There is little I love more than a monthlong daily challenge, and poet Nicole Sealey created a good one: read an entire collection of poetry or a poetry chapbook every day for the month of August.
This is the fourth year that readers have gathered together online to share daily poems across their social media platforms, but it’s my first year learning about the challenge. And I found out about it nearly too late or maybe just in time. I would have preferred time to prepare, to collect possibilities from my shelves, to borrow a selection of poetry eBooks from my new public library, to make and remake physical and digital stacks, rather than learning about the challenge on August 1 just before bed on a day I was tired and ready to sleep.
But a daily reading challenge felt like just what my reading life needed this month, so I took myself to my shelves and found the skinniest book of poetry I own–a chapbook of a poem in 24 parts by Fleur Adcock, whose poetry I once collected even though I’ve never read any of it.
(It’s not a chapbook I can recommend. Although some of the writing is striking, the poems were inspired by a friend’s child who had a musculoskeletal deformity, and Adcock’s imaginings of what this child experienced and thought are ableist and treat disability as a metaphor and it’s all extremely uncomfortable to read. I had to keep checking the publication date because these poems felt like they must have been written in the 1950s rather than published in 1991, a year that usually feels like yesterday to me but has never seemed so far away as it did reading this book.)
I have been admiring the stacks that other participants have shared on social media, but I am not quite that organized.
First of all, I don’t even have all of my books with me yet. Dozens of boxes–and the rest of my bookshelves–are coming on my mother’s moving truck later this month.
Second of all, I haven’t yet unpacked much of what I did bring with me. Only enough books to fill the four shelves I have now.
And finally, what I’ve unpacked makes for an odd selection that doesn’t always speak to the reader I am now. Many of the poetry books I’ve unpacked have been traveling with me (mostly unread because I buy far more books than I read) since the 1990s, when my reading and purchasing habits were very different (very white). This is what happens when you pack book boxes based on shape and physical fit rather than need.
But my new public library has a decent selection of poetry eBooks on Hoopla, and poetry is the one kind of book reading I don’t mind doing on a screen. Now, I’m limited to just 25 titles per month on Hoopla, and as someone who can check out 25 titles in a single library visit, this feels almost unbelievably limiting. There go my plans to check out eBook and audiobook versions of the same title so that I can read in multiple formats!
Still, with what’s on my shelves and what I can dig out of unpacked boxes and what I can borrow online and what I can read for free (Sundress publications offers a selection of e-Chapbooks free!), I should be all set.
Given how slowly I like to read a collection of poetry–three or four poems over breakfast–a collection a day seems overly ambitious, daunting. Choosing short collections is clearly key. This isn’t the time to pull out the collected works of anyone. But even a short collection feels too intense, too saturated, to complete in a day. Poems need time to settle.
I’m finding that reading a few poems over coffee in the morning, a few more when I take a break from work in the afternoon, and finishing the collection before bed seems to work best for giving me the time and space I need as a poetry reader.
It’s never too late to join (and even to catch up if, like me, you need to be a completist in your challenges and read all 31 books even if you don’t read on all 31 days), and if August doesn’t work for you, what about next month with #septembersealey or the #SeptWomenPoets challenge?
And now I’m going to read a few more poems in Ada Limon’s fantastic collection, Bright Dead Things, before I get started with my day.