Hello, Friends! Welcome to The Well-Versed Reader!
I’m Jane Shlensky, and I am a poem nerd. I'm also Nancy Posey's partner in crime and rhyme on this project to design an anthology of poetry especially for book clubs. As Nancy has told you, we've been friends in teaching, doing sessions at conferences, reading, writing, making music, and making fun wherever we can. Perhaps these activities have honed our abilities in the classroom and on the empty page. I do know that everything we are and do comes into play in our artistic endeavors, as well as in our careers. As an avid reader and book club member, I also know that reading and discussing a work—any work—creates special kinds of friendships and wonderful creases in the brain, just as writing or playing an instrument does.
Tell me: did you grow up with Mother Goose rhymes? Dr. Seuss? Shel Silverstein?
Nursery rhymes set to music that was snappy and memorable? Then you are grounded in formed poetry, my friends. Perhaps later, you graduated from “Casey at the Bat” to Walt Whitman or Theodore Roethke and then let it drop. However, if you’re still singing along with your favorite performers, you’re engaging with one kind of poetry, lyrics. If you are a closet poetry reader and writer, come out! We need not shun poetry.
I asked some of my book club friends to answer Kay Byers’ question as to why book clubs don’t read poetry, and found their responses edifying but not unlike those of my students for nearly forty years. Poetry is hard; I’m not sure I understand the symbols and allusions; we need someone to read it to us who understands it; it’s too bouncy (think formed); it’s too free; it’s too abstract; (and my personal favorite), I’m not smart enough to read poetry. Where did we ever get these ideas? I’m guessing an over-zealous teacher in love with iambs and anapests spent more time on the form of a poem than on its meaning and enjoyment. I confess to telling students that poetry was like a bouillon cube of meaning and narrative. Add water and stir, and presto, you have a flavorful short story or novella. That’s why all those teachers could joyfully discuss a single poem for an hour and a half while their students wondered how there could be so much packed into so few words.
Consider our proposed anthology, The Well-Versed Reader, a gateway drug to other poems and another viable choice of reading material for book clubs. Nancy and I, with this narrative anthology project, hope to undo negative stereotypes of poetry by selecting poems that will engage every kind of reader and lead to rewarding discussions—with the outside hope that once a reader digests good narrative poetry, he or she will consider sampling other flavors of poetry, or even writing it. If you are a poet, keep an eye out for our Call for Submissions for this project. If you are a reader in your own book club, keep us on your speed dial. We’d love to use your club for feedback once the book is in your hands.