Friday, May 10, 2013

What I Learned during National Poetry Month Celebrations (NPM)


Wow. I can't believe I blinked and over a dozen poetry events I participated in were over. From the local level of the National Poetry Month (NPM) celebrations at the college where I teach, to Seattle readings I participated in, to the Big Poetry Giveaway I curated, poetry was everywhere! And surely there are other programs I'm forgetting to mention -- such as World Book Night -- which just so happens to come in April. So what did I learn from this literary marathon?

1. Sharing poetry with others? So cool. Perhaps my favorite event of the month took place in the art gallery of the Highline Library. The student winners of the college poetry contest read their work. Along with garnering an audience for their work, they also received broadsides that included an image linked to their words. The regular "cool" students seemed visibly moved by this experience. It reminded me of the magic of  public acknowledgement. For many of the students, poetry was brand new. I can't help but think this event may inspire them to keep going.

2. Performance style matters. I sometimes forget how crucial the human body is to the presentation of words. Hosting the amazing Karen Finneyfrock and the radically honest Robert Ascalon at the college reminded me of this all over again.

3. I'm a Pacific Northwest poet --- and I love it. I was thrilled to participate in the group reading at Richard Hugo House for the Seattle anthology Alive at the Center, edited by Kathleen Flenniken, Cody Walker, and others, published by Ooligan Press, Portand, Oregon. This smart book comes in two different packages; one is the Seattle edition and the other, the Pacific Northwest edition including Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. How cool is that?

4. Unexpected Turns Sometimes Turn Out Best. My "big" event for NPM was a reading at Town Hall as a benefit for Hedgebrook (a stellar writing retreat in Washington State for women writers). The event was to honor the poet Carolyn Forche who I was asked to introduce. However, the night before the event, Carolyn Forche had a family emergency and couldn't participate. Audience members were told this as they came into the hall and given the choice of whether to stay or get their money back. The hall filled up and the rest of the performers and I: Elizabeth Austen, Karen Finneyfrock, Tara Hardy, and several others, all performed, paying tribute to a poet and a place that we love. It was a night to remember. Somehow the tragedy that befell Carolyn pulled us all together and reminded us (read me) of the importance of poetry in times of tragedy.

5. Poetry Giveaways, Broadsides, and World Book Day --- It was a month of giving.  From curating the Big Poetry Giveaway, to co-directing National Poetry Month at Highline, to handing out free copies of The Handmaid's Tale to college secretaries and students for World Book Day (an international holiday) poetry was at the center of my life. May this continue all year round.

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