Editorial: Powerful poems

Members of the Academy of American Poets, a group that’s now more than 8,000 strong, had a great idea in 1996. Inspired by efforts by and schools, libraries and other groups to celebrate Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, the poets’ group designated April as National Poetry Month.

Events planned around Mount Desert Island this month will tap into the goals of the celebration — to encourage the reading of poems, inclusion of poetry in classrooms and support for poets. Poetry slams, readings, workshops and improv performances all await.

The poets highlighted by the Academy of American Poets for this year’s celebration stress that their art is neither elitist nor trivial.

“Poetry,” says a character in a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, “is the human voice, and we are of interest to one another. Are we not?”

It’s often said, in our era of continual outrage and “hot takes,” that most public discourse generates more heat than light. What better antidote, then, than writing, speaking, reading and listening to poems, which tug on the human threads that weave us back together?

“I … find that anything really loud and hectic can just last for a moment,” author Teju Cole said in a recent interview with Krista Tippet, “… so I’m attracted, in all the arts, to those places where something has been quietened, where concentration has been established. I think one of the great artistic questions for any practitioner of art is, how do you help other people concentrate on a moment?

“… I think those are the moments we really live for in art,” Cole continued, “the moment where the artfulness falls away, and all that is left is that thing we don’t have a better word for beyond poetry.”

Memorizing and reciting poetry, practices that are perhaps more associated with bygone eras, have deep benefits.

“Poetry has enticements of sound that are different from literature,” the late Mary Oliver said, “… and it’s easier for people to remember. People are more apt to remember a poem and therefore feel they own it and can speak it to themselves as you might a prayer — than they can remember a chapter and quote it. That’s very important because then it belongs to you. You have it when you need it.”

A person or community gets out of a celebration like National Poetry Month what they put into it. Just as Women’s History Month events have provided ways to share what we didn’t know we didn’t know about each other, the upcoming poetry celebrations promise to soothe, delight and connect our sometimes frazzled spirits.

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