Or a different kind of book club—
by Britton Gildersleeve
I suspect most of the readers of this blog have been in a book club. You may even be in one now. But what, exactly, do you read? Any poetry? Probably not. . . . And why is that?
Today was my book club’s monthly meeting. My poetry book club. The one a few of us started when it dawned on us we wanted to read more poetry, be exposed to more poetry—revisit classics (yep, we did a Shakespearean sonnet one time) as well as become more familiar with both new writers and forgotten ones. (Who knew Gjertrud Schnackenberg was a real person? And a poet to boot!)
Each month we meet at one of the members’ homes, share iced or hot tea and snacks and poems we’ve brought. Some of us know a lot about poetry, and others would demur they don’t. Our tastes are eclectic, both individually and as a group. It’s part of the fun!
Today, for instance, there was the Schnackenberg sonnet to kick things off. We had a wonderful discussion about Petrarchan vs Shakespearean form and how we might write sonnets ourselves. There was a nature poem next, then a witty poem by Elizabeth Flynn (whom I was completely unfamiliar with), then an excerpt from Middlemarch on poets and inspiration. Next, another sonnet, this an amazing one by Gladys Schmitt (founder of Carnegie Mellon University’s creative writing program) on Bach. It was a bit of a sonnet day. . . .
I brought a recent poem by Rodney Jones from the Academy of American Poets website—“For Katy.” A whimsical diatribe on an overactive cat, but also a lovesong. And of course there was work by our new U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.
In sum? I learned of two new-to-me poets and had a fascinating discussion about sonnets and the importance of form in poetry—and great snacks (lemon bars w/pistachios, mmm). For a poetry lover, it was bliss!
There’s so much great poetry available for free online today. Some months we have themes (“fathers” for June, for instance). Other months we just bring what struck our fancy recently. I’m probably the most obsessive about poetry (I think my friends would agree!), but there are retired teachers, retired English faculty, a retired scholar of the presidency, two musicians, and an accountant among us. In other words, our interests are varied, and it makes for great diversity in readings.
If you love poetry but feel you don’t read it as often as you’d like (and feel like you have no one to share it with), send out poetic feelers. Look at possible classes in your area. Or see who might be interested in a trial run of monthly meetings. You can start here, at Nimrod, looking at the prize issue’s poems online, or go all out and buy a copy! You can join Nimrod for the Conference for Readers and Writers, another great venue to find simpatico readers.
Just two years ago I moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, from Tulsa, knowing no one. Now I have 8 good friends who like poetry and a familiarity with new poems I’d never have found otherwise. All from a poetry book club that meets a couple of hours monthly. I can’t recommend the idea enough: it’s fun! You might even get lucky and find a great lemon bar recipe. . . .
Britton Gildersleeve’s creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, This Land, and many other journals. She has published three chapbooks and was the director of the Oklahoma State University Writing Project for twelve years.