by Bradley, Bookseller

As it happens, this year National Poetry Month is coinciding with an international health crisis, asking those of us who are able to stay home and try to limit the spread of the virus. A month normally marked by the onset of spring (which is still, somehow, happening) as well as readings and public celebrations of poetry now sees us confined to our houses and only the bare necessities. But that doesn't mean we can't take a moment to bring a little poetry into our lives all the same!

Poems are not the antidote to suffering, but they are a place we can go when we need to exit the non-stop barrage of language from governments, television news, and social media. Poems ask us to slow down, to notice the blue jay hopping on the sidewalk after a long day's rain. They are not medicine, or the promise that things will be okay. But they can briefly remind us to breathe. Here are a few of my favorite books of poems that I turn to when I need that reminder.

Lunch Poems

Lunch Poems

Written almost entirely on his lunch breaks spent walking around New York City, "Lunch Poems" is my favorite book of Frank O'Hara's. These poems are funny, tender, and committed to being delighted by everything he sees. True, we can't go outside and be among people and coffee shops and bookstores the way we once could, but "Lunch Poems" might be the closest a book can come to giving you the feeling of being surrounded by people living their lives, at once independent and deeply intertwined with each other. "Oh god it's wonderful," he writes in one poem, "To get out of bed / And drink too much coffee / And smoke too many cigarettes / And love you so much." Even in the midst of days like these, how hard it is to disagree.
The Octopus Museum

The Octopus Museum

Science fiction poetry, you say? It's a thing, I promise! Brenda Shaugnessy, one of my favorite contemporary poets, is a master of creating fictional, alternative worlds—in her newest book, "The Octopus Museum", she imagines a future where octopi rise up from the oceans to run civilization, because humans have shown they are incapable of doing it without destroying the planet. All the fun of poetic language meets all the escapism of science fiction, and like all good SF, you leave "The Octopus Museum" with a better sense of what it means to be human, charged to walk more lightly on the earth.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Once, a few years ago, a friend of mine was having a really miserable few days. I called them on the phone one night, after a particularly rough turn of events, and read them the title poem from this book: a long piece that is entirely dedicated to cataloging things that the poet is grateful for, ranging from his garden to the memory of friends now passed. I come back to this book every time I feel like the world is overwhelmingly sad, because its founded on a gratitude that doesn't ignore sadness or grief, but embraces them as parts of a whole network of feelings that make up a person.
Anybody

Anybody

If the other books I've listed here are balms or escapes from moments of crisis, "Anybody" is a book that shows me how to move forward. Asking questions of what it means to say things like "myself" and "we," how we define our bodies in relation to other bodies, Ari Banias' first collection is an invitation to inhabit the world differently, a little more aware of ourselves and each other. Which, at the end of the day, is what all the books I love do.
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