2021 Reading Challenge: Read a Book of Poetry or a Novel in Verse

This post was contributed by Nicole Hilder, a library specialist (and poetry enthusiast) at Saddlebrook Branch.

In 2021, OPL invites patrons to take part in the Reading Challenge, opens a new window! For each challenge, OPL offers suggestions for titles to listen to or read. As you’re working through the challenge, feel free to tag @omahalibrary on Twitter, opens a new window, Instagram, opens a new window or Facebook, opens a new window to let us know which read you picked up this month!

Even if you feel intimidated to read poetry because you won’t “get it,” there is a poet or collection for everyone. You might have flashbacks to English classes when Shakespeare’s sonnets, opens a new window and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven, opens a new window” were required reading. They’re beautiful, but may not be that easy for everyone to read. If classics aren’t your thing, there are plenty of contemporary poets who make poetry approachable and enjoyable.

One of the easiest ways to read poetry is through performance. Slam poetry—spoken word poetry—brings the work to life and gives it a new meaning. Try reading “New American Best Friend” by Olivia Gatwood and then watch her performances online, opens a new window. Other slam poetry to check out: Rudy Francisco’s “Helium, opens a new window,” Blythe Baird’s “If My Body Could Speak, opens a new window,” and Neil Hilborn’s “Our Numbered Days, opens a new window.”

Not all songs are poetic, but that doesn’t mean musicians aren’t poets. For Johnny Cash fans, consider picking up “Forever Words, opens a new window” to read never-before-published poems by the three-time Music Hall of Famer. Also, Joni Mitchell, opens a new window has a self-titled collection of lyrics and poems.

Maybe you’re completely new to poetry and want to get a feel for several different poets. Anthologies are a great place to start. “Nepantla” includes writers like Ocean Vuong, opens a new window, Audre Lorde, opens a new window, Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, opens a new window and more. Another one to check out is “Nebraska Presence, opens a new window,” which features more than 80 Nebraska poets.

Novels-in-verse are exactly what they sound like—a story with a similar structure to a novel but told through poetry. It’s not a new format but it’s becoming more popular. In 2018, Elizabeth’s Acevedo’s “The Poet X, opens a new window” won the National Book Award. I highly suggest giving the audiobook a listen, as it’s narrated by the author. Also try “Clap When You Land, opens a new window,” Acevedo’s other novel-in-verse. Told through a series of poems, “Inside Out & Back Again, opens a new window” by Tanhha Lai can be read for another 2021 Reading Challenge prompt, opens a new window, a book about refugees or the immigrant experience.

If you want to involve your kiddos in the challenge or need a quick read, try some poetry from OPL’s children’s collection. The Poetry for Young People series introduces famous poets and explains their poems so they’re easier to understand. You can choose from “Langston Hughes, opens a new window,” “Maya Angelou, opens a new window,” Emily Dickinson, opens a new window” and more, or try something silly like “Jumping Off Library Shelves, opens a new window” or “Last Laughs, opens a new window.”

If you want some more ideas, check out this list, opens a new window, request a Custom Reading List, opens a new window or ask at your local branch.

Starting April 1, 2021, you may submit your completed reading log online or return a completed tracking sheet to any OPL branch to receive a pin and to be entered into a drawing for some fun literary-themed prizes! All completed tracking sheets or online challenge form entries must be received by December 31, 2021, to be entered into the prize drawing.