April 26, 2016

Out, About, and on Our Phones: National Poetry Month

April is known for many things—it’s allegedly the cruelest month, and it notoriously brings many showers. What it’s less known for is being National Poetry Month, a designation conferred upon it 20 years ago by Academy of American Poets, which notes that it “has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.”

There are many ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, including guerilla-style sidewalk chalk poetry, watching poetry movies, or spontaneously breaking out into verse, no matter how terse, complex or simple rhyme, you can do it any time.

This year, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference kicked off Poetry Month in Los Angeles.  Along with hundreds of panels on the state of publishing, poetry, and pedagogy, the conference also boasted a vendor fair of publishers and writing programs, as well as soirees throughout the weekend celebrating all things literary.

Claremont Graduate University has been an AWP participant before, but the 2016 conference marked its first time as a conference sponsor. Students, faculty, and staff spent nearly 60 hours with the conference’s 12,000 attendees, spreading the word about CGU’s foothill: a journal of poetry (now in its fifth year of publication), the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, and hobnobbing with literary luminaries. Highlights from the weekend included book signings by Kingsley Tufts and Kate Tufts poets, a Tufts poetry reading panel, and an enthusiastically attended CGU Tufts reception, which we hear lasted far into the night.

Linda Gregerson signing book
2003 Kingsley Tufts winner Linda Gregerson signs a book for 2016 Kate Tufts finalist Michael Morse (who had just finished his own signing at the Tufts booth).

For those involved in writing programs and the literary world, participating in National Poetry Month events is not only de rigueur, but practically unavoidable. But many feel that poetry is on the periphery of their experience; something closed off to all but the learned, and not accessible to the average person in their workaday lives.

“Poems [are] something that immediately gives a person the mental image of a scroll, a feather and long sentences about lost love,” writes Anita Rajan of RawRead. “Well, think again.” The democratizing force of social media has made the previously arcane available to all, and now poetry is entering the mainstream with Instagram, Snapchat, and as The New York Times pointed out, @Twitter poetry is actually a thing:

“For much of Twitter’s life, the idea that its 140-character stricture could be a crucible for a new kind of ambitious writing has been, more than anything else, a punch line,” writes Randy Kennedy. “But there’s evidence that the literary flowering of Twitter may actually be taking place.”

So whether you’re a poet yourself, someone who works in the world of letters, or just someone looking to add some simple verse to your daily life, it’s easy to connect, and April is the best month to start.

Brock and Rebecca
Blogger-in-Residence Brock Rustin and Tufts Research Assistant Rebecca Lee, making the most of poetry month.

—Rachel Tie Morrison