Intentional Poetry Overload is Good For You
The Sealey Challenge
During the month of August, I participated in The Sealey Challenge. I stumbled upon this challenge on Instagram last year when it was just about over, but followed @thesealeychallenge and the challenge's creator, poet Nicole Sealey, so I would be reminded when it started this year.
And just what is The Sealey Challenge? It's an invitation to dive into a book of poetry of any length (including chapbooks) every day during the month of August. Reading a book a day is a major commitment for most of us, but I decided to give it a try. The idea is to read a broad range of poetry, especially work from marginalized poets. Partcipants share their reading lists on social media. This builds a great community of poetry lovers while facilitating the expansion of everyone's want-to-read list.
Did I make it to 31 books? Nope. I was on track for the first half of the month, but the second half of August had so much going on that squeezing in a book a day felt a little like homework. I still read poetry, spreading one book over a few days. I decided that was okay as long as I just kept reading. I'm a big believer in wiggle room. It's hard to absorb that much poetry at once, but I found that daily immersion in poetry encouraged me to be more thoughtful, grounded, and attentive - kind of like meditation.
Early on, I focused on books by women poets, Mary Oliver and Naomi Shihab Nye being two of my favorites. I love how grounded they are in ordinary life, showing how it offers so many chances at grace. I found similarities in some other poets I read, too: Deborah Keenan, Margaret Hasse, Carolyn Martin. Later in the month, I picked up a book by the late David Budbill called Happy Life and was delighted that he worked in similar territory with a clear Zen influence. But I did not stick to that territory all month, tempting as that was. I read work that explored special needs kids, gender identity, incarceration, addiction, sex, and mortality. I read work both gritty and smooth. And I moved beyond poets who identify as women.
All in all, I would do The Sealey Challenge again. Right now, I'm making it a point to include a little more poetry in my daily reading than before. And that's a very good thing.
List of books I read for The Sealey Challenge 2021
Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Shelter by Margaret Hasse
You Can't Have It All by Annis Cassells
You & Yours by Naomi Shihab Nye
Happiness by Deborah Keenan
Self-Portrait With Cephalopod by Kathryn Smith
Something Like a Life by Sally Zakariya
In America by Diana Goetsch
Adjusting to the Lights by Tom C. Hunley
Turn Left Before Morning by April Salzano
Junkie Wife by Alexis Rhone Fancher
Dead Shark on the N Train by Susana H. Case
Pictures of the Gone World by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The Catalog of Small Contentments by Carolyn Martin
Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio
Escape Envy by Ace Boggess
New York, 1960 by Barry Gifford
Lightning at Dinner by Jim Moore
Happy Life by David Budbill
The Death of a Migrant Worker by Gil Arzola