Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Point/Counterpoint: National Poetry Month

By Jamelah Earle on Thursday, April 3, 2008 11:51 pm
Point: National Poetry Month is Great
How can there possibly be anything wrong with National Poetry Month? It exists to highlight the importance of poetry and that's a laudable goal. It stakes poetry's claim on the calendar and provides a framework for events and education. It's not news that poetry isn't the highest-selling type of literature out there, and it's good for those who care about poetry to work to make it visible, and to say that poetry isn't just some boring thing that gets forced on students in school, but that it is important and vital and interesting. Having a designated month for poetry is a good idea because it's a way to keep it in the public eye on a continual basis. Barring the apocalypse, April is going to keep happening, and since it is, we might as well say "Stop! Poetry Time!" Let's have readings and discussions. Let's hand out chapbooks and encourage people to create. Poetry isn't some dry, dusty thing best left to academics and library shelves. It's not some dainty thing meant only for little old ladies to talk about at tea. It's an amazingly powerful art form and it deserves its time in the limelight.

Counterpoint: National Poetry Month is Not Great
Hey, I like poetry. I read it frequently and I think about it just as much. Good poetry is one of my very favorite things. But I don't need a designated month to think about it. Because you know what? Poetry Month isn't just Poetry Month. No, it has to share its awareness spreading with other things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month and Rabies Awareness Month (like Michael Scott, I support the rabid) and Yukon Biodiversity Awareness Month. (Interestingly enough, National Poetry Month isn't even listed on the site I linked. Take that, poetry. You lose to IBS.) Awareness months are weird things anyway. Yes, I understand the argument that they in some way bring attention to things that might otherwise get no attention at all, but when each month is a veritable buffet of things to be aware of, then it waters down the impact of any of them. What does it take to designate something an awareness month? Declaring it? Oooh, that's meaningful. (I can't wait for June, because that's Goat Trauma Awareness Month. I'm telling you now: I don't want to be a victim of goat trauma. Because, and I am not making this up, "Goats are deceitful and can hide just about anywhere." Sneaky trauma-causing buggers.) The other problem with National Poetry Month is that it pigeonholes poetry. Shouldn't teachers and students and other consumers of literature be aware of poetry all the time? By making one month the special designated poetry time, it means that the other 11 months of the year aren't poetry time. That's not such a great ratio. Why can't there be posters and readings and events and awareness of living poets and the legacy of poetry in August or November or February? If poetry is so far removed from popular consciousness that there has to be a special month for poets to say "No really, you guys, poetry is neat too!" then I think that's a bigger problem than April can fix. What I mean is that having a designated month for poetry seems almost like an admission that it's generally irrelevant, but we can humor it a little for 30 short days. That doesn't really help.
16 Responses to "Point/Counterpoint: National Poetry Month"

by Caryn on

Do goats like poetry?

I think someone should conduct a study.

Perhaps my story will shed some light on the subject.

As you can see
I am a goat.
I was discovered
for the songs I wrote.

Just a kid
When I left the farm
To hoof and sing
And play the guitar.

I knew I had to get
A gig or two,
I opened for the lambs
At the petting zoo.

Went on tour
with the County Fair,
With Clowns and ponies
and a dancing bear.

I made CD's
and videos
Played at sold out
Stadium shows.

No matter how
well-known I got
Something was missing
But I knew not what.

Back on the farm
Was another goat
I always kept
All the letters that she wrote.

She didn't like
The big city,
And farm livin'
Was not for me.

I left the city
And she left the farm,
Now we live up in the mountains
where the wild goats are.

Up in the mountains
Playing wild guitar,
Between a valley
And a shining star.

So, as you can see, goats and poetry can coexist, but we need your help.

Maybe we should have an awareness month. How about July? Goats Need Poetry Awareness Month? Something?

by David on

Here in the UK we're lucky/unlucky (delete as appropriate) to get one day only - National Poetry Day.

Last year I was of the "mustn't grumble" opinion, the year before I was of the "grumble, grumble, grumble" opinion. Maybe this year I'll just ignore it, which the Great British Public sadly do every year...

by Duncan Brown on

John Milton would have never found his lost paradise without a cloven hoof or two to help him on his way. And where would Robert Burns' 'Tam O Shanter be withoot the 'De'il in the guise of a goat'to kickstart the drama. Poetry has some great goats and there's room for more.
Goats are good for poetry and we're not just talking Billy Gruff stuff here

by judih on

and then what about the other 11 months?
i think we need: let's have more months in the year awareness month

by Kevin on

I'm starting my own Awareness Awareness month. For the next month I will strive to be aware of things all the time. After that, back to coma-ville.

Kevin, I did that once, but I had to wear sunglasses to buffer the intensity. Eventually, I retreated indoors. By the time Awareness Month was over, they had to remove me, flailing and hollering, from towel closet.

But go ahead, try it.

by thebes on

I think poetry should horn in on the calendar even more. There are many kinds. Let them each have a day. Start with pastorals about goats. Many will be sheepish in voicing support for poetry, you will say--but I have herd differently! Let those who stomp on poetry be quashed! Get in their faces! Get their goats!

by Cal Godot on

I'm sure at least half this post is in jest, though I'm not sure which half.

The goat trauma thing is an obvious satire. "If a child is traumatized by a goat before age five, he/she is five times more likely to become some form of social deviant." Weird, funny stuff. (Check out their Flickr photos.)

Clearly nobody who haunts a web site called "Literary Kicks" has little need for a Poetry Awareness Month. But the vast majority of people walk about blissfully unaware of poetry: that it exists beyond the required memorizations of childhood, that it is not confined to speaking in ancient tongues or perplexing riddles, that it can still be a voice for the contemporary mind and soul.

Yes, most people - even so-called "literary" people - are forgetful, unaware, even ignorant of poetry, its power, and its continuing influence in our lives.

This of course begs the question of whether an "awareness month" can do much of anything to address the problem. It mostly results in a lot of libraries and bookstores placing particular emphasis on poetry books for a month. Then, come May 1, they return to their standard practice of ignoring poetry. Note that few libraries have a "poetry section," and casually browsing poetry books via LoC or Dewey organization is, shall we say, nearly impossible. There is a vast "fiction" section, and often fiction is subdivided into mystery, science fiction, etc - all to make browsing the titles much easier, thereby increasing access to those books. No such love for poetry.

If our poetry month were treated as other months, say Black History Month, there might be a greater measure of sustained influence. If only A&E, PBS, and other media outlets would flood the airwaves with documentaries about Robert Frost, or replay Maya Angelou's inaugural poem over and over until it resonates in our collective unconscious like "I have a dream." If only CSPAN-3 would flood its book bits with poets and their work. If they pasted placards on the sides of buses and taxis. Maybe then people would become more aware of poetry, and carry that awareness throughout the year, rather than confine it to one month.

It's probably the goats who are to blame for it. Insidious creatures.

It's more that I can see it from both sides (and that goat thing is hilarious). I am generally not a big fan of awareness months, because I think handing a group or a subject a month out of the year to make up for the fact that the general public is generally oblivious to its history or its problems is like saying "Here, you can be important for 30 days. But for the other 335 days, everybody's going to go back to not giving a damn. Okay? Great." Yet at the same time, highlighting the group or the issue is still a good idea. I am kind of torn about it.

Except for the goat thing. Goats are dangerous.

by Duncan Brown on

'Goats are dangerous' my friend says they are also delicious, and very good literary critics, they eat manuscripts.

by in_ex on

i was raised around goats and i turned out just... aw crap.

yeah, national poetry month is probably the best we can hope for as poetry goes gently into the long dark night of the apocalypse. at least they chose the cruelest month for it, twisting the dagger of irony deeper and deeper and, and, and well... fuck 'em.

happy poem month, jam.

Just for the record -- I don't really like National Poetry Month either. It feels unpoetic to me. I guess I think poetic moments can sustain for seconds or, if very lucky, minutes. But attempting to sustain a poetic pitch for a month guarantees banality. I suspect many poets feel this way too.

by Steve Plonk on

Shame on all you naysayers. Poetry is great. It is not eclipsing anytime soon. This site is a positive example for Poetry month with its "Action Poetry". The print media need to play catch up with the opportunity presented on-line with sites such as this one. Nothing banal about focusing on a genre for one month out of the year. I happen to be a supporter of those who use this monthly focus to keep performance poetry alive in this city and elsewhere. Editors shouldn't shoot themselves in the foot with "stuffiness", as my college-aged daughter
dared me to say. Poetry is alive just like leaves on a tree.