Poetry as Necessity- Is that a Poem in Your Pocket?

poem in your pocket

When April descends, it brings with it National Poetry month. I love the idea of a month entirely dedicated to poetry as it seems we turn to poetry in the best of times and the worst of times. I have a hunch it can belong in the in-between times too. With poetry, we all have to start somewhere.

The unexpected and tragic can happen at any time. Monday brought a bit of unfolding horror as news reports began flooding the internet and snippets of newslike material took over twitter. I poked my head into twitter a few times on Monday and observed the human condition at work as I grieved hearing details of those injured, slain and those at the end of their race forced to stop.

It reminded me why we turn to poetry.

Yesterday a friend posted in the same status update on Facebook that her cousin had taken his life and she took solace in a poem. We need poetry for the unexpected moments that life sometimes lets come our way, for when we feel felled and irrevocably broken. We need its words to help build us up again, to remind us of the possibility of tomorrow or the certainty of yesterday. The spoken music of the line tethers us to something sturdy when we feel weightless.

Another friend on Facebook announced that in the week where all eyes are on Boston because of the bombing, she brought her firstborn son into the world… in Boston. This too could be conveyed in poetry- the grappling with the so very wrong with the so very good at the same time.

The Academy of American Poets instituted their “Poem in Your Pocket Day” ,  as a way to bring poetry into the everyday. Every April 18, the idea is simple:  you carry around a poem in your pocket to share and read to co-workers, friends or family who you encounter on that day. Poetry becomes woven into a simple Thursday, transforming it into a rite of passage.

I would charge that memorizing a poem, letting it come closer than crumpled paper in a pocket, is an act worthy of any bucket list. When the hard time comes, when the unbelievably good times come, the poem is there, just at the cusp of memory to act as balm or exultation.

If you’ve never attempted to commit a poem, dialogue of a play, song lyrics or any words to memory, it can seem awfully daunting. Like most things worth their mettle, the difficulty is hard won in the words being conjured up just when you need them. I think of memorization as an investment that my future self will reap when the time is ripe for the words to flourish from memory.

Below are a few steps to help you start thinking through poetry memorization. Do you have tips to share for memorization or a poem that’s been meaningful to you?

STEP 1: Select Your Poem to Memorize.
Are you a fan of music? How about food? It can be difficult to find the right poem you decide to commit to memory until you find it. I find often, I will stumble upon something so beautiful, so hopeful, so heartbreaking or true that I need to have it closer to me than in the book in which I originally discovered it. Be patient. Consider poets’ work you enjoyed in school (or now). Here are a few suggested poems of different lengths:

“Fall” by Wendell Berry
“To a Poor Old Woman” by William Carlos Williams

– “254” by Emily Dickinson
Absent One” by Sharon Olds

– “The Guitar” by Lorca
“Music Swims Back to Me” by Anne Sexton

– “The Panther” by Rilke
– “Sailing” by Henrik Nordbrandt

“Hustlers with Bad Timing” by D.A. Powell
“Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon
“I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark not Day” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Psalm 23

– “Homage to My Hips” by Lucille Clifton
– “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” by Galway Kinnell

– “Biscuit” by Jane Kenyon
“Tenebrae” by Paul Celan

STEP 2: Get a Memorization Game Plan.
Memorizing can be a challenging mental exercise to test your mind’s acuity. Set a poem to a popular music tune or work on hacking it up to memorize line by line. There are different strategies for memorizing a poem. One I like to employ is finding the poem’s inner music and repeating it over and over. You’ll find this practice can be good even when taking jaunts around the neighborhood. 

STEP 3: Pick Your People.
Is there anyone you can think of who might appreciate the poem in your pocket? Reading the poem aloud or reciting it with the poem nearby just in case is a good mental exercise and departure from the everyday. Also, sharing it with attribution on social media is another way to send it out into the world.



Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Astoria by Malena Mörling

BOOK REVIEW- Astoria by Malena Morling

When I conceived of the idea behind the name of this blog, it felt a bit cheeky- an inside joke with myself of a life lived en route. At the time, I found myself a tea-wallah, jettisoning from one end of the country to the other all in the name of flavonoids and theanine.

During the pinnacle of those traveling years, I found myself in New York often, getting to experience the city as an adult not as a pre-teen on a family trip. The city pulsated with energy from the street providing its own soundtrack to the veritable throng of people packed onto sidewalks moving forward. In New York, something ignited inside of me- you can’t help but be thrust into the fire. Its energy feeds your own. Anything can happen there and that sense of possibility can catapult you into the unexpected if you let it.

Once, after wrapping up a gift trade show and packing away our exhibit and teas, I hustled over to a reading across town celebrating Galway Kinnell’s birthday, hosted by other famed poets like Gerald Stern. I squeezed my way into the back of the lecture hall and waited in line four people behind actress Michelle Williams as she gushed her appreciation for his work before it was my turn to wish him a happy birthday and get my book signed.

Another time, after attending a Q&A chat between Eater founder Ben Leventhal and Frank Bruni, I learned Anthony Bourdain was signing books. Without thinking about it too much, I wormed my way into that line, getting a book signed for Olga, a big Bourdain fan.

The city lives in transit and somehow in my mind’s eye when I think of it now as I’m back in the city by the Bay, New York City waits awake and diligent in the night for the coming morning and the people that will polka dot its streets and subway channels.

The energy that made my pulse quicken while in New York City ripples through Malena Mörling’s collection “Astoria“. She references cars, trains, bicycles and walking. She is writing as if in transit and as you read her poems, you find yourself in transit too. But it doesn’t stop there. Her language is spare and evocative. It is full of questions that linger in the air. The destination is often unknown. The journey is heightened by the incidentals. It is in transit. In “If there is another world,” she posits “If there is another world, / I think you take a cab there- / or ride your old bicycle / down Junction Blvd.”

After selecting a graduate studies program for poetry, I found myself surrounded by poets I admired and whose work I respected including Malena Mörling. While we never had a chance to work together beyond a workshop or two, her easy and observant manner made her someone whose company I  enjoyed as we both shared  a love of travel, art and international poetry.

Many of her poems in “Astoria” are set in an urban landscape and where some might write an easy gritty backdrop, instead she finds beauty in unexpected places. From “131st Street”:

“Or it is possible you’ll glimpse in passing / a warm and loving exchange / between two strangers / reflected / for a single moment / in an ornate bureau mirror / traveling on a flatbed truck / stopped at a red light here on 131st Street-”

Underneath the everyday rubric are the metaphysical insights like this one from “Wallpaper” where she connects world to self: “On one hand, / the wallpaper / of the world / and the wallpaper / of the mind / are separate / layers of / what is seen / and unseen.

One of the reasons I suggest reading “Astoria” as part of my curated reading list during National Poetry Month is her ability to transform the mundane into the magical by entertaining wonder and curiosity. And aren’t we all in need of a bit of wonder and curiosity? I think it’s not something that is actively encouraged or cultivated enough as adults.

“It’s amazing / we’re not / more amazed. / The world / is here / but then it’s gone / like a wave / traveling toward / other waves.”


“The Guitar” by Federico Garcia Lorca


Maybe the last time you picked up a book of poems (if ever) was in high school. You might think they’re boring, inaccessible or just not for you and I’m not one to disagree with the last point. But hear me out for a moment: I have a hunch that given the right poem or hearing the right poet is akin to listening to your favorite musician for the first time. It’s a discovery, an epiphany of a world you didn’t know existed and you feverishly want more. Poetry as an artform does make its way into speeches, newspaper articles and particularly when paired with music, into song. So maybe it’s not poetry you’ve written off, just the idea of it.

April is national poetry month and I would like to be your curator composing my own Annelies anthology of poems. This is not your Norton’s Anthology, and by now, if you stop here often, you might notice I’m a fan of multicultural food, traveling to other parts of the world and international poetry. Shoot, I’m an associate editor for Poetry International, a fantastic annual journal of poems from around the world.

And I want to get you excited about, if not think twice about poetry.

I guarantee every poem will probably not resonate with you and that’s okay. But just maybe, you will hear something that rings true to you. Something that makes your pulse quicken or even makes you tear up. My appreciation for poetry’s complexity and simplicity only grows with time.

If you stick with me through the month, I will share a panoply of poems and think it will be quite a journey.  I may try to pair up poems with recipes- the story-telling need not stop because the form is shorter or different.



The Guitar
Federico Garcia Lorca from Lorca & Jimenez

The crying of the guitar
The goblets
of the dawn break.
The crying of the guitar
No use to stop it.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It cries repeating itself
as the water cries,
as the wind cries
over the snow.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It is crying for things
far off.
The warm sand of the South
that asks for white camellias.
For the arrow with nothing to hit,
the evening with no dawn coming,
and the first bird of all dead
on the branch,
Heart wounded, gravely,
by five swords.