Mourning the Month of April
It’s only the middle of May, and I’m already missing April.
Although this April was important to me for several reasons — one of which was the fact that it was the last full month that I could say I was “in my forties” — the reason I want to tell you about here is something that can be (in an ideal world) of interest and value to everyone.
I’m talking about National Poetry Month.
The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month (April) in 1996. Since then, each April has been a time to showcase poems, support poets, and encourage everyone to experience the joys and benefits of reading, sharing — and maybe even writing — poetry.
In cities and towns around the nation poetry is celebrated with readings, contests, and other events to educate people about what poetry can do for their lives.
Now that April is over, I, as a consumer and creator of poetry, go back to being marginal, outdated, insignificant. Even more sadly, many will relegate poetry itself to this shadowy status.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Why are poetry and poets often seen as unimportant, boring, or irrelevant? I think there are at least two basic reasons:
- Since poetry books seldom make best-seller lists, and for this and other reasons poetry does not contribute great sums to the economy, in a materialistic world it is considered of minimal value.
- A lot of people have negative or indifferent feelings about poetry. They may view it as boring or remote, unconnected to their own lives and concerns.
Maybe they got turned off by archaic language and singsong rhyme structures in older poems, or by teachers who made them memorize poems without helping them engage emotionally with the poem in a way that would make them want to memorize it.
Some shy away from the effort it takes to read a poem and find meaning in it. Many have the mistaken view, perhaps again from their school days, that a poem is a kind of puzzle, or even a test, and that there is a “hidden meaning” they must decode, or they will feel like they have failed.
But enough analysis. And enough of the possible “why nots.” Now for some of the “whys” of letting poetry into your life.
Let me just say that none of the above has to be part of anyone’s experience with poetry. Poems are meant to be enjoyed, read aloud as music, shared with friends, explored, celebrated.
If ten people read the same poem, they may each get a little something different out of it because of their own experience and perspective, and that’s just fine.
The poet is not going to send you hate mail because you “got it wrong.”
They will just be glad their hard work meant something to you, that it touched your life in some way.
For all the reasons that all of the arts are important whatever the times or circumstances — good or bad, peaceful or conflict-ridden, rich or poor — poetry is essential to enriching the human experience. It helps make the good times more memorable and the rough times more bearable, and brings meaning and positive connection through it all.
I challenge you to start reading poetry regularly, even just one poem each day or week, and see if your feelings about it change. See what it can do for your mind and your life.
I would especially recommend starting with contemporary free verse poems by living poets. These poems are often more in tune with our modern ear and less likely to sound stilted or lofty or remote.
(For ideas of poems and poets to start with, see item 1 of the list below, or visit loc.gov/poetry/180 for selections from former poet laureate Billy Collins.)
Writing poetry especially, but even reading it, helps you to look at all of life more closely and thoughtfully, and experience it on a deeper level.
So, why not make a start now, even though the next poetry month is 11 months away?
Now that National Poetry Month is over, what can we do
to reap the benefits of poetry, and to provide needed support and appreciation to poets and publishers of poetry the rest of the year, and beyond?
I have selected 5 of the 30 suggestions from the Academy of American Poets for celebrating poetry in April. These 5, as well as many of the others, can be applied any month of the year.
The number in parentheses is the number of the item on the Academy of American Poets’ list.
- (2) Sign up for Poem-a-Day (www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem-day)
I highly recommend this. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s a convenient way to bring poetry into your life.
Just enter your e-mail to receive a poem in your in-box each day.
Weekdays feature an unpublished poem by a living poet, along with their comments about the poem. On weekends you can revisit classic poems. This is really not overwhelming, because it’s just one poem per day.
Start each day by reading one poem, and see how it may open the way for more creativity, insight, and emotional connection in your day and your life.
If every day is too much for you, you can read a poem (or ten) right on the site whenever you feel like it.
2. (7) Buy a book of poetry, preferable from a local bookstore. Poets need to eat too. And by having the book on your shelf, or in your bag, you will be more likely to avail yourself of the power and pleasure of poetry as part of your daily life.
3. (11) Attend a poetry reading in your community. You can often find one at a library, bookstore, cafe, or university. When you hear a poem read aloud, by the poet, you can connect to it on a deeper level. And it’s exciting to be in a room full of people who value poetry.
4. (27) Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day. Simply “select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends.”
You may be amazed at the connections you make and the communication gaps you bridge as others read your poem and find that it speaks to them about something relevant to their lives.
5. (4) Memorize a poem.
I can hear the groans now. But this does not have to be the joyless drudgery of your school day. Remember, poetry is much like music. It is meant to be heard or read aloud.
Now for this purpose, a short, rhymed poem might be a good choice, since the rhyme aids the memory, just like with a song.
First, choose a poem you really like, so memorizing it will be fun. And then you have it, it belongs to you, and you can pull it out of your mind to enjoy or share any time you like.
After you try these suggestions, you may start to enjoy poetry so much that you want to try writing some yourself. Who knows what could happen?
But I can almost guarantee that if you start experiencing good poetry on a regular basis, you will start to love it, and you will be richer for it.
Though I could go on about why I think poetry is important, and relevant, and enjoyable, I will step down from my soap-box and leave you to let the poems speak for themselves. Why not visit poets.org — or a bookstore — today, and begin the adventure? I can’t wait to hear the stories you’ll have to share!