To celebrate National Poetry Month, each April, try introducing new readers to poetry. Since the lyric form (and even the prose poem) can sometimes be off-putting to novices, consider one of poetry’s most accessible groupings‚ poems written by rock stars. Just having a name familiar to readers can provide a gateway to the world of poetry. When you add the decidedly cool sensibility of music legends, you often have instant new fans. Seasoned music lovers will also find much to appreciate in these collections as the free-ranging forms adopted here allow the rock poet a wider scope to explore, unlike the song format with its dual demands of music and lyrics.
Ani DiFranco’s music bridges the genres of rock, folk, and punk, and her poetry follows that same wide range, making her work accessible and rewarding to her many fans. This illustrated collection offers a selection of her songs printed as verses as well as a sampling of her nonmusical lyrics. In Ani DiFranco: Verses (Seven Stories. 2007. ISBN 9781583228234. $18.95), she doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects; she takes them on with verve and provides readers a new way to experience her music. In Literal, she writes: when they said he could walk on water/ what it sounds like to me/ is he could float like a butterfly/ and sting like a bee/ literal people are scary, man.
Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’s Hello Sunshine (Akashic. 2009. ISBN 9781933354958. pap. $15.95) is the rocker’s second poetry collection (after Infinity Blues ). Frank and raw, his poems explore many of the same themes and real-world issues addressed in his songs. This mix should appeal to his fanbase as well as readers who are under the mistaken impression that poetry is all sweetness and light. As just one example, Adams writes of being on a beach of noisy waves and sea spray. He is not in step with nature but out of step with humanity as he notices candy wrappers and condoms littering the sand.
A Night Without Armor: Poems
(It: Harper Collins. 1999. ISBN 9780061073625. pap. $11.95) by Jewel offers readers poems as honest and open as her music, but her musical and poetic styles are independent of each other. Jewel’s straightforward poetry often reads like a journal, documenting reflections of places, people, and lovers she has known. Her poetry provides a unique glimpse into her youth in Alaska as well as reflecting her feminist beliefs. In I Look at Girls Now, Jewel writes of youth on the verge/ of womanhood for all the/ free world to see/ with no idea how to keep/ a secret, especially my own.
The Haiku Year (Soft Skull. 2004. ISBN 9781932360165. pap. $13.95) is the result of seven friends (Tom Gilroy, Anna Grace, Jim McKay, Douglas A. Martin, Grant Lee Phillips, Rick Roth, and Michael Stipe [of R.E.M. fame]) who committed to write a haiku a day for one year and send their poems to one another. While traditional haiku has strict syllable and line requirements, this volume used the adapted Western form that began with Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. While the Western haiku does not stay faithful to the syllable structure of the haiku, it does retain the line limitations. Readers new to poetry may enjoy the less-rigid form and its resulting ease as the seven friends write on topics mundane and profound. The Haiku Year as a project is also a wonderful example of how poetry can be integrated into everyday life.
Jim Morrison’s The Lords and the New Creatures (Touchstone: S. & S. 1971. ISBN 9780671210441. pap. $13) is a notable collection of prose poems and free verse. While other books of Morrison’s poetry, including Wilderness and The American Night, have also been published, this is the only collection published before his death in 1971. Morrison’s poetry is deeply mystical and wide-ranging. Parts of his collection focus on cinema (he studied cinematography at UCLA), while other sections are more philosophical. Consider: Cinema is most totalitarian of the arts. All/ energy and sensation is sucked up into the skull,/ a cerebral erection, skull bloated with blood. Much like Ryan Adams’s work (above), Morrison’s poetry is sure to draw young adult readers, who will enjoy the raw emotion.
Patti Smith’s light as a musician and poet has been shining brightly for over 30 years. Since Smith’s 1975 album Horses, fans have flocked to her music and writing. Recently, she won the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, which, one hopes, will draw readers into her other works, such as Auguries of Innocence: Poems (Ecco: HarperCollins. 2008. ISBN 9780060832674. pap. $15.99). Smith’s emotion-drenched poems are a wonderful introduction for new poetry readers wanting to sample a range of subjects. Her long musical career has spanned rock, punk, and alternative genres, and her poetry is equally diverse in style and subject.