Once upon a time, poetry didn't need a special month set aside for it. But in the millennia since humans first became poetic, what is encompassed by the word "poetry" has become so diverse and often so removed from our everyday lives, that we need a reminder of what poetry gives to us and an opportunity to celebrate it and its makers.
Canada and in the U.S.
Way, way back, poetry was an aid to memory, the repository for heritage, ancestry, and the lineage of one's cattle. Professional rememberers knew the formulas for oral poetry and could recite the story of a people's creation, battles won and lost, the coming of animals into the world.
At times, poetry has expressly taught us lessons, given us images, told us stories, conveyed ideas, celebrated the sound of words and the sheer joy of putting them together. Poetry expresses the world to us in ways that we don't usually think of for ourselves.
Poetry is also the battleground for academics, poets, theorists, critics, and people whose grandmothers write poetry in notebooks. Everyone, it seems, knows exactly what poetry is and what it definitely should never be.
In fact, many of us have an idea about what constitutes "real" poetry. It can be representational, or concrete, or imagistic, or rhyming, or not ryhming, or structured, or free. Should one use villanelles or ghazals, isolate syllables with parentheses, use all lower case, spill out angst or joy, celebrate daffodils ? Long line or short? Lyrical or conceptual?
I have come to thoroughly dislike the, often quite bitter, arguments among poets themselves, among academics who advocate for a particular theory above all others, among those who simply don't know the great range of poetry and insist that only what they do know counts.
We humans can take something so integral to our long existence - a linguistic mode of expression, joy, provocation, beauty, sound- and fight about it to the point that it can become marginalized and we do, indeed, need a special month to commemorate it.
We need rap, and rhyme, and all the other modes of poetry. We need the poetry of professional poets, of children, of grandmothers, of the poets of the past from any tradition.
Crayola is celebrating National Poetry Month with activities for kids. The Poetry Foundation doesn't seem to be in celebration mode, but is such an incredible resource for poetry that I must mention it. Did you know that there are even poems celebrating nutrition month, which was in March? The corporate, the kids, the highbrow, the rhyming nutrition poems, we need them all.
April is Poetry Month. Have a poem for breakfast!
(daffodil photo credit)
(painting by Ann Altman)