This month I asked our poet guests to share why poetry matters. Before we send Poetry Month 2017 into history, I want to share my own thoughts with you.
Facebook does this sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible thing where it will show you what was happening in your life on this date in history. Throughout April, in and amongst the talk of baseball and reminders of the toddler when he was a baby, Facebook has been reminding me of past Poetry Month highlights. The 7th grader who wrote an acrostic about a murder investigation spelling out “Who Was It?” The 2nd grader who wrote the 2-line poem called “Failure to Write a Poem.” The kid who wrote hers in yogurt on the playground (she was supposed to be in trouble for leaving trash on the playground and attracting critters. I snapped a picture.)
I have always been an evangelist of poetry, maybe because I don’t trust my own skills at writing it. As a young librarian I would bring poetry into April storytimes, wrapped poetry books up like gifts to make people curious enough to check them out and once bought a bunch of bulk coffee candy and attached it to 3×5 cards with words like “Wonder” “Rage” “Curiosity” and “Bravery” written on them to get people to attend a poetry coffeehouse. (Thirteen people showed up and read some pretty good poems.)
When I became a school librarian, poetry became part of my mission. Every April I would hijack the library curriculum and do poetry with a bunch of K-8 students. We wrote concrete poems. We wrote poems using Google, a Kris invention that I swear I’m going to make a book out of someday. I read the poetry of Gertrude Stein to third graders and discussed Pablo Neruda’s book of questions with fifth graders. I stapled poems all over school and gave awards to students who arrived with poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day. We explored the found poetry of Phil Rizzuto and Donald Rumsfeld.
What I wanted the kids to know is that poetry is alive. It isn’t always funny (our instinct is to share funny kids’ poems with kids, and while the work of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky is great it subtly tells kids that all poetry rhymes and is funny.) It doesn’t even have to make sense, but what it asks you to do is to feel something, to think about something. When a third grader tells me that after awhile he stops being mad that Gertrude Stein’s poems don’t make sense and just listens to how the words sound, he gets it. What he is learning is that words matter, that words can be something, that they have power.
Both of our poets on the show this month have had a message for us: now is the time. If there was ever a time to speak, now is it. If there was ever a time for art, now is the moment. As a teacher I know that you have to convey information in different ways because not everyone will see or understand it in the same form. That isn’t just true in the classroom. Poetry asks us to take things in in a different way, attacks our senses in a different way. Poetry is worth advocating in a world where, in the words of George Carline, “More people write it than read it.” We could all afford to read a little more of it.
So I’m saying goodbye to Poetry Month 2017, but I’m not done pushing for people to write and read and think just a little more. That fight has only just begun.
May a poem impact you today,