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Celebrating National Poetry Month

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It's been raining for three days here in Washington DC and that can only mean that April has arrived. After wringing out your pant legs you can take some solace in the fact that it is, once again, National Poetry Month, an event hatched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 in an effort to bring more attention to the art of poetry. It's been quite successful, and if you'd like to join in the celebration--which I'm going to encourage you to do--the Academy's website is a good place to start.

One of the site's most useful features is the National Poetry Map. Clicking on a state brings up a summary of local poets and poetry events. It even links directly to poems by local poets and to poems about local landmarks and culture.

If you'd prefer to do your celebrating without leaving home, the Academy is also posting a poem a day throughout the month (or you can sign up to read receive these via email). They began by featuring "Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina" by Jack Gilbert:

There was no water at my grandfather's
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people's house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor's cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.

Some of the major poetry publishers have picked up on the poem a day idea. Knopf is doing it in honor of recently deceased author John Updike. They started with Updike's "Half Moon, Small Cloud" from Endpoint, his final collection of poetry. Here's an excerpt:

Caught out in daylight, a rabbit's
transparent pallor, the moon
is paired with a cloud of equal weight:
the heavenly congruence startles.

For what is the moon, that it haunts us,
this impudent companion immigrated
from the system's less fortunate margins,
the realm of dust collected in orbs?

FSG is also offering a poem a day via email. They aren't featuring poems online, but they boast an impressive roster of poets including John Ashbery, Charles Wright and Louise Glück.

If video is more your thing, The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, has a series of poetry-related short films, including animated interpretations and recordings of readings by poets and celebrities. Check out Weeds star Mary Louise Parker reading "Lines for Winter" by Mark Strand or Wynton Marsalis reading "The Wicked Old Man" by William Butler Yeats.

Similarly, W.W. Norton just launched the website Poems Out Loud, based on a recently released anthology by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. The site features audio and video of poets reading poems and discussing poetry. It will add content as National Poetry Month progresses.

You may have noticed that I managed to get through this post without referencing the opening to T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" (which is referenced in every other article about National Poetry Month, including, I think, mine from last year). This year's event poster does quote Eliot, but it's from "Prufrock": Do I dare disturb the universe? The evocative excerpt is written in the condensation on a window. And, yes, it's raining outside.

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