April is National Poetry Month, and Right Now Poetry Matters Even More
If you’re reading this, I know you love poetry and probably for a lot of reasons. It can comfort, entertain, shake-up our thinking, and enhance our “knowingness” of people, places, and things. Recognizing this and wanting to spread the good word about poetry, which often gets a bad rap for being old fashioned or difficult to understand, the Academy of American Poets launched National Poetry Month in 1996. In their words, the celebration “reminds the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters.”
We’ve certainly seen recent evidence of how poetry can transcend its words to reach deeply inside us. With the outbreak of the horrible war, social media has blossomed with poems from or about Ukraine. Ilya Kaminsky, the wonderful Ukrainian-American poet, has been in the national news with articles such as this one in New York Magazine: ‘The War Never Left’ A conversation with Ilya Kaminsky about memory, viral poetry, and the tragedy of Ukraine. The BBC named Ilya “one of 12 artists that changed the world” and his latest book, Deaf Republic, has been widely recognized, including being named NPR’s Best Book of the Year for 2019. Tupelo Press, the publisher of his first book, Dancing in Odessa, is donating proceeds of its sale to Ukraine. The beautiful titular poem begins like this:
We lived north of the future, days opened
letters with a child’s signature, a raspberry, a page of sky.
My grandmother threw tomatoes
from her balcony, she pulled imagination like a blanket
over my head.
—from Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky
I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Ilya through his community outreach program called Poetry@Tech, sponsored by Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where he holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry. For an upcoming virtual reading on April 14, 2022 at 7 pm EST, visit their site.
An Ars Poetica for National Poetry Month’s 26th Birthday
All the attention on poetry this month has brought to my mind the ars poetica, which is basically a poem about poetry. Horace probably wrote the first ars poetica between 20 B.C.E. and 13 B.C.E., and poets have interpreted the form in many different ways. Here is a contemporary ars poetica that spoke to me recently because, like this poet, I want to gulp words’ wisdom, and reading or writing poems does this.
The Right Words
I need to find them,
But everywhere I look,
in yellowed newspapers
and the blue-black dictionary,
under the glossy magazine photos
and tattered envelopes,
they evade me.
I peek under my old stove
and inside my new gloves.
I want to twirl them, swallow them,
send them on errands.
I want to get as close
as I can to the right words,
I want to gulp their wisdom
and eat their sadness,
want to forget the thorny bushes
and dreary blizzards,
from the mute times.
—Geraldine Connolly, from Aileron
For added pleasure, hear Garrison Keillor read this poem on The Writers’ Almanac.
Have you written a poem in response to the war in Ukraine or have you read one lately that especially touched you? Please tell us about it in the comments. You can also share a favorite ars poetica (poem about poems) or try your hand at one!
(Note, if you plan on submitting your unpublished poem to a journal, please be advised it will be considered previously published if you post it here. Publications like Every Day Poems, however, gladly welcome previously published work! A good poem is a good poem, after all. Worthy of being experienced again.)
Browse more from Ilya Kaminsky and Deaf Republic
Photo by Conall, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Karen Paul Holmes, 2022 Tweetspeak Poet Laura and author of No Such Thing as Distance. Geraldine Connolly’s poem, from Aileron, © Terrapin Books, 2018, is reprinted with permission.