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National Poetry Month

April 9, 2012

We find ourselves in National Poetry Month. Hallmark doesn’t have a card for it, but you could make your own.

You might remember the library had a celebration of poetry around this time for several years some years ago. We called it “Poetry on a Platter.” We eventually left the market to “Sparrows,” another local poetry festival, which lasted a little longer.

I miss them both. By creating National Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets wished to introduce Americans to, or remind them of, the pleasures of poetry, finding new ways to bring poets and poetry before the public.

Since the first poetry month in 1996, technological change has created new ways. Yes, indeed, there’s an iPhone app—the “Poem Flow” app. This is the first thing to make me say “Hmmm” about an iPhone.

You can get a Poem a Day in your email from Poets.org, which also has a Mobile Poetry Reader.

Now is the perfect time to read poetry, not just because of Smartphone apps but because of the relative value of exploring poetry over reading any Twitter feed or keeping track of a host of “friends” on Facebook.

Finding a gem of a poem is a delight. I propose that the real joy comes when you memorize it. Even when I was in grade school, memorizing poetry had already fallen out of favor. (Hint: I’m now the same age as was the 20th century the year I was born.)

This is a great disservice to children and the adults they become. Memorizing is a powerful skill, and a poem memorized is owned for life. The poems I’ve chosen to memorize reward me whenever I recite them. They unpack anew each time.

Not every poem will do this. Choose wisely. But I remain forever grateful that L whipped me into memorizing my first poem, “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was on a trip to the Mineral Hot Springs in the valley. I was driving; she held the poem. By the time we got home, I had it.

Oh, it was painful at first. It feels like neurological derangement to get the first lines down, but then the poem takes shape, and I think it does rearrange the brain by the time its in there.

Memorizing poetry has changed the way I read and write poetry, especially the latter. Not haiku, but longer poems. I always despised what I wrote. Memorizing seems to have changed my feel for poems. I’m much happier with my current efforts.

Thursday, April 26th, is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Pick a poem you love and carry it with you to share. Best, read it, if people will listen. Or hand out copies. I had great fun doing this once.

I was inspired by L, who happens to have about a hundred poems memorized. She was sorting her stack of poems one day and found many duplicates, so she walked downtown and randomly left them on windshields.

Marilynne Robinson, in her new book of essays “When I was a child I read books,” explains how her students in France noted the large number of English words describing the behavior of light:

“Glimmer, glitter, glisten, gleam, glow, glare, shimmer, sparkle, shine … These old words are not utilitarian. They reflect an aesthetic attention to experience that has made, and allows us to make, pleasing distinctions among, say, a candle flame, the sun at its zenith, and the refraction of light by a drop of rain.”

Consider this National Aesthetic Attention to Experience Month. Celebrate.

P.S. May 1st approaches, the deadline for the library’s 2012 challenge show about bibliomania, “Between the Covers: A Bookish Affair.” More information at salidalibrary.org.

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