Last year, I discovered The Sealey Challenge too late. During the month of August, participants read a poetry chapbook or full-length collection a day for 31 days while sharing their reads on social media using the hashtag #TheSealeyChallenge, named after poet Nicole Sealey and coined by Dante Micheaux during its first year. My month had already filled by a belated honeymoon plus preparing for said honeymoon, but I managed to participate for a workweek, reading several chapbooks published by Tinfish Press. As I watched poetry flood the internet, I promised to be ready the following year. And I am.
In anticipation of August, I saved a stack of new-to-me poetry collections, including Hanif Abdurraqib’s The Crown Ain’t Worth Much and Justin Phillip Reed’s The Malevolent Volume. From my personal collection, I pulled Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf and Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses to revisit. Through my local library, I reserved a poetry stack, including Eve L. Ewing’s 1919 and Natasha Trethewey’s Domestic Work. On delivery planes and trucks, chapbooks and collections like Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian, Yanyi’s The Year of Blue Water, and a dancing girl press bundle meander their way to me. Considering I’ll be devoting most of August’s reading time to poetry, I’ve been indulging in prose for weeks. Needless to say, I’m excited.
According to “The Sealey Challenge: An Expansive Way of Reading Poetry” by Laura Buccieri in Literary Hub, Sealey, author of Ordinary Beast and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, founded the challenge in 2017 because the poet found little time to read poetry between promoting her debut collection and serving as executive director of the Cave Canem Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady that is “committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.”
In “Nicole Sealey: Why I Read a Poetry Book Every Day For a Month” via Book Marks, Literary Hub’s vertical for book reviews, Sealey states, “I could literally count on one hand the number of poetry collections I’d read in full from January-July of last year. I chalked it up to being overstretched, the this is my life now hustle of trying to write while working a full-time job, but as a lifelong student of poetry and a poet committed to craft, this was still a big no-no; so I endeavored to do something about it.” When Sealey asked others on social media to join her in reading poetry daily, the challenge drew more and more attention. Across popular social media platforms, a search of the challenge’s hashtag displays scrolls upon scrolls of results.
In “31 Poets Recommend 31 Poetry Books to Read Every Day in August” by Christina Orlando from Electric Literature, Sealey offers helpful suggestions for the challenge’s participants, for example balance full-length collections with chapbooks and choose titles you can finish in one day. Poetry lovers, consider perusing this wonderful list. My favorites include Olio by Tyehimba Jess, Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey, and Soft Science by Franny Choi. Plus, I’ve added many to my ever-growing TBR list: Mend by Kwoya Fagin Maples, All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello, and The History of Violets by Marosa di Giorgio.
Not only does the challenge encourage readers to dedicate their valuable time and attention to poetry, it also builds community, celebrates and spreads a love of the genre, lifts up the words and voices of poets, and—hopefully—supports independent bookstores, libraries, and small presses, too. It is a joy just to read poems, but as Sealey mentions in “Every Poem Is a Love Poem to Something: An Interview with Nicole Sealey” by Lauren Kane from The Paris Review, “reading inspires me to pick up a pen and start writing.” So keep a pen and paper close, too.
It feels right to finish with encouraging words from Sealey, founder of this inspiring challenge: “I hear that it takes just a few weeks to form a habit, and if that’s true I’m optimistic that #TheSealeyChallenge can become part of our routines all year round—not necessarily requiring the reading of an entire book each day, but just the practicing of daily reading, of making poetry part of our daily lives. Whether we finish one book or 31 over the course of the challenge, the point is to read regularly and to do so as part of a community.”
For poetry recommendations, I’ve included some relevant links: 10 Gorgeous Poets Like Mary Oliver, 20 Must-Read Poetry Collections By Queer Female Poets, 50 Of The Best Poetry Books From Authors Of Contemporary Works, 50 Must-Read Best Poetry Books, and 50 Must-Read Poetry Collections Of 2019.