National Poetry Month!

It’s terrifying, but true: tomorrow is the first day of the fourth month of 2010. But even though it’s shocking and a little bit horrible to think how much of the year has already passed us by, there is plenty to be happy about in April, because even if it is the cruellest month, it is also National Poetry Month! And poetry is definitely something worthy of  a month-long, full-throated and vigorous celebration.

If you’re lacking festive thoughts about how to make poetry a joyous part of the next thirty days, don’t worry! I’ve got a few ideas for you.

First, you can subscribe to the  Poem-A-Day email list offered by poets. org, by clicking here and entering your email address. Then you will magically become, at some point tomorrow morning (or at whatever point in the month you manage to sign up) the proud recipient of many poems, delivered swiftly and silently to your inbox, every single day.

I know a poem a day might sound like a lot…it might sound like a daunting task, a wretched bother, or an awfully grand responsibility, but I urge you to sign up anyways, and try it! You might be surprised how much you enjoy having poetry flooding into your inbox. And even if only one poem out of the thirty really impresses you and takes up permanent residence in your brain, I’m willing to bet you that one will be worth the time you spent skimming the other 29.

Another method of enjoying National Poetry Month would be to actually buy a book of poetry–any book of poetry. A classic, an anthology, some children’s poetry or the one which the snazzy red-and-orange-glossy-spatter-painted cover that you catch out of the corner of your eye while standing in your usual spot in front of the fiction shelves.

Buying the book is a great start, but actually reading it is even better. And when you read, try as best you can to take your time, whatever kind of time that may be. Read as quickly or as slowly as you like, pause, reverse, skip ahead. If you don’t have any time that can be “taken,” try fitting poetry into some already-designated period of your day. Read on the metro, or while you eat lunch. Read out loud to a friend,  to your dog, or to your ceiling.

If you buy a book, open it, and suddenly feel overwhelmed, remember that you have a the whole month (and then, of course, the rest of your life) to read it, so there’s no pressure. (It’s not like the Poetry seminar I took my sophomore year which left me bleeding from the eyes after hundreds–literally hundreds–of pages of confessional poetry in a single evening)

If you happen to have some poetry lying around the house, hidden on a bookshelf behind the His Dark Materials trilogy or nearly forgotten in the basement beside a dead potted plant you couldn’t bring yourself to throw away, dig the book(s) out, dust it off, take into a sunny room (if you get some sun in April, which I hope you do) and read it.

If it’s the reading part that gives you trouble, and not the poetry part, there are lots of other ways to experience poetry. The internet is replete with audio and video versions of famous (and not-so-famous) poems, like this  YouTube adaption of Catullus’ “Poem 5,” Tim Burton’s “Vincent” featuring a version of Poe’s “The Raven,” presentations of poetry readings like this one, with Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, and free audio downloads of Billy Collins reading his own poetry, available from his website, here.

If you try this and want more, try looking up “Poetry Aloud” on Itunes or at your local bookstore, or better yet, check out bookshop and library bulletin boards or your local paper to see if there are any poetry readings coming to your area. I’ve heard tell that at poetry readings, one gets to see real live poets, a species not often spotted (or at least not often cornered)  in the wild.

Another option for celebrating National Poetry Month is to write some of your own poetry. If you’re feeling classically ambitious, start a sonnet; feeling gloomy? perhaps an elegy; feeling concisely profound, then opt for the haiku. Or just try jotting down a few lines on a napkin, scribbling on the back of a recently returned exam, or painting some thoughts onto the walls of your room. I’d urge you, however, to wait at least until next year before getting any tattoos.

Whatever you do in April, I hope you read a bit more poetry than usual, and that you really enjoy reading it, too. You can be sure that I’m going to be celebrating a great deal on my own, and thus you can expect an outpouring of (i.e. several) lovely poetry-oriented posts in the coming weeks.

I leave you with this poem, called “Sound and Structure,” by Barbara Guest. I’ve been mulling over for a few days now and I’m not sure I really understand it yet. But that’s okay, because I’ve got the whole month of April to figure it out.

“Sound leads to structure.” Schöberg.

On this dry prepared path walk heavy feet.
This is not “dinner music.” This is a power structure.
heavy as eyelids.
Beams are laid. The master cuts music for the future.

Sound lays the structure. Sound leaks into the future.

~ Barbara Guest


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