotional fortitude. I think you will too.


Alice Walker‘s “Be Nobody’s Darling”

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.


Nikki Giovanni‘s “What It Is”

if it’s a trail we can hike it
if it has two wheels we can bike it

if it’s an allergy we can sneeze it
if it’s a pimple we can squeeze it

if it’s dew it “covers Dixie”
if it’s Tinker Bell it’s a pixie

if it’s a breeze it can blow us
if it’s the sun it can know us

if it’s a song we can sing it
if it flies we can wing it

if it’s soda pop then it’s drinkable
it might be X-Rated by that’s unthinkable

if it’s a boat we can sail it
if it’s a letter we can mail it

if it’s a star we can let it shine
if it’s the moon it can make you mine

if it’s grass we can rake it
if it’s free why not take it

if it’s a tide it can ebb
if it’s a spider it can web

if it’s chocolate we can dip it
if it’s a golf ball we can chip it

if it’s gum we can chew it
I hope it’s love so we can do it


Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s “Witch Wife”
She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.


Maya Angelou‘s “Phenomenal Woman”
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Dorothy Parker‘s “Interview”
The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints …
So far, I’ve had no complaints.

What are your favorite poems? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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