It’s finally here. April. In my world known as National Poetry Month.
A brief history. National Poetry Month was started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, in order to bring more support and recognition for poets and poetry.
A few of its stated goals are to:
“highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets”
“encourage the reading of poems”
“assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms”
“encourage support for poets and poetry”
Although poets and poetry certainly deserve more credit and notice, everyone benefits because reading poetry regularly and sharing it with others can be life-enriching, therapeutic, and fun.
Poetry can be an important part of our lives every month, but National Poetry Month just gives us a good way to get started becoming acquainted with poetry and its power and pleasure.
In many communities, poetry month activities include poetry readings, contests, and other events at schools, libraries, and other venues. Some local businesses also get involved. Going to a reading to hear a poet perform their poems or maybe even trying to write your own poem are great places to start. But if you do nothing else for Poetry Month, I suggest you simply read some poems.
In my first “poetry post” I introduced you to a website where you could read poems and possibly discover some that you love. Now here’s another site, with an added benefit. You can sign up for their free “poem-a-day” program, and receive one poem by email every day.
One poem each day doesn’t take long to read, and it gives you an easy way to make poetry a part of your everyday life, and to discover new poems you might not otherwise have had a chance to read, enjoy, and share. You probably won’t like all of them, and some might be “hard” poems better understood by other poets (sometimes), but you’ll likely find some that are a good fit for you.
Another helpful feature is that when the poem is by a living poet, the poet provides a paragraph or so explaining the background of the poem and what they meant it to say. This can be really helpful in adding insight into a poem. I would suggest reading the poem, seeing what you get out of it, then reading the comments and re-reading the poem, to see how your perception changes.
The website is “www.poetry.org.” It is the official site of the Academy of American Poets. On the site you can learn more about poetry month, and about poetry, and you can look up poems by poets you like, or by subject.
I’ve chosen one poem from this site by Jane Hirshfield, a poet I especially like. Her poems tend to combine simplicity, specificity, and emotional depth in a way that is easy to relate to, even if the poems themselves are not always “easy.”
This one is short, deceptively simple, and bittersweet. (I think I’ll need to choose something humorous next time)
By Jane Hirshfield
At last understanding
that everything my friend had been saying
for the thirty-three months since he knew
were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else,
the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.
Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.
He spoke them.
He could not say love enough times.
It clinked against itself, in clinked against its little chain.
This is one of those poems that I understood a lot better after reading the poet’s comments.
The gist was fairly straightforward. A friend died after a long illness, with plenty of time to tell the important people in his life what they meant to him, and he used the time well. But some of the specifics, such as the italicized phrases, where not as clear, though they were clearly personal to both the subject and narrator of the poem.
I will not include the comments here, since they were longer than the poem. But one of the main parts I found helpful was her explanation of those italicized phrases. Such personal, specific word choices make the poem more powerful, but they can also be a bit puzzling to the reader.
Blackcap Mountain – a place they’d visited when they were young. Blue scorpion venom – a treatment used for his illness. Persimmon pudding – what she made for him to enjoy near the end, with persimmons from another friend’s tree. All this is about personal history, friendship, connection.
The explanations were helpful, but I think even if we don’t know their history or exact meaning, such personal, specific words and phrases help add meaning and interest to the poem, even if we have to make up part of the story for ourselves.
I didn’t really like the title, but after some research I think I got the point she was making – that all these personal details — the meaningful places and things; the people he loved and was loved by; the words and experiences they shared, were all part of what he left behind to identify him and the life he had lived.
I would love to hear in the comments any poems you discover that you like, and what you like about them.