National Poetry Month: You're Doing It Wrong, American Academy Of Poets


Have you noticed a lot of poetry in your life the last couple weeks? No? Maybe? Well, we're in the middle of National Poetry Month, so chances are that if you look a little harder, you'll find something. Every April, bookstores and libraries bring out their poetry books, set up displays, and host poetry readings, all to celebrate the vanishing art that is poetry. While public displays are all well and good, celebrating poetry should also happen on the individual level. Indeed, if National Poetry Month is going to continue to thrive, it is going to have to happen person to person.

Modeled on Black History Month and Women's History Month, National Poetry Month was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. National Poetry Month is primarily a vehicle to increase awareness of established American poetry and to increase the number of people reading and buying poetry, but it also seeks to introduce modern poets to the public, to increase the use of poetry in schools, and to grow philanthropic support for poetry. Now that National Poetry Month has support from a variety of sources, its organizers can, for example, coordinate with publishers and poets to insure the release of dozens of new poetry collections during the course of the month. Nevertheless, most of the visible support for National Poetry Month comes from bookstores and libraries, but individuals are becoming more involved as momentum for poetry grows.

At your local bookstore (if you still have one) and at your library, you'll probably see poetry books on display. It's likely that both will host poetry readings by local poets. You may even get a chance to see an established poet like Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, or our Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. Open mics will abound, as will workshops. Some libraries and bookstores may include poems on their newsletters or on their websites and Facebook pages. While hosting poetry readings and putting up displays are all worthy ways to celebrate poetry, this is not the best way to engage with poetry. It's much more effective to share poetry among individuals. Luckily there are easy ways to do this.

For instance, there's Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 18). The idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is pretty simple — carry a poem around and read it to friends, family, co-workers, and strangers, as the mood hits. This is a great way to engage with people and share your own favorite poems. There's no better way to get people excited about poetry than sharing poems you're excited about. While there's a national Poem in Your Pocket Day, this is an activity that you can partake in any day.

Honestly, National Poetry Month is mostly a commercial opportunity. People who like poetry are going to read it all year around; people who don't like poetry probably aren't going to be converted by window displays and open mics. If National Poetry Month is going to succeed, it will be on the individual level, with people introducing their favorite poems to the people around them.

Poetry readings are excellent ways to meet your favorite poets, or perhaps find a new local poet, but these events don't appeal to those who don't already like poetry. To get people in the door, poetry needs to be passed around in a viral manner So take the opportunity to introduce people to your favorite poem this month. (I recommend Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” or Emily Dickinson’s “We grow accustomed to the Dark”.) Who knows? Maybe next year they will be at one of those poetry readings, meeting their favorite poet.