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A Brief Guide to National Poetry Month

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We're already in the thick of National Poetry Month, an annual opportunity for journalists to quote the opening to T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" (yes, you're very clever), and, more to the point, a chance for lovers of poetry to celebrate and call attention to the art.

The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month back in 1996, and it's been gaining momentum ever since. The event has grown beyond poets to become a coordinated effort by teachers, publishers, non-profit and government agencies, corporate sponsors, and lots and lots of celebrities.

The Academy's terrific website has a guide that lays out a few of the month's highlights. My favorite is Poem In Your Pocket Day (April 26), which asks that you carry a poem with you throughout the day to share with your friends and coworkers. If you don't have one in mind, you can choose from dozens of print-ready, pint-sized poems on the website, among them, this appropriate snippet from Walt Whitman's "The Indications":

The words of the true poems give you more than poems,
They give you to form for yourself, poems, religions, politics, war, peace, behavior, histories, essays, romances, and everything else,
They balance ranks, colors, races, creeds, and the sexes,
They do not seek beauty -- they are sought,
Forever touching them, or close upon them, follows beauty, longing, fain, love-sick.

They prepare for death -- yet are they not the finish, but rather the outset,
They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full;
Whom they take, they take into space, to behold the birth of stars, to learn one of the meanings,
To launch off with absolute faith -- to sweep through the ceaseless rings, and never be quiet again.

And if carrying a piece of paper is, well, just too 2007 for you, you can carry a poem with you on your iPhone instead. Both the Academy and the Poetry Foundation offer excellent poetry apps. You can also sign up to receive a free poem a day throughout the month via email.

As has become tradition, National Poetry Month also draws a lot of star power. Celebrities flocked to this year's Poetry and the Creative Mind Gala at Lincoln Center in New York to share their love for the art. This year's readers included Meryl Streep, Claire Danes and Terrence Howard. And a slew of celebrity parents -- including Jessica Alba, Viola Davis, Liev Schreiber and Katie Holmes -- have recorded poems that will air on the Disney Channel throughout the month. The poetry series, called "A Poem Is... ," aims to expose children to poetry by setting verse to classic Disney scenes from Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and others. You can watch one that Jennifer Garner recorded for the project last year here.

For some of the participating celebrities, supporting poetry is more than just lip service. Alba revealed to NPR last week that she's tried her hand at the art. "I have a lot of teen angst on paper," she said. "Now I just kind of make up songs for my girls. I have little poems that I sing to them before they go to sleep, to the tune of 'Twinkle Twinkle (Little Star).'"

That's kind of adorable. Join her, and the rest of us poets (who are just as attractive... on the inside), and take some time for poetry this month.