National Poetry Month was introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. It’s a celebration of poetry in our culture–personal, local, national, and worldwide–that takes place every April. If you’re someone who’s never been into poetry, then the month likely holds no significance to you, which is fair. Maybe it’s too artsy or maybe you just don’t find it accessible with all its metaphors and other flowery language. But I’m still going to try to change your mind.
I think what can make poetry daunting for many people, myself included, is exactly what makes it beautiful so often. The use of language in poetry is something you don’t always see in other genres, an often otherworldly level of word crafting even when it’s simple. If I had to choose only one genre of writing to call art, it would be poetry. The way poets can paint with their words is so vivid and powerful in even just a few short lines sometimes. There’s heart, passion, and vulnerability in poetry that can at times compare with something like memoir. The difference to me, besides simple structure, is word craft.
If poetry feels like a hurdle, my biggest recommendation would be to read it aloud or to listen to someone else read aloud. Plenty of recordings can be found on YouTube or Spotify, and it seems like there’s a poet for everyone, classic or contemporary, grandiloquent or ghastly.
And on top of reading poetry, there is of course writing poetry, which can also feel challenging if you focus on the language from the start, but if you want to try your hand at it (and I suggest you do), then my suggestion is simple: Don’t think about the language, just write. Chances sare that you’ll put more of your own emotions into it if you start out free writing rather than trying to make it perfect from the first line. (This goes for just about any writing, to be honest.) After you’ve got your base, then you can dress it up–or not. And remember, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme.
So now that you’ve realized just how wonderful poetry can be, what are some ways you can celebrate its existence this month (and every month)?
Share a new-to-you poem on Facebook. / Browse through poets.org to find a poet you’ve never heard of and read through a bit of their work. When you find one that really strikes you, share it on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy too.
Write your own poem. / If you’re feeling reluctant about this one, start with a haiku. It’s short, allowing you to get it over with and hopefully come out of it with something that you enjoy. Bonus points if you share it (leave it in a comment on this post even), but there’s no pressure to do so.
Ask your friends for recommendations. / Chances are you have at least one friend who secretly or not-so-secretly enjoys a good poem every once in a while. Put out a call on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or your social media of choice asking friends and followers for recommendations. They might help you find a new favorite, and it’ll give you something to talk about together.
Support a poet. / I mean this one financially. While sharing and discussing are also ways to support a poet, it’s not the most lucrative business, so to actively buy a piece of work is recommended. Browse Etsy or the bookstore to find a poet who stands out to you and buy one of their books, chapbooks, or zines.
Find a poetry reading to attend. / This one might be the most difficult depending on where you live, but maybe you have a local bar that does poetry nights (I do) or maybe there’s an event coming up specifically for National Poetry Month at your library. Browse around and stop by if you find a reading and have the chance to attend.
Poets.org also has a list of thirty ways to celebrate, so you should have no problem diving into it this month.
And if you need a place to start, let me suggest any of Amber Tamblyn’s poetry. I’ve been rereading two of her collections recently as I start work on my next chapbook, and they’re just as breathtaking as the first time I read either of them. Dark Sparkler is my favorite, but Bang Ditto is wonderful as well. She also has a third, Free Stallion, and while I haven’t read it, I think it’s a safe bet that it’s just as exceptional.
What are your feelings on poetry? Do you have a favorite poet or poem you would recommend?
Let me know in the comments!