If not because of everything else glorious April has to offer — the weather, a solid dousing of rain, the looming barbeques, the kickoff of baseball season, the NBA and NHL playoffs, et al — I perhaps love it the most because it’s National Poetry Month here in the good ol’ U.S.-of-A (Side note: I think uSofa should be a new hybrid product made by AT&T and Apple, although I have no idea what it would be… ideas, please?). I am perpetually giddy about April and all the interesting ways poetry becomes lionized, even if it’s for just one month each year. Twitter poems? Check. An O: The Oprah Magazine issue devoted to the art form? Why the heck not? Me writing a blog about poetry? Painfully expected.
Why is it expected? Well, after a couple years at the Spinal Column Newsweekly from 2005 to 2007, I moved to lovely Tuscaloosa, where I got my master’s of fine arts in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry from the University of Alabama, where Aprils are closer in climate to our Julys.
But I digress. I love poetry. I took out tens of thousands in student loans to study it, to write it, to read it. I’ve written books and chapbooks of it, none of which people like enough to publish (go figure). I’ve taught it at the college level, to high school students in both Michigan and Alabama, to at-risk students. Some students could have cared less; most, on the other hand, were thrilled with the opportunity to express themselves.
But I’m afraid we as a nation are losing sight of it in our classrooms and in our national consciousness. Media outlets rarely publish poetry anymore; that’s instead left mainly to literary journals, which generally are only read by those studying or practicing the craft in a serious manner. I understand the cut-throat media market and that poetry just doesn’t hold that much of an interest with people anymore — a death knell for anything that doesn’t add to the bottom line — but it should wield more clout among the things that consume our time on a day-to-day basis.
A little over a century ago, newspapers published poems regularly — mind you, they were terrible, trite poems — about the assassination of President William McKinley (a fascinating, tragic man, if you read biographies about his Civil War service and his relationship with his wife, Ida, and children, who all died young) as part of the sort of a national healing process that had to take place. Poets laureate were tapped in England to write inspirational odes for mass consumption (See: Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” for a popular if over-used example).
They were not only a means of creative outlet but also record-making. History was written in verse; the annals of time are recorded in Greek and Latin and French and English and Arabic and Farsi poetry. Most popular music is written in rhyme, something culled from poetry. We speak, in a sense, metrically, like in a traditional, conventional poem, unstressed followed by stressed syllables—iambic meter. The art literally permeates our everyday interactions, even though we aren’t always aware of it. For example, check out this link.
And there are some wonderful poets out there doing fantastic work, even locally. Thomas Lynch, of Milford, is one of them. Philip Levine, a former U.S. poet laureate, taught at Wayne State University. I was lucky enough to do a poetry reading with some local writers in Ferndale in February, some traditional and some experimental and more abrasive. Poetry slams are popular in the Motor City. But either way, the art form is alive and well in metro Detroit, and of course Detroit itself. It’s just a matter of letting it thrive.
So here, with this inaugural Spinal Column blog post, I’d like to give you a writing prompt, almost like I would for my English students: Write a poem, post it here, and let’s get some poetry a-flowin’ in honor of National Poetry Month!