“Poem-a-Day” is a smart, thoughtful gift to help a loved one — maybe even yourself? — welcome the new year. The collection features works from the Academy of American Poets’ popular Poem-a-Day series. In the introduction, Edward Hirsch suggests, “Read one poem per day over the course of a year and you will find yourself befriended by poetry.” Hirsch, one of the country’s most celebrated poets and advocates for the craft, calls poetry “a mode of thinking, a method of flight, an act of concentrated attention” that “sings us into being.”
In this collection, the singing begins immediately, with Carl Adamshick, who writes, “A low, quiet music is playing — / distorted trumpet, torn bass line,/ white windows.” Those sounds and images stop the clock. But the melody continues as the next writer, Jimmy Santiago Baca, shares how robins “scold me not to be self- pitying,/ to open my life/ and make this day a bough on a tree/ leaning over eternity, where eternity flows forward.” Twenty-nine other poems add to the January chorus, exploring the month’s promise, surprise or cold.
As January turns to February and February to March, the poems feature seasonal changes and occasions that correspond with each point in the year. Nearly every piece is striking. What makes the poems resonant as a group, however, is the seamless weaving of voices, from contemporary masters such as Galway Kinnell, Donald Hall and Lucille Clifton to major writers from the 19th century including Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and William Blake. Today’s rising stars appear as well: Todd Boss, Ada Limón, Adam Kirsch.
Together they create a landscape of subjects and emotions, which are helpfully indexed at the end of the book, along with the poems’ titles and authors. Some readers may wish to move ahead in the year, devouring a month at a time. Others may linger over one day or review a particular season over and over. That’s the beauty of poetry, as this wonderful collection shows.
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry each month for The Washington Post.
By Academy of American Poets
Abrams. 432 pp. $16.95