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Poetry by Mail

Right now it is a dark and rainy Portland night. I’ve just returned from attending Lit Quake in San Francisco and I’m sitting here collecting my thoughts about the experience. The feeling that keeps coming, the feeling that keeps washing over me is this: wonder.

Wonder at the hundreds of people walking up and down the Mission to hear other people read, to listen to a story, to lift up in their chairs at the end of a poem. There seemed to be a collective bravery, a collective celebration at being alive. It felt like… well… it felt like a living poem.

So now I’m thinking about poetry! It was one of the earliest inventions of almost every culture known to the planet earth, helping form our earliest civilizations. Poetry is radical for many reasons not the smallest being that it teaches compassion and empathy. Even if you are not a poet, even if you do not read poetry, you are always talking in similes and metaphors, in image-making and lyric moments.

The fact is that poetry has always advocated for us. Beyond the more secular creation of publishing houses and prize money, poetry has only ever wanted us to live, to feel, to be together, to love and grieve, to engage with the dark, to walk through the light. Poetry has lifted us up out of the worst sort of sorrow, as well as illuminating moments of happiness we thought couldn’t get brighter.

I think it’s time for us to advocate for poetry!

I want to ask if you will join me in a small, inexpensive, but possibly life-altering experiment. Over the next thirty days, let’s all buy a favorite book of poems and send it to someone who doesn’t usually read poems. This could be a family member, friend, your local representative, whomever! I believe poetry enriches our lives and our hearts. I believe that by sharing poetry with others we are taking part in humanizing our culture.

So that we may all share in the experience, you can tweet the book title you mail and whom you are sending it to with the #shareapoem hashtag.

For my part, I have picked up two copies of Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light and am sending them to Portland’s mayoral candidates. Whoever becomes my mayor, I want them to do so with a book of poems on their shelf.

It’s raining a little harder outside. I can hear the buses on Burnside driving west toward a soggy downtown. It’s dark. But in living rooms and apartments, in bars and restaurants, in countless bathrooms, there’s someone reading a poem, somewhere…and that makes the world a little less scary, a little more bearable, and exceedingly more interesting.

So let’s raise a book of poems in the air! Let’s preach the good news of poetry and all it does for us! Advocate for poetry and you advocate for a better world.

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Comments: 22

(12) Comments

  1. L Clark says:

    We want to participate!

  2. hair loss says:

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  3. Ha ha… I was just surfing around and took a glance at these responses. I can’t believe there’s still this much fascination. Thanks for writing about this.

  4. hello!,I adore your writing so a lot! share we keep up a correspondence extra about your post on AOL? I need a specialist in this space to unravel my problem. Maybe that’s you! Looking ahead to peer you.

  5. My companion and I stumbled over here from the different page and thought I would check things out. I just like what We see so now i am following you. Look forwards to checking out your web site repeatedly.

  6. apricoco says:

    I did it. I sent two books of poetry my Jeffery McDaniel to a good friend who probably hasn’t read any poetry since high school (a long time ago). He was thrilled. Thank you for the idea.

  7. Kenny says:

    I went to your reading in Seattle last night and absolutely loved it and I love this idea. I’m still deciding, but I think I am going to give out Natasha Trethewey’s brand new book, Thrall. The beauty and truth in her work, I can hardly handle it. And she talks about the mixed race experience like no other writer, poetry or otherwise, I have encountered.

    Thanks for the inspiration to be as generous with poetry as poetry has been to me. Come back to Seattle soon and I’ll be on the lookout for your next reading in Portland.

    And, again, thanks for the poem about 82nd street. I miss it there.

    ,Kenny Coble

    PS. Does Tin House have a space the public can visit? I’m a big fan and kind of a nerd for the publishing world.

  8. susandef says:

    I love this idea. I love it so much that I actually acted on it, in fact, just this week, by sending my mother in Michigan a copy of Mary Oliver’s ‘American Primitive.’ Based on the comments so far on this post, the Great Lakes state should brace itself for a poetry front.

  9. Marie says:

    Actually maybe it was your brother Michael that I had classes with . My apologies.

  10. Marie says:

    Amazing idea Matthew. I remember when you and I took a social media class at PSU and our learning tools were magazines and movies…how things have changed. Now social media consists of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. and all though gratification is instant is also fleeting. A book in the hand is worth two in the bush. Or something like that. I’m inspired by you to share the wonderment of poetry with those who may not normally experience it and to remind those that are familiar with it to get re-introduced. I know I’m guilty…I get so caught up in the day to day that I forget to appreciate the small beauties. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate the poetry around me and share it with others.
    Marie Dietrich

  11. It’s a great idea! I am going to send a copy of Kay Ryan’s “The Best of It” to my cousin in Michigan. Accordingly, I purchased it in paperback last night at St. Mark’s (let’s remember to support independent bookstores!). My cousin is lovely and smart and artistic, but not much of a poetry reader. So I think Kay Ryan is perfect because they are short lyrics that are relatively easy to engage. (The other book I bought at St. Mark’s last night was “The Maximus Poems.” Not a good choice for my cousin.)

  12. Keating Lockhart says:

    Is this your photograph?

(10) Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. [...] and Receive Poetry—Tin House magazine was inspired by their poetry editor Matthew Dickman’s blogpost from October 2012 where he asked readers to buy a favorite book of poems and send it to someone who [...]

  2. [...] October, I wrote a Call to Arms to advocate for poetry, and now, during National Poetry Month, I would like to raise the flag, [...]

  3. [...] October of last year, poet Matthew Dickman advocated in this Tin House blog that we  join [him] in a small, inexpensive, but possibly life-altering experiment. Over the next [...]

  4. [...] poetry editor Matthew Dickman made to a gathering of poetry lovers. Next came his blog post, Poetry by Mail, which went viral and was linked to on several sites and reposted on the Huffington [...]

  5. [...] October 2012, Tin House magazine poetry editor Matthew Dickman posted:  “I want to ask if you will join me in a small, inexpensive, but possibly life-altering [...]

  6. [...] theme, we bring you a poem from issue 38, which finds Matthew Dickman, our Poetry Editor (and poem-by-mail champion), wrestling with the age old question of how to use math as a weapon of [...]

  7. [...] has a really cool idea, and I think we should all do it. Check out his full post over at the Tin House blog, and see below for the quick version. I want to ask if you will join me in a small, inexpensive, [...]

  8. [...] Poetry by Mail: Send a collection of poetry to someone this month! [...]

  9. [...] The post is worth reading, but here’s the gist: poetry is an advocate for us. It is not scary, incomprehensible, or meant for the elite. Poetry is for (in both senses) everyone and should be spread — as it once was — far and wide. [...]

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