When I turned 17, my favorite birthday gift was a vintage edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson. I selected it myself, plucking the book from the musty shelves of a second-hand book store. The century-old poems felt fresh and real to my teen-age self. Emily’s voice on the brittle pages was that of an intelligent and gentle friend, welcoming me warmly into her precise, articulate, heartfelt, world.
I spent a lot of time with Emily this winter. And Homer. And William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, T.S. Elliot, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney, and Rupi Kaur. I greeted old friends and made new discoveries while researching and writing my first book, Poetry 101, part of a 101 series by Simon & Schuster imprint Adams Media.
I’ve noted an uncomfortable glimmer of fear sometimes in the eyes of friends, family and acquaintances when the subject of poetry comes up. (Which, funny enough, starts to come up quite often when you’ve written a book called Poetry 101.) Some admit it outright: “Poetry was always so hard for me in school.” Others shyly confess a desire to write poetry, or to at least understand it.
Here’s the thing about poetry. It really, truly, is for everyone. The expansive topic of Poetry 101 gave me the chance to explore a broad spectrum of poems ranging back in time to the ancient Greeks on up to the Instagram poets of today. In 60,000 words, I only manage to skim the surface of the waters of poetry, but I can assure you, even without the luxury of a deep-sea poetry-diving submarine, poems you can appreciate, maybe even love, are within sight. Some poems are so universal that almost all of us, as humans, can relate to their sentiments. And other poems are so intimate and pure that we feel as if they were written expressly for us.
Years before I picked up that volume of Dickinson poems, I’d spent countless hours scribbling out short stories and poems in spiral notebooks. Even as an elementary-school kid, I dreamed of becoming a writer. For most of my lifetime, though, publishing a book has been a distant goal. I’m thrilled my first book gives me the chance to share, hopefully far and wide, a topic that is dear to me. I think poetry is lightness in a world that all-too-often feels dark. Dwelling in that light this year as I worked on this book lifted my spirits and reaffirmed my faith in art and humanity. I hope it can do the same for others.
Poetry 101 arrives in U.S. bookstores on September 4. (October 18 in the UK.) It’s also available for pre-order online: