Can't Find Time To Read? Poetry Might Make The Perfect Gift

Dec 6, 2018
Originally published on December 6, 2018 7:05 pm

If you have friends or family members who insist they have "no time to read," poet Tess Taylor says you should consider giving them poetry for the holidays: "We are all busy, and poetry is short," Taylor explains. "So you can actually reroute your day productively in like five minutes with something that really captures your imagination, takes you to a different place, and then allows you to return a little altered — which is I think what we all want from reading."

This year, All Things Considered is inviting writers to talk about the books they'll be gifting. Here's Taylor's list:

For more reading recommendations, visit the NPR 2018 Book Concierge — more than 300 titles, hand-picked by NPR staff and book critics.

Justine Kenin and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "SKATING")

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, 'tis the gift-giving season, but don't panic. We're here to help because what makes a better gift than a book? And why not try giving poetry this year? We are joined by our poetry reviewer, a poet herself, Tess Taylor. Hi There.

TESS TAYLOR: Hi.

KELLY: So I have a first question I have to just get out of the way, which is what do you tell people who are skeptical about giving poetry?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, what I always say about poetry is that we are all busy, and poetry is short.

KELLY: True.

TAYLOR: And so you can actually reroute your day productively in, like, five minutes with something that really captures your imagination, takes you to a different place and then allows you to return a little altered, which is, I think, what we all want from reading.

KELLY: All right. So you have picked a few picks that people might want to consider as they sort out their gift list this year. The first one is "Holy Moly Carry Me." Tell me about this book and its author.

TAYLOR: Well, Erika Meitner, she is a professor at Virginia Tech, and, you know, you remember that's the school that went through a major shooting years ago.

KELLY: Of course.

TAYLOR: And this is a book that really is dealing with raising kids in difficult environments and also kind of facing down the epidemic of gun violence in this country, which makes it sound like it might be kind of a depressing book, but what really impressed me about it is how beautiful and tender it is. It's really just a livewire. She's a Jew in Appalachia raising an African-American adopted son. She is and isn't at home. She's kind of meditating on these things, but she does so in this very incantatory, almost prayer-like way. And I just love this description where she says (reading) holy moly land is a place we all pass through of violence, of revelation, with grand opening flags strung above fenced-in lots and railroad crossings.

KELLY: There's another book on your list that also, speaking of violence, includes themes of violence and peace and, very topically, borders and border crossings. This is "Chenzontle" (ph). I saying that right?

TAYLOR: "Cenzontle."

KELLY: "Cenzontle" - OK. Tell me about this one.

TAYLOR: It's Marcello Hernandez Castillo's debut book, and this book is really about border crossing but not necessarily in the way that you'd think. It sort of crosses between dreams and reality, between the real and the magical in these kind of fabulous ways. So one of the poems that I really loved was called "Immigration Interview With Don Francisco," and it has beautiful phrases like (reading) please say more, perhaps the butterflies are mute because no one would believe their terrible stories.

So just when you think it's going to be about something that feels very practical and real, it wafts off into this very dreamy lyric shape. And it - I found it to just be beautiful and haunting. It really stuck with me all year.

KELLY: Yeah. You wrote us something about how these are poem shapes that stay in your mind for a long time after you've shut the book.

TAYLOR: Exactly.

KELLY: Beautiful. All right. The next of your poetry picks that I want to hear about is called "The Carrying," and you've said these poems are often about attempting tenderness, which is something we all need more of this year. I mean, I would add to that it's something we all maybe need more of especially at this time of year.

TAYLOR: Exactly, and that's partly why I wanted to add this book to this list. Ada Limon is quietly and deliberately assembling a really powerful body of work that I think speaks to a really wide audience. On the one hand, this is a book about trying to conceive a child and not being able to. At one point, she says, what if instead of carrying a child I'm supposed to carry grief? But again and again and again in this book, she comes back to kind of a really wise position of looking for tenderness. And so she's at her doctor, and she thinks, I'm made of old stars and so is he. And late - up late one night, not able to sleep, she wakes up to see that the bees are back, tipsy, sun drunk and heavy with the thick, knitted leg warmers of pollen. And I just, you know - I think it helps us make sense of the world, and it also helps us bear our grief a little better.

KELLY: And speaking of poem shapes that are going to linger in your mind, that's the...

TAYLOR: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Bees and their leg warmers will stick with me.

TAYLOR: I know.

KELLY: One footnote to ask you, Tess. For those of us with kids on our holiday shopping list, where would you recommend we start if we wanted to give them an introduction to poetry?

TAYLOR: I think that for young and maybe even to middle grade kids, there's a wonderful collection by Elise Paschen called "Poetry Speaks To Children." And it's full of poems that are silly and have wonderful sounds in them. It has even that Shakespeare sonnet double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble. It has a poem about farts in it, which...

(LAUGHTER)

TAYLOR: I mean, no subject too low.

KELLY: Always a hit, yes.

TAYLOR: Always a hit. And I think that the poems are so fun that they remind you that poems are just for being in your mouth and helping you have a little bit of joy in language. And I really recommend that collection.

KELLY: Well, Tess Taylor, thank you so much.

TAYLOR: Have a wonderful holiday. Nice to talk you.

KELLY: And to you. That is Tess Taylor. Her most recent collection is called "Work & Days." And to find book ideas in all kinds of genres, poetry and otherwise, you can head to NPR's Book Concierge. You'll find it at npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "SKATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.