Poetry Book Clubs

I’ve had a few requests for materials I can share with book clubs reading RUE. And I was so excited because BOOK CLUBS ARE READING POETRY?! I mean, of course they are, poetry is great. But apparently I’ve been underestimating poetry AND book clubs.

So I’m making the book group discussion guide for RUE available here for anyone to use. And I also want to share a couple resources for book club organizers who might be wondering how to have a great discussion about poetry.

These tips from Bustle on How To Host A Poetry Book Club make it as simple as it should be. The recommendations from ArtIdea.org are also great for readers who haven’t talked about a poem since their high school teacher ruined poetry with some combination of scansion and hours spent tediously unpacking some questionable symbolism.

Below are some questions groups are welcome to use to get the conversation going about RUE. If your group likes to incorporate writing exercises into the evening, I recommend modifying this one to suit your needs.

Discussion Questions for Book Clubs Reading RUE

  1. Poets’ voices are often described as lyrical, impressionistic, allusive, narrative, confessional, or intimate. Nuernberger is often described as a “chatty” poet. How would you describe her voice in these poems and how does that style serve the subject?
  2. Do you think anger ever has a purpose? After reading RUE, do you think Nuernberger would agree with you?
  3. Nuernberger frequently references feminist theories and key feminist thinkers like Adrienne Rich. A key feminist principle is that “the personal is political.” To what degree are the very personal poems in this collection political?
  4. What poem was the most challenging for you? Which one was the easiest to understand or relate to? Why?
  5. There are a number of poems in the collection that are about plants historically used for birth control. Before talking about them, think of a flower you recently saw in bloom and google its folklore. Share these findings with the group. Then talk about what kinds of relationships between people and the natural world you see Nuernberger imagining or proposing in these poems.
  6. The book is dedicated to Maya Jewell Zeller and a character in the one of the central narrative poems of the book, “When We Dead Awaken.” How do themes of love and friendship intersect in this collection?
  7. Nuernberger also writes essays. These poems are very conversational and long by poetry’s usual standards. Why do you think she chose to use line breaks? Would the poems work without line breaks?
  8. Are there other writers, artists, or films RUE reminds you of?  

Published by Kathryn Nuernberger

Kathryn Nuernberger's latest books are THE WITCH OF EYE (Sarabande), an essay collection about witches and witch trials coming out in February 2021, and RUE (BOA, 2020), a collection of poems about plants historically used for birth control and pissed off feelings about patriarchal bullshit. The End of Pink (BOA 2016) won the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection of lyric essays is Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (The Ohio State University Press, 2017). A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, American Antiquarian Society, Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life, H. J. Andrews Research Forest, She teaches in the creative writing program at University of Minnesota. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Waxwing.

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