In recognition of National Poetry Month (celebrated in April in the USA, UK and Canada), here are a dozen of the best poetry resources the web has to offer.
But first, who reads poetry these days?
Back in 2005 the USA based National Opinion Research Center (NORC) conducted a survey, on behalf of The Poetry Foundation. It found that over a third of men and almost two-thirds of women who read for pleasure are poetry users. The rather awkward term "poetry users" is how the survey describes those who either listen to or read poetry, or both.
These numbers sounds pretty impressive, but keep in mind that the survey was just of those who already read for pleasure - and we readers are, sadly, already a subset of the general population. When you look at the population of the USA as a whole, according to a 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, just three out of twenty adults read or listen to poetry.
Before the poets among us retire to write depressing haiku about the state of poetry, perhaps you'll take heart in the fact that 99% of "non poetry users" in the NORC survey said that they come across poetry in their daily lives - on public transport, at ceremonies, in newspapers and so forth - and about two-thirds had read/listened to these poems and liked them. In short, when poetry sneaks up on people, they enjoy it!
Personally, I love the serendipity of coming across poetry, but rarely do I seek it out, and if I do it's mostly to revisit old favorites. As for reviews of poetry, frankly, most of the time they leave me cold as my attitude to the form is succinctly summed up by that well known Joan Didion quote: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about it is its power." It's as if poetry reviewers belong to a private club that I'm not privy to; keeping me at arm's length talking about technical terms I don't understand and, frankly, don't particularly want to.
With all this said, I had serious doubts about writing a blog about poetry websites when there are so many better qualified than I to do so; but then it occurred to me that perhaps I did have a perspective to offer precisely because I am not a poetry insider. So here, with the invaluable input of some of BookBrowse's reviewers who are poetry aficionados, are a dozen poetry websites that have something to offer even the least poetic among us.
General Poetry Sites
Poetryfoundation.org. The Poetry Foundation has a huge selection of poems supported by substantial biographical info. I particularly enjoyed browsing poems by geographical region. It's the sort of site that you could dip in for a couple of minutes or a couple of days.
Poemhunter.com. Whether you're looking for themed quotes, the lyrics to an almost forgotten song, to revisit a favorite poem or discover new poets, this vast resource of over 800,000 poems and 80,000 poets will deliver the goods. You can sign up to receive the poem of the day by email and, once you create your free account, catalog your favorite poems for future reference.
Poets.org is affiliated with the Academy of American Poets. At first glance, it seems a little less welcoming than the two sites mentioned already, but when I started digging in its resources are great, not least the very cool regional map of the USA, including bios of key poets, poetry events, poetry-friendly bookstores, and poetry history. The Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month so, unsurprisingly, they're also a great resource for that as well.
Poetrysociety.org is the website of The Poetry Society of America - the oldest poetry organization in the USA founded in 1910. It's a membership organization so not a lot for a casual visitor such as me, but if I was somebody who just lived and breathed poetry, and particularly if I was a high schooler who felt that no one else in the world cared for poetry the way I do, I think I would find many free articles and interviews to inspire me.
Poetry180. The Library of Congress's Poetry 180 site encourages schools to share a poem with their students every day. I found Poetry 180 a soothing place to visit precisely because it is limited to just 180 short poems, thoughtfully chosen by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Poetseers.org. Poetseers is created and maintained by followers of the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). Here you'll find poetry by religion/belief. There's a particularly intriguing section titled poet seers where you'll find a select gathering of poets that "inspire and illuminate humanity to look beyond the mundane and to gain a glimpse of the Beyond." Here you'll find Shakespeare, Milton and William Blake rubbing shoulders with Dante, Confucius and Buddha. Those who notice a lack of female representation in the seers category (just the one) will find female poets elsewhere, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich in the Christian section.
Unlike small children, many would say that poetry should be heard, not seen. Here are three sites that provide a wealth of audio readings: