5 Poetry Challenges To Enrich Your Reading Life

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

I have been deeply in love with poetry for most of my days, but I fell even harder for the genre in college. In English composition, the assigned anthology introduced my hungry brain to the poems of Louise Erdrich, Audre Lorde, Cathy Song, and Gary Soto, among others. The tissue-papery pages ushered me into the aisles of my community college library, where I perused for more poets, searching for gorgeous language to draw me in, tunnel me into wonder, and make time fall away.

Before freshman year, most of the poetry I had encountered consisted of rhyming lines postering drab classroom walls and the work of dead white guys. I didn’t know where to discover contemporary poets and poems. Especially ones that I could connect to in those mysterious, and obvious, ways that swoop up bibliophiles into total book adoration.

Whether you crave more poetry or simply appreciate striving for reading goals, these five poetry challenges can serve as that nudge to forge space for more poetry in your life. Also, they can connect you with a community of poetry readers, expose you to new work and writers, and much more. Some poetry challenges you can begin today, and you can gel pen the time-specific ones into your calendar. Doodle hearts around them so you don’t forget. (I did.)

1. Poem-a-Day

If a daily commitment interests you, visit Poets.org to sign up for the ever-popular Poem-a-Day newsletter. Over 250,000 people have subscribed to receive a “new” poem every weekday and a “classic” poem every weekend day. Each month, a different guest editor helms the weekday publications. Recent editors include Fatimah Asghar, Anaïs Duplan, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Beast Meridian cover

As a Poem-a-Day newsletter recipient, I cherish beginning my mornings with poetry. Reading the selections after waking keeps me in that dreamy headspace before dishes and e-mails and errands and work. The daily missive spotlights the featured poem and a recording, so you can read the poem, listen to the poem, or both. Not too long ago, I read “I Was a Good Wife” by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, the author of Beast Meridian, and my thoughts keep circling the breathtaking poem chosen by r. erica doyle, July’s guest editor and author of proxy.

2. National/Global Poetry Writing Month (Na/GloPoWriMo)

The Year of Blue Water cover

If you prefer shorter commitments, National/Global Poetry Writing Month takes place every April during National Poetry Month. For Na/GloPoWriMo, poetry lovers pen “30 poems in 30 days.” Often while sitting at my writing desk and waiting on the muses, I reach for authors and pieces that move me: Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa, Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz, and The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi. Perhaps drafting poems will keep you reading poems, too.

A little history: Thinking of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), Maureen Thorson began, 18 Aprils ago, writing a poem a day and publishing them on her blog. As others joined, Thorson, along with designers, created the NaPoWriMo website. Throughout April, its daily offerings promote a featured participant, featured reading, and writing prompt. This year, the readings, pre-recorded or live events, highlighted Victoria Chang, Ross Gay, Joy Harjo, and more. If you’re in the mood for a poetry prompt, 2021’s “Day Seventeen” asks poets to “write a poem that is about, or that involves, the moon.”

3. The Rumpus National Poetry Month Project

In the announcement for “The Rumpus National Poetry Month Project 2021,” Marisa Siegel writes, “Every year, The Rumpus celebrates National Poetry Month with new poems from poets we admire. We feature a different poet each day, aiming to illustrate a variety of voices and perspectives in contemporary poetry.” Some of this year’s featured poets include Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Tarfia Faizullah, and Omotara James. This celebration has graced the Internet since 2010, and indulging in the previous years’ content feels like a delightful challenge. Marianne Chan, Paige Lewis, Xandria Phillips, Jake Skeets, and Tracy K. Smith are among past featured poets.

4. The Sealey Challenge

Ordinary Beast cover

If you mesh with month-long commitments, consider The Sealey Challenge, named by Dante Micheaux after Nicole Sealey, the Challenge’s founder and author of Ordinary Beast and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named. Since its inaugural August in 2017, participants read a poetry chapbook or full-length collection every day for 31 days. Across social media, people share “shelfie[s]” of book stacks, covers, poems, and excerpts using the hashtags #TheSealeyChallenge and #SealeyChallenge.

In July, the Challenge, which focuses on “marginalized poets” and encourages participants to purchase their books from independent bookstores nearby, launched its official website. It gives helpful advice for a successful August as well as recent news and TBR list-expanding reading recommendations like Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Donika Kelly’s The Renunciations, and Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things.

5. Create Your Own Poetry Challenge

Many poetry challenges exist because of others. Sealey September and #SeptWomenPoets are “offshoot[s]” of The Sealey Challenge. In May, National/Global Poetry Revision Month follows Na/GloPoWriMo. So, why not borrow what fits your current life from these exciting challenges and invite other poetry enthusiasts to participate?

If you do find yourself inspired by others, please credit the lovely minds that dreamed up the challenges. And, of course, credit the poets who crafted the poems rearranging your universe, the publishers that helped bring the work into readers’ worlds, the translators who introduced the work to another language, the local bookshop whose booksellers hand-sold you the collection you’re obsessing over, your library for stocking poetry books, and on and on.

Whether you’re new to poetry or a long-time fan, I’m crossing my fingers and toes that these poetry challenges cause you — like me — to fall brain over feet for or to form a deeper connection to the genre. At the very least, I hope it pushes you to prioritize poetry in your reading life. If you’re interested in indulging in poems, some helpful resources include 50 Must-Read Best Poetry Books and Where To Find Free Poetry Online.