Commentary: Poetry comes to our aid | Columnists

By Marsha Mercer

After Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, April brings us National Poetry Month.

One could argue that black and women’s history, as well as poetry, should be observed year-round, not just for a month. But grouping events into roughly 30 days helps draw attention to topics we might otherwise overlook.

I thought National Poetry Month was celebrated in April because it was Shakespeare’s birth month or because of TS Eliot’s first line in “The Waste Land,” “April is the

They probably didn’t hurt, but the Academy of American Poets says Black and Women’s History Month inspired National Poetry Month in 1996 to remind people “that poets have a essential role to play in our culture and that poetry matters”.

The academy, despite its government-sounding name, is a member-based charity. Marie Bullock was just 23 when she started the academy in her New York apartment in 1934. It was after studying in France, where she was impressed by the leading role poets play in the French culture.

People also read…

We always hear that poetry may be dead, but miraculously it survives.

A 2017 survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the most recent, found that 12% of adults had read poetry in the past year. This sounds paltry, but was hailed as encouraging news: it meant that 28 million adults were actually reading a poem, and 12% was the highest share of the population to have read poetry in 15 years.

Poetry has been boosted by the inauguration of President Joe Biden. When Amanda Gorman, a 23-year-old black woman, read her beautiful poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the grand opening (was it only last year?), she became a cultural icon.

Gorman proved that poetry is alive, vibrant and, yes, cool. A collection of his poems, “Call Us What We Carry,” was published in December and became a New York Times bestseller.

National Poetry Month has become “the biggest literary celebration in the world,” says the academy, which offers resources for celebrating poetry at home, in the classroom or elsewhere on poets.org.

These include 30 activities, such as writing a poem, reading an e-book of poetry from your local library, buying a book of poetry from your local bookstore, and signing up for a poem per day.

If you’re wondering why bother or what poetry can do for you, USA Poet Laureate Joy Harjo has an answer:

“Poetry can make someone fall in love with you. Poetry can make you fall in love with yourself,” Harjo says in the trailer for his online masterclass in poetic thinking. urge people to read and write poetry, what will do?

Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate in U.S. history, will complete her third and final year in the position this month, with several events that will be streamed live on the Library’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Congress.

For her flagship project, she created “Living Nations, Living Words,” an online presentation and interactive map, to showcase the work of 47 Indigenous poets.

If we ever needed poetry, now is the time. With so much horrific news bombarding us, poetry can be a solace on the page, online or on social media.

People are turning to poetry to help make sense of the pandemic, isolation, war, and other stresses.

Kitty O’Meara, a retired teacher and chaplain, wrote a hopeful prose poem during the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020. She posted it for a small group of her Facebook friends, and it went viral . It begins:

And people stayed home.

And read books and listen, rest and exercise,

And made art and played games,

And learned new ways of being and still were.

And listened more deeply.

While some grumpy readers complained that O’Meara’s poem reflects a privileged and fantastical view of the first lockdown, it rang true for many others. It was turned into a picture book and an operatic solo that Renee Fleming sang. It was also published in an anthology of pandemic poems.

We can all be grateful to poets as we celebrate poetry this month and every month.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at [email protected]

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at: [email protected]

© 2022, Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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