August & the Sealey Challenge 2020

but you—YOU can always find a poet.

It’s almost August—by the time you read this, it might already be the first of August, or maybe it will still be the tail end of July—and we are still trapped in this ongoing (and worsening!) pandemic (and political) hell—but it’s nigh unto August, and that means the Sealey Challenge is here again.

I stumbled across the 2019 Sealey Challenge rather by accident, and participated in it, successfully reading 31 books of poetry in August. It was an incredible experience, a reminder of how much I have always loved poetry, exhilarating and demanding and intensive.

I’ll be participating again this year, though a bit differently: I still plan to read 31 books of poetry in August, but they will be considerably shorter. I’m looking for books no more than 60 pages, and even that might be pushing it: I’ve got a lot going on this summer, to put it mildly, but I want that burning intensity, and that exhilaration, of reading a book of poetry in a day. I want that joy, and that community.

Not everyone will read a full 31 books, or they’ll tweak as they go: read, as it were, what you can. But if you’ve a chance, and a fondness for poetry—well, give the Sealey Challenge a go. It’s an intense marvel, a reminder of the pure beauty of the written word, a deep dive into the world of poetry. You’ll find lots of suggestions out there, books to read, authors to seek out; there are articles, like this one from Book Riot; Nicole Sealey herself continues to tweet out her own selections.

Chapbooks are a great way to start, for other folks looking for shorter books of poetry, but they aren’t alone: plenty of kids’ books are poetry, too, from Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson’s beautiful picture book The Undefeated to David Bowles’ middle grade novel They Call Me Güero.

There are novels in verse, if you’ve a mind to read there (Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds each have incredible novels in verse, as do many other authors; I’ve read and enjoyed Maryese Meijer’s Northwood as well.) There are collections and compilations; your librarians will have socially distant suggestions, and your local indie bookshop will as well.

Try exploring poetry this strange August! It will demand attention, to be sure, and it will, if it’s anything like the poetry I read, throw the world into harsh relief—but there’s such beauty in the words, and such joy, and I think it will be a boon companion for this strange and frightful year.

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