April is National Poetry Month, first inaugurated in the United States by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Several organizations are offering excellent ways of celebrating poetry this month, like readings, discussions and inspiration for writing your own poem, but the easiest way is still just to read a poem. While it is perfectly fine to fall back on heavy-hitters like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, here are five lesser-known American poets whose work still resonates today.
Jones Very (1813-1880) taught Greek at Harvard before undergoing a “mystical experience” at age 24 and writing sonnets. According to Harold Bloom in “The Best Poems of the English Language,” Very was the best “original devotional poet” the United States has had. “The New Birth” and “The Dead” are two sonnets of astonishing power that deserve to be read today.
Edward Taylor (1645?-1729) wrote “A Fig for Thee Oh! Death” probably in the 1690’s. The poem, full of imagery and righteousness, is brilliant. One wonders why the Puritan preacher stipulated in his will that his heirs never publish his poems. Written mostly in the 1680’s and 1690’s, Taylor’s poems remained in manuscript form until a selection was published in 1939. A more complete edition appeared in 1960. Keep the tissue box handy when reading “Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children” written in 1682-1683. You will cry for obvious reasons, but then be awed by Taylor’s unshakeable faith that sees him through family tragedy.
Joel Barlow (1754-1812) writer and diplomat, was one of the “Connecticut Wits,” a group of literary men around the time of the American Revolution and the early days of the United States. He wrote one of the funniest epic poems ever. “The Hasty-Pudding” (1796) extols the poet’s love for his breakfast cereal. What could be more American than that? Finding himself abroad on his diplomatic duties, Barlow enjoyed his New England hasty pudding with the zeal and sense of humor of a true American patriot.
Marianne Moore (1887-1972) edited “The Dial” literary magazine, wrote wonderful poems and translated “The Fables of La Fontaine.” Her “Collected Poems” appeared in 1953. “Marriage” (1923) is perhaps the best example of her prodigious poetic talent.
Louise Bogan (1897-1970) was the poetry editor at “The New Yorker” from 1931-1969 as well as a gifted poet in her own right. “Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom” is fierce and beautiful. Her “Collected Poems” (1954) is a must read for all poetry fans.
More information about these poets and their selected works are available in the collections “The American Tradition in Literature Volume One (7th Edition) and “The Best Poems of the English Language” Selected and with Commentary by Harold Bloom.
Happy National Poetry Month!