Shh! It's National Poetry Month (a gentle call to arms)
Still, I'm a poet, and April does change my daily relationship with poetry. I take part in an informal annual challenge to write a poem a day during the month of April and to post it in a semipublic place (such as livejournal or facebook). It's partly why I haven't posted a new blog yet this month; I've been up to my neck in new poems. All this poetry — my new work and the great variety of new work I'm reading by friends and peers — makes me feel invigorated and spent. In April I'm getting about two hours less of sleep each night than I got in March. But I feel more awake than ever — more engaged with the world. That's what I think poetry is good for. That's what I think William Carlos Williams had in mind when he wrote that "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there."
Parents of Ann Arbor, I would love to encourage you to spend more time sharing poetry with your kids. Read them "The Owl and the Pussycat" or "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Read them Shakespeare's sonnets or "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Langston Hughes or Lucia Perillo. There's so much great poetry that kids can appreciate. I know because I spend a lot of time working with kids — kindergartners, second graders, sixth graders, high schoolers — all of whom come alive with the right poems in front of them.
I think adults are often afraid of, or intimidated by, or flat out bored by poetry because we are taught that poems are obtuse philosophical statements with seventeen layers of meaning that we are hopeless to decode. But poets don't write in order to baffle or intimidate us; they write to surprise and delight and communicate with us, to invite us to have fun with them, to make us feel things in our guts. I think kids are often more capable than adults of reading a poem and feeling it in their guts because they haven't learned not to. They haven't learned what kinds of questions about personification or iambic pentameter are going to be on the test.
We can swim against this current. Read poems with your children. Enjoy the way they sound, they way the feel, the pictures they put in your head, whether or not they make sense. It's okay not to make sense. The world doesn't make sense, and sometimes that's where poetry is coming from. It's not a code to crack. Have fun. And maybe you and your kids can each help the other enjoy poetry a little more.
And write poems with your kids! This poem-a-day challenge is free and open to the public. No cover charge. No experience necessary. Professional poets are doing it, college kids who've never written a poem before April are doing it, my 9-year-old daughter is doing it. (Watch this space for a sampling of her dazzling new poems soon!)
Jump in. Fly a kite. It's National Poetry Month.