Thursday, April 15, 2010

April is Poetry Month

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.

April is poetry month in 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 taught poetry classes for twenty years, read it for most of my life, and written a little as well. I love poetry in most of its forms, purposes, and concepts, even if I cannot say that I do so equally.

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)


Owen Gray said...

I can remember, as a kid, encountering Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" for the first time.

I got to the description of the ice -- "it cracked and growled and roared and howled" -- and I was hooked.

I didn't understand all of it. But I loved it.

ChrisJ said...


I think loving it is the key. One can argue post-colonialist theory until the cows come home, but it's just so sterile, no emotion involved, just ego about the rightness of the theory.

askcherlock said...

This is a beautiful month to celebrate poetry. I adore it. William Butler Yeats is my favorite. I may pull out that book tonight not that you have mentioned it.

ChrisJ said...


Yeats is a favourite of mine as well.

Trulyfool said...


I've so much to say about poetry, you and I would have to be friends for a year and meet twice a week just to exhaust a once-through.

As with Cher (whose comments are always positive and encouraging), Yeats is a favorite with me.

I'm inclined to like the 'difficult' ones, but I'm not sure whether that's just a personal challenge or an egotistical pose my subconscious is taking. For instance, much of Pound is just plain inexplicable. Yet the guy clearly writes poetry. Go figure.

If you haven't ferreted through my blog, you might do so in the spirit of this month -- Poetry Month. Sprinkled amongst the wry commentary and gnomic oddities are poems.

I think I write well. (But -- shhh! -- don't tell anyone. I don't want to break a perfect record of being ignored by 'the marketplace')

ChrisJ said...


I loved your comments (and I won't spoil your record!).

I have been remiss in not looking at your blog and will do so now.

Ciss B said...

Poetry to me is the real world. Unlike our crazy world that judges on how we perform, or how beautiful we look, the poets words reach deep and bring memories of who people were and are. They are reality because they speak...and I love the quiet, and beauty even the rawness some bring.

ChrisJ said...


I know exactly what you mean and what I think we need to protect. I am guilty, probably, of making poetry too academic for students at times, but hope they take some of what you feel away with them, as well.

Trulyfool said...


Thanks for tapping into my blog and going so far as to 'follow' it! I had no way more direct than this continued commentary to voice that appreciation. (No way, that is, that this Technofool could find!)

In futzing around, I even discovered that I could sort the poetry entries by clicking on the label 'poem' -- which I myself had categorized them under!

Thanks again!

Cooper said...

I often call myself a bad poet, and I am, but I love poetry. This makes a great time for me to re post old poems from my blog - it's end of term, and I'm busy. I would have missed the month for sure had I not seen your post.

I found an old poem by lewis carroll recently and was impressed and posted it to my tumblr, but I am simple and a policy and international affairs geek. ;)

One of The Guys said...

This was a great read!

It's a shame that poetry is so undervalued, even by writers or even POETS!!!

ChrisJ said...


You're quite welcome.

ChrisJ said...


Nowadays,it seems that loving poetry makes one more of a gook in some quarters!

ChrisJ said...


Geek, that is!!!

ChrisJ said...


Geek, that is!!!

ChrisJ said...


Maybe poetry months will help.

Dorothy said...

What a wonderful idea to bring awareness to our kids which are the future of poetry..

Great idea,

Dorothy from grammology

ChrisJ said...


I wish Crayola had such things when I was a kid.

One of The Guys said...

Yes, anything helps. But people need to get their heads out of their screens. (Ironic that I'm typing that on a screen.) Funny!

Have a good day.

ChrisJ said...


Or we could have more poetry on our screens.

Denny Lyon said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for reminding us of how much poetry has impacted our history in so many forms.

As to the bitter disagreements among academics and poets, well, I just ignore the contentious. Why? Because they don't have any real poetry in their soul - or have it buried under so much negativity it will never get much of a chance to peek out and see the world.

Glad you have a love and tolerance for so many levels and styles of poetry. I figure it's important to keep encouraging people as they write while they are developing their "voice." Eventually, you just may find a wonderful poet has emerged and bloomed! :)

ChrisJ said...


Good point - to ignore the wrangling!

Thanks for commenting.

P. M. Doolan said...

I have taught history to hundreds, or possibly thousands of students. Most go on to do things like become economists, or lawyers or get an MBA. But some years ago I came back in contact with a student, a very creative and gifted student, who I had taught in the late eighties. Although he gained two Masters Degrees, and worked for some years as an anthropologist, he switched careers some time ago and decided to devote himself to his first love - poetry. I must say, I am terribly proud of him. He is a poet living in Amsterdam and he goes by the name of Cralan Kelder. Just google his name and you will find plenty of his work.

ChrisJ said...


I can understand why you are proud of him; his poetry is very good.