Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, people used to read anthologies to get turned on to poetry. At the same time, there were magazines that people actually read that also published poetry. And still longer ago, local newspapers published poetry as well as obituaries. The time for all that is past. But there is still a way to nose around and find poems that speak to you. I call it the Internet.
Whether you think, like Dana Goia, that poetry is the essential human response to the awareness of death, or like Allen Ginsberg that it is language when it walks a foot off the ground; whether you agree with Aristotle's definition of poetry as the relation of general truths or Dickinson's belief that it is something that makes your whole body so cold no fire can ever warm you, you can find something to turn you on online.
This site from the American Academy of Poets provides bios and sample poems from a large cross-section of contemporary poets. Although it provides a full panoply of social media tools and apps, as well as listings of events and essays, it's really the anthological element that makes it so valuable. From Sappho and Shakespeare to Baca and Walcott, you can take a poet for a test drive before deciding to make the investment of a real read.
Here's the thing, though. The book of poetry is a relatively recent innovation and nothing about it is inherently right. Prior to books were broadsides and prior to those were manuscripts and before that the most elemental aspect of a poem - it's body, the sounds recited from person to person. There is nothing more poetic about a book than there is about a webpage. So remember when you page through, so to speak, that you are the ultimate arbiter of what's right.
The Southbank Centre's Global Poetry System is a whole different kenning of fish. Described as a "user generated world map of poetry," this site allows users to upload and geolocate poetry in any form, and those things they've associated with it, such as buildings or photos or songs, on an interactive map. "(P)poetry is all around us," say the GPSers, "from gravestones to graffiti, from birthday cards to blogs, in the landscape and in our memories."
Harriet Moore's "Poetry" is a well-known and long-lived magazine that chronicled a number of poetic ages from its home in Chicago. In 2002, an heiress donated $100 million to the magazine, which in turn created the Foundation. Its online presence is specifically designed to help people either stumble on a poem that moves them or find one they can use. Their Poetry Tool section allows the user to choose poems by a number of criteria, including subjects like economics (244 poems), time and summer.
Princeton Online Arabic Poetry ProjectThis resource focuses on marrying biographical information on the poets, the Arabic caligraphy of the poems themselves and, most importantly, audio of the poems being read. Poems are functions of speech. When we read poems in languages we know, we can recreate the moment of recitation. But for those we don't, having audio available awakens us to the poems. If I had to chose the meaning or music of a poem, I would choose the music.
Poetry Translation Centre The PTC focuses on translating the work of "living poets from Africa, Asia or Latin America." The front page alone features Oman's Abdullah al Ryami, Equatorial Guinea's Marcelo Ensema Nsang and Tajikistan's Farzaneh Khojandi. I do believe I have the vapors. This is a really wonderful site. Translation is one of the pillars of poetry. The importance of cross-pollination cannot be overstated. Without translation from the Italian, we would have known no sonnets. Without translations from the Chinese and Japanese, we would never have had modernism.
You cannot know the world you live in if you do not know its poetry.
If you've got a resource you love that we didn't cover, please drop the link in the comments and tell us why it floats your boat. We would be particularly interested in both translation sites and in sites for poetry in languages other than English.
"I do not say these things for a dollar or to fill up the time while I wait for a boat,
(It is you talking just as much as myself, I act as the tongue of you,
Tied in your mouth, in mine it begins to be loosen'd.)"
Shakespeare folio photo from Beinecke Flickr Laboratory