Playing with poems in January

Reading adventures for 2012 have started off with a bang. In late December a few twitter friends had a wonderful idea that seems to have started a whole new movement. I will let @bookgaga give you the scoop on that: but the basic idea is to start your day by reading a poem, and then sharing that poem on Twitter using the hashtag #todayspoem. Quote a line or two, or simply tell us the title and author, or give us a link to the poem or a reading… Whatever you want as long as you use the hashtag. Simple.

The repercussions from this idea have been amazing and so much fun. On a personal level, I’ve read more poems over the last month than I have over the last few years! I have revisited old favourites, like T.S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, Wordsworth, Housman and Robert Frost; I have read Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Rilke, Robert Burns, Dionne Brand, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Charles Swinburne, Shakespeare … I’ve read poems about dogs, cooking, the wind, anger, money, the rain, digging potatoes, marriage, writing, snow, language, a sow, a scarf, dying, loving, knitting, dancing, crying …

I’ve heard Alan Rickman recite Shakespeare. I watched a video made by a young family playing in the snow while reciting “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens. I’ve listened to rap, watched performance art, seen people on the street recite poetry. I learned about ekphrastic poetry, which is written in reaction to another form of art, such as a painting, sculpture, dance… (Check out the AGO website for some intriguing modern examples of this, or read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.)

Todayspoem has brought together people from all over the world, all with a love of poetry, and thankfully, many different tastes. Every day provides a fascinating variety of discoveries mixed with some oldies. I don’t like every single poem and some I don’t understand, but I usually save them to look at again later, because often what appeals to you or connects with you depends on your mood. Some days unearth absolute gems. Imagine a day devoted to cooking for friends and coming across this:



How easily happiness begins by

dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter

slithers and swirls across the floor

of the sauté pan, especially if its

errant path crosses a tiny slick

of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.

This could mean soup or risotto

or chutney (from the Sanskrit

chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions

go limp and then nacreous

and then what cookbooks call clear,

though if they were eyes you could see

clearly the cataracts in them.

It’s true it can make you weep

to peel them, to unfurl and to tease

from the taut ball first the brittle,

caramel-colored and decrepit

papery outside layer, the least

recent the reticent onion

wrapped around its growing body,

for there’s nothing to an onion

but skin, and it’s true you can go on

weeping as you go on in, through

the moist middle skins, the sweetest

and thickest, and you can go on

in to the core, to the bud-like,

acrid, fibrous skins densely

clustered there, stalky and in-

complete, and these are the most

pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare

and rage and murmury animal

comfort that infant humans secrete.

This is the best domestic perfume.

You sit down to eat with a rumor

of onions still on your twice-washed

hands and lift to your mouth a hint

of a story about loam and usual

endurance. It’s there when you clean up

and rinse the wine glasses and make

a joke, and you leave the minutest

whiff of it on the light switch,

later, when you climb the stairs.

What a delight and so perfectly suited to the day! That evening, one of our friends brought up the topic of poetry, wondering if people even read poetry anymore. I told them all about the #todayspoem movement on Twitter and they were surprised and intrigued; my husband shared our experience last year when we went to the Griffin Poetry Prize readings and how moving they were. They couldn’t believe that 1200 people turned out for a poetry reading, and were quite taken aback at my description of people elbowing each other to keep their place in line to buy poetry books! I told them how “Onions” started, and because they all love to cook, their reaction was similar to the poem’s itself; oh, you can make anything you want when you start with sautéing onions—soup, risotto, stew, pasta sauce… They loved it.

I have enjoyed this past month’s poetry fervour more than I can say. I had already started to read a bit more poetry over the past year but with the advent of #todayspoem, I am reading more than I ever anticipated. It is so satisfying to be able to share that enjoyment with likeminded people. I hope this happy movement continues to grow and gather new players. Anyone out there who hasn’t joined the fun yet, jump in anytime. Or if you just want to read and savour on your own, do that. Dig out an old anthology, or start searching on the internet. Find some poems you like, read, and enjoy! Here are some last words on the subject of poetry from the wonderful Billy Collins:

Introduction to Poetry


I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.


  1. Nice post, Jeanne. I, too, have enjoyed taking part in #todayspoem. It's only been a month, and already I've discovered poets I was unfamiliar with before, poets like Robert Vandermolen and Michelle Boisseau. I hope more people take part, even if only to check out the poems that others have chosen. It's a lovely way to begin a day.

  2. It's been a rollicking month of poetry, and I'm so glad to have had you for a companion. So many great exchanges along the way -- you capture the experience wonderfully in this post. Thanks!

  3. You've captured it, like materfamilias said. What a community, I feel we're all at a long table together, like at wedding feast of poems. I look forward to them all day.

  4. Thanks for all your comments. It is such fun each day, not just to choose our own poem, but to see what everyone else has discovered. "A wedding feast of poems" indeed.