The Poetry of Everyday Life

News & Updates

January 24, 2017: How can poetry be used to ease the final passage? Lucas Dargan, Steve Zeitlin’s father-in law did it best.

Part memoir, part essay, part a guide to maximizing your capacity for artistic expression, Steve Zeitlin’s new book taps into the poetic side of what we often take for granted: the stories we tell, the people we love, the metaphors used by scientists, even our sex lives.

Buy The Poetry of Everyday Life from the CityLore store. View the trailer* below:

Table of Contents:

Poetry_book-coverPart I POETRY IN PEOPLE

  • Kindred Spirits: Sea of Souls
  • Intimacy in Language: Poetry in Family Expressions
  • Laughter for Dessert: Lightness of Being


  • The Poetry of Ping-Pong: The Art in Sport
  • Days of Chess and Backgammon: Life’s Game Board
  • Inventing a Language for Love: Sex as Poetry and Play


  • Poetry on the Porch: A Time Set Aside
  • All My Trials: The Healing Powers of Poems and Tales
  • The AIDS Poets: Living with Dying
  • Oh Did You See the Ashes Come Thickly Falling Down? September 11 Street Poems
  • The POEMobile Dreams of Peace: Writing with Light
  • Free Market Flavor: Poetry of the Palate
  • The Poetry in Science: Metaphors to Explain Mysteries


  • Navigating Transitions: Poetry in Rites of Passage
  • The Human Unit of Time: The Space between Memory and Legacy
  • Your Body as Symbol: Written in Ash
  • Intimations of Immortality: The Artist’s Secular Sphere of Spirituality


  • God Is in the Details: Your Ur-Poem, Your Place Moments
  • Breath on the Mirror: Finding Your Own Voice
  • The Best Stories versus My Story: Shepherding the Word into the World


  • The Grease Lamp’s Flicker and Flare: Dark Caves Illuminate
  • Lion’s Gate: Myths as Metaphors
  • Rock and Word: Building a Stone Wall as a Lesson in Poetry

Read the Forward by Bob Holman

Praise for The Poetry of Everyday Life

Steve Zeitlin Head Shot

Steve Zeitlin. Photo by Martha Cooper

“Steve Zeitlin brilliantly sees poetry in everything, including something as simple (or complex) as a game of Ping-Pong.”
—Will Shortz, crossword editor, The New York Times

“Reading The Poetry of Everyday Life, I’m reminded of the Bobby Kennedy quote: ‘The greatest voice is the voice of the people—speaking out—in prose or poetry . . . in homes and halls, streets and farms, court and cafes —let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind.’ For decades Steve Zeitlin has been leading the charge to honor and elevate the voices and stories of everyday people—a life’s work that is captured magnificently in his latest book. We as a country owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his luminous life’s work.”
—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps

“Folklorists carry a badge of permission to nose around in the intimate lives of the most diverse of people. Steve Zeitlin has carried that badge lovingly and expansively, a lifelong explorer into the wonders of everyday people, their everyday lives, and the alchemy to the poetic. Both memoir and study, this book is an important treatise on the meaning of life and the mortal attempt to express the inexplicable in words, story, and poetry.”
—Hal Cannon, founding director, Western Folklife Center and National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Poetry of Everyday Life chronicles poems inspired by the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Through these poems the folklorist Steve Zeitlin helps us look for beauty and art in everyday life. In the tradition of Walt Whitman, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan, Zeitlin embraces poetry as the way each of us expresses our inner self and tells our own story.”
—William Ferris, author of The South in Color

“In this inspirational praise poem to everyday artistry, Steve Zeitlin urges us to choose the creative life. We already speak and act creatively, he argues, as he places before us the wise words and heartfelt creations of people he’s met throughout his years as a folklorist—a coffee shop philosopher, a graffiti artist, a man making the NYC subway tunnels his home, a Sierra Leone American recreating his homeland’s epic song, Ping-Pong players, Navajo wedding singers, a rabbi with his miracle tales, a scientist explaining string theory through story, a cook who turn memories into bodily delights, witnesses to September 11, children crafting their fathers’ coffin, porch sitters remembering relatives gone before. This celebration of the central role of artful words, spoken and written, will make you want to pick up your pen—or computer—and write.”
—Margaret R. Yocom, founder of the George Mason University Folklore Studies Program and the American Folklore Society’s Folklore and Creative Writing Section

The Poetry of Everyday Life is an important and personal project, documenting a folklorist’s aesthetic life view, well lived and hard won. Throughout, Steve Zeitlin asserts that ordinary life is beautiful; there is a way of experiencing its rhythm and cadence and pattern that is aesthetic and meaning making, like poetry.”
—Jenny Factor, Antioch University, Los Angeles, author of Unraveling at the Name

“Steve Zeitlin teaches his reader how to appreciate the world as a folklorist might—to find the poetry in everyday life. He invites a general audience to find the poet within, to recognize poetry where one might not suspect it exists, to observe with intensity and appreciation.”
—Rachel Bernstein, New York University, coauthor of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives

“In The Poetry of Everyday Life, Steve Zeitlin has given us an imaginative, humane, and moving account of the universal impulse to convert experience into stories. By merging poetry with folklore, he enhances our understanding of both, placing the oral narrative where it belongs—at the center of community and family life today.”
—Bill Ivey, former chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

*Trailer credits: photos by Martha Cooper, Kewulay Kamara, Caitlin Van Dusen, Elaine Norman; video from Let’s Get the Rhythm directed by Irene Chagall, coproduced by City Lore; The Grand Generation directed by Paul Wagner, Marjorie Hunt, and Steve Zeitlin.

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