by January O’Neil
Ahhh, April — that special time of year when our thoughts turn to spring, Opening Day in baseball and National Poetry Month in the United States. So how do you mark what is supposed to be “the cruelest month?” When you tell friends and family it is National Poetry Month, are your responses similar to this:
“National Poetry Month? Ummm … No, I didn’t know.” I’m sure you hear a lot of that.
But after the initial bewilderment, what happens next? Do you explain what happens during the month? Do you inspire dialogue about the meaning of the month? If people ask you, “Why April?” do you have the right answer?
Founded by the Academy of American Poets more than 10 years ago, National Poetry Month has become a way of honoring a time-honored literary genre, while highlighting readings, community events, gatherings, and publications — all related to poetry. April was chosen as poetry month as a nod to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and its famous — or infamous — first line, “April is the cruelest month … .”
My small contributions to the national dialogue about National Poetry Month start with writing a poem a day in April, also known as NaPoWriMo. I also run a community-based literary reading series and attending poetry readings by others. But supporting national poetry month can be as simple as hanging a new poem outside of your office door, which always invites conversation. The Academy of American Poets makes it easy to participate by listing 30 Ways to Celebrate poetry month.
As someone who cannot have enough poetry in her life, my role is to bridge the disconnect between old ideas about poetry and what’s happening now. Poetry has become this dynamic, exciting exchange that brings people together in person or virtually. When people share their favorite poems they are sharing a part of themselves, which is something to be celebrated 365 days a year.
Whether you go down to your local elementary school or local library to volunteer your creative writing skills, host a writing workshop in your home, or take a poet to lunch — whatever you do, April is brimming with people who want to connect with others. In the United States, spring is just beginning. Nationally and internationally, we are ready discuss the things you just can’t find in the news (yes, that’s a William Carlos Williams reference). In my heart of hearts, I believe that poetry is one of the ties that binds us together. It records our history through emotion and words. Poetry is the oldest of traditions, and I can’t think of anything better to celebrate. (Well, Opening Day in baseball is pretty cool, too!)
So, how do you celebrate National Poetry Month? Do you write a poem a day? Do you read poetry or attend readings? Do you participate in open mike and slams? How’s it all working for you?