In a recent article at The Huffington Post, I pinpointed five vital approaches for creating greater poetry access. These approaches were both a beginning and a continuation of the theme of “poetry for life, “ a concept that has been coming to the surface over the past several years here at Tweetspeak.
The article drew immediate criticism, to the effect that it was no “call to arms.” I did not take the criticism to heart. But I did consider what it might teach me, as I continued to develop a framework that would update Dana Gioia’s own poetry call to arms (for a discussion of Gioia’s call, see Glynn Young’s book Poetry at Work).
Gioia’s ideas were radical at the time. And, in some circles, they still seem to be, but to my mind the ideas can use furtherance, or next steps for our current era—to tip the delicate balance between “established poets” being the source of poetry and poetry access, versus a situation where poetry can be loved, created, and encountered in the realm of ordinary life.
This is not to take established poets entirely out of the picture. They inspire, they model, they teach, they challenge. Still, something needs to give.
The 5 Vital Approaches to Give People “Poetry for Life”
1. Teach it like it’s alive.
When something lives, it doesn’t sit by passively, allowing us to poke and prod it or, as Billy Collins puts it “[beat] it with a hose.” It defies classification, labeling, laying out of itself like a “patient etherized upon a table.” It might talk back, run away, ask us to return later once it’s had its morning coffee. Pardon my metaphors, but this is the bottom-line: we need to stop teaching poetry using grim methodology. We should ask poetry, instead, to turn us on our heads.
2. Bring it home.
As long as “poetry at home” is the occasional greeting card or the back of a clever cereal box, we’ve got poetry problems. Not that honey-oats ever hurt anyone, but if that’s the extent of the average person’s proximity to poetry (and not very good poetry at that), what are the chances it will be truly accessible to the mind and heart? It’s time to find creative ways to bring poetry home.
3. Transport it.
As we make our way to work or play, we ride. Buses, planes, subways, or inside personal vehicles. Poetry can come along. Radio programs (this was among Gioia’s once-radical ideas), placards, posters. And if we’ve begun to value poetry because it’s also accompanying us in more lively ways starting in school and at home, we might be more inclined to pay attention.
4. Paint it in the public square.
That which we value and seek to preserve and communicate, we highlight in our public spaces. Why not paint poetry on buildings (and maybe even encourage this among street artists)? For a less citified experience, there is always poetry for the byways. It might also be intriguing to consider what the “public squares” of the Internet are. (Hey, Yahoo and Google, are you up for poetry?)
5. Take it to work.
Celebrations like Poetry at Work Day and Take Your Poet to Work Day, as well as inbox deliveries like Every Day Poems, inspire people to take poetry to work, to make it a meditative experience to help solve conflicts or create focus and innovation, or simply to have fun.
Businesses might have their own goals. “‘I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers, ‘” The New York Times reported of Sidney Harman, “founder of Harman Industries, a $3 billion producer of sound systems for luxury cars, theaters and airports.”
Taking the Critic Seriously
As I mentioned above, I thought seriously about the critic who said these 5 approaches did not represent a call to arms. While I disagree (I believe they are a comprehensive framework that hasn’t been put forth quite like this), I hear something else in the critique, and that is: What about the things that already exist in regards to these approaches? Are they not recognized?
These are very good questions. There are things going on all across the country (and probably the world), that are working to bring people “poetry for life.” Surely they could be highlighted, aggregated, and shared in a more organized way, so as to help spur even more activity and creativity across “the five.” On the other hand, Tweetspeak itself can continue to initiate and sponsor events and projects that exhibit these approaches.
Watch for “Poetry for Life” Highlights and Initiatives
As we go forward at Tweetspeak, you can expect us to continue with initiatives like Poetry at Work Day, Take Your Poet to Work Day, The Mischief Café, and the creation of lively teaching tools. But we’d also ask you to look forward to “poetry for life” highlights, which will be profiles of events and projects we see going on elsewhere.
If you know of any such events and projects which seem truly creative and well-done, we’d love to hear about them, so we can possibly feature them in our upcoming Poetry for Life category.
Is this a call to arms? It is. Yours and ours, linked together, to give people “poetry for life.”
To share an event, project, or initiative you think would make a good potential feature within “the five” here at Tweetspeak Poetry, please use our Contact Form.
We promise to explore your recommendation but will only get in touch with you if we need clarification.
Whether a project gets highlighted will be the decision of the editors, and due to limited resources we will not provide notification as to the decision and do appreciate your understanding in this regard. We look forward to highlighting many wonderful events, initiatives, and projects!
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