How is a sonnet like the suburbs? Both are places of possibility.

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Craig Morgan Teicher appears with his new book, "Welcome to Sonnetville, New Jersey."

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Craig Morgan Teicher knows a bit about finding beauty in the mundane. The poet and critic hopes his latest collection, “Welcome to Sonnetville, New Jersey,” will encourage readers to do the same.

“I think the experiment for me in the poems was to see if the drama of a ‘boring’ life can be brought forward. That if I could narrow the frame enough, that something as simple as staring at a bush could become a high-stakes event,” says Teicher.

Why We Wrote This

To Craig Morgan Teicher, “poetry is a vast conversation spanning thousands of years.” For National Poetry Month, the poet shares how that poetic dialogue fits into his own life – and vice versa.

Many of the sonnets in the book were written after he and his wife moved with their two children in 2015 from the borough of Brooklyn in New York to a suburb in New Jersey.

“The sonnet has these little formal checkpoints that you have to hit, the rhyme scheme and the rhythm,” he says. “I can’t help but think that that’s a little bit like what moving a family to a suburb is like. In some ways, it’s a very predictable existence, and yet you’re trying to show your children the fullness and unbridled possibility of life. Trying to do it in a way that’s safe and where they can explore without being afraid.”

Like millions of Americans, poet and critic Craig Morgan Teicher spends much of each day balancing the demands of family life and working in his home office. Teicher, who has published three previous books of poems as well as “We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress,” an acclaimed collection of essays, spoke recently about his new collection, “Welcome to Sonnetville, New Jersey,” and about trends in contemporary poetry. 

Many of the poems in “Welcome to Sonnetville” were written after he and his wife, poet Brenda Shaughnessy, moved with their two children in 2015 from the borough of Brooklyn in New York to a suburb in New Jersey to accommodate the needs of their son, who uses a wheelchair. 

While Teicher’s perspective is dark at times, the writing, which ranges from lovely to discomforting, highlights the rhythms in his family’s life and the “preciousness of tedious moments” as the adults reflect on their own suburban upbringing and the challenges and opportunities their children will face. 

Why We Wrote This

To Craig Morgan Teicher, “poetry is a vast conversation spanning thousands of years.” For National Poetry Month, the poet shares how that poetic dialogue fits into his own life – and vice versa.

“I think the experiment for me in the poems was to see if the drama of a ‘boring’ life can be brought forward. That if I could narrow the frame enough, that something as simple as staring at a bush could become a high-stakes event,” says Mr. Teicher, who wrote some of the poems last year.

What surprises him now, he notes, “is that this book is really huddled around a very small cast of characters, just my family, and when I was working on it, I was very much thinking about what it was like to bring my family to this little house in this town in New Jersey. I had no idea that it was also going to be a portrait of a family in isolation during a pandemic.” 

Teicher, whose second collection, “To Keep Love Blurry,” featured sonnets, had begun writing in that form again shortly after the family’s move to New Jersey. 

“The sonnet has these little formal checkpoints that you have to hit, the rhyme scheme and the rhythm,” he says. “I can’t help but think that that’s a little bit like what moving a family to a suburb is like. In some ways, it’s a very predictable existence, and yet you’re trying to show your children the fullness and unbridled possibility of life. Trying to do it in a way that’s safe and where they can explore without being afraid.”

Over the course of several months, Teicher wrote 100 sonnets; roughly 20 are included in the new book.  

“It’s sort of surprising to meet that guy from all that time ago,” he says. 

One way poets experience their own books is by giving readings, going to other cities, and meeting people who’ve read the book. As the pandemic continues, in-person events are not possible. Teicher will give several Zoom readings instead. 

Yet while poets may feel constricted in some ways, poetry continues to flourish, says Teicher, who teaches at Bennington College and New York University and is the digital director for The Paris Review.

“A poem is little and you read it and then you get to the end then and you reread it,” he says. “A poem offers a lot of restarts and the chance to enter a new consciousness in this very portable format. In the last five years, the internet has brought poetry to all kinds of people who never would have had it and has brought all kinds of poetry to people who would never have read it.”

Millennials and younger Americans have fueled that growth because they share links to websites rather than just reading books. 

Amanda Gorman’s electrifying reading at President Joe Biden’s inauguration also excited people about poetry. “It was amazing after the inauguration to watch the culture at large spend a week talking about a poet,” he says. 

“Gorman was the hottest cultural figure ... something that had never happened that way before, but it was possible because there was a robust culture of sharing poetry online and young people have taken control of how they consume literature.”

Teenagers today are often writing at an extremely high level, explains Teicher, who began writing at the age of 15, after the death of his mother, and with the encouragement of an English teacher.

Those experiences made it clear to him that he loved poetry more than anything. “Poetry is a vast conversation spanning thousands of years,” he says. “It’s a bunch of people talking back and forth. That’s really comforting and really exciting.”

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Drop Off

Simone’s kindergarten is at the top of our street.

This morning, holding hands, we eagerly trudge

uphill. She waits in her class line while I meet

the other parents. My work won’t wait, but I’ve no grudge

against these fifteen sociable minutes. After checking phones,

we introduce ourselves, wearing our kids like name tags –

Hello I’m Alice’s; Hello I’m Simone’s –

reborn as the ones who packed their lunch bags,

hurried them – socks, now! Shoes! – into neon clothes,

stuffed pancakes and yogurt into their mouths,

and brought them to this sea-edge, where, in droves,

they embark upon the slow journey toward themselves.

It’s just like my old school – here I am across that sea,

back where I started – but I’m my mom; Simone is me.

Craig Morgan Teicher

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