Friday, April 13, 2012

April is National Poetry Month

The Academy of American Poets selected April as National Poetry Month in 1996 to broaden our understanding of and gain our attention to poetry, which for many seems to be fading from our literary culture. To celebrate poetry month, the Academy suggests carrying poems in your pockets, attending poetry readings, and promoting public support for poetry across the country, which is exactly what the Poet Laureate is supposed to do.


Many have probably heard of different Poet Laureates before, but what does that even mean? In 1937, the Library of Congress created the position of the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the first of whom was Joseph Auslander. These poets were scholars in residence and aided in the development of the library’s poetry collection. Consultants could only serve two one year terms and included Robert Penn Warren (1944-45), Karl Shapiro (1946-47), Robert Frost (1958-59), James Dickey (1966-68) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-86), just to name a few.

Later, in December 1985, Congress declared public law 99-194 that added the term “Laureate” and provided a stipend. Duties of the position expanded to organizing outreach programs and promoting poetry around the country. The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry also only served a maximum of two, one-year terms. The first Poet Laureate of the United States was Robert Penn Warren in 1986, who, interestingly, had also served as the Consultant in 1944. Several noteworthy laureates include Rita Dove (1993-95), Robert Hass (1995-97), and Billy Collins (2001-03). Currently, Philip Levine holds the position.

Philip Levine, current Poet Laureate
Most states also have their own Poet Laureates. Governor McDonnell appointed Kelly Cherry the Poet Laureate of Virginia in 2010. Some states actually have vacancies for the position, i.e.: California, Nebraska, Nevada, and West Virginia. Seven states, sadly, do not even have the position, including Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The Nobel Prize, established in 1901, has only given awards to seventeen poets. The first was Rudyard Kipling in 1907. Twenty two years passed between William Butler Yeats’ award (1923) and Gabriela Mistral’s 1945 award. The last poet to win was Harold Pinter in 2005.

Is poetry the lost language? The web group http://www.classicpoetryaloud.wordpress.com/ conducted a survey between May 15th 2007, and March 21st, 2008 and had “some half a million downloads from across the globe.” According to them, the most popular poem is “She Walks in Beauty,” by Lord Byron, followed by John Keats’s “Ode to Autumn,” and Kipling’s “If.” No modern poet made their list.

In contrast, according to the site http://www.famouspoetsandpoems.com/ Maya Angelou, Shel Silverstein, Pablo Neruda, and Robert Frost lead the top fifty poets. The site, however, gives no reference as to how they made this determination.
Choose for yourself. Check out the display of poetry, poets and resource brochures in the Main Library lobby. Select your favorite and carry it with you. April 26th is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. Perhaps, carry a few and read them, then pass them out to others.

The most quoted line of poetry???? “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Can you name the poetess?

Resources:
www.loc.goc/poetry/about_laureate.html
http://www.classicpoetryaloud.wordpress.com/
http://www.poets.org/
http://www.famouspoetsandpoems.com/
http://www.poetry-oneline.org/
http://www.poetryfoundation.com/

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