“Quality” Poetry

Kasey Cox
Bookmatchmaker. Lover of cats, old quilts, ugly sweaters. Proud wife, sister & auntie, daughter.

Apr 03,2018

April is National Poetry Month. Yeah, I know: there’s a national month, or special week, or weird celebratory day, for every topic and group in the universe now. There’s even a book our local radio station uses that lists, by month, everything from “National Dental Health Care Week” to “International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day”. (Although those two topics might not be so unrelated as they first appear, har har.)

But I actually look forward to National Poetry Month. I love poetry. Poetry challenges me, feeds me, shocks me, makes me giggle, soothes me in songs, comes to me from sacred texts and coffeeshops and in emails from friends. And, unlike many genres of literature, I believe there is a poetry book for everyone.

There may not be a story from the thriller group that you’d like, or a biography, or a book on investing. But I’m fairly certain if we looked, and probably not even for that long, we could find a poem or two that you would love.

I told my husband I was prepared to write two or three articles for National Poetry Month, or even do the entire month on poetry. He gave me a look. He thought one article would be enough. “People just don’t like poetry all that much,” he told me, gently but firmly – although he writes fine poetry himself.

So how do I choose one book to focus on? Actually, it was a clear and easy choice. There is one poetry book that fits all of us.

When I had to be in the hospital for a while during my college years, a friend brought me this special book – J. Ruth Gendler’s “The Book of Qualities”. Since then, I have turned around and given copies of this book to all different people in my life.

I’ve shared this beautiful little book as a gift for graduations, wedding showers, birthdays, major illnesses, surgeries, and as a thank-you note. I’ve read selections from it at open mike nights, support groups, and memorial services.

In “The Book of Qualities”, poet and artist Ruth Gendler dedicates one page to each of almost one hundred human characteristics and feelings. These are the Qualities. With playful and insightful words, she describes each Quality as though he or she were a person you know.

Change becomes your unwelcome house guest; Honor could be your grandfather; Courage may be the woman who befriended you as you faced your divorce. Each of the Qualities has a favorite color, or a hobby.

They have faces and hair and cars and clothes and jobs. And in those characteristics, in each Quality, you will recognize yourself and those you know – often in delightful and startling new ways.

This little book is truly a classic: one of those books that you will find yourself revisiting time and again, once it has become a part of your life. Every time you re-read it, you’ll find something new.

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