This year more than ever, I’ve encountered some cynicism regarding National Poetry Month. Some of it is really scathing, like a friend’s Facebook status repurposing Eliot’s infamous “April is the cruelest month” line to say he hates NaPoMo because it’s trendy, it’s elitist, it’s bandwagon-y, etc.
Some of the criticism is funny, less biting, and quite intelligent, like poet Paisley Rekdal’s guest blog post on The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet. “It’s National Poetry Month! I’m so sorry!” she announces in her title, going on to call the monthlong celebration “one of those collective self-shaming rituals we engage in annually to make up for the fact that, for the other 11 months of the year, we would all rather be watching the ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.'” She also cites Charles Bernstein’s essay “Against National Poetry Month as Such” (“in which he reminds us,” Rekdal says, “that the people and movements we treat with the least cultural capital and respect get the most time in our national calendar.”)
But enough cynicism. If you feel yourself headed down this path, my advice is to try to remember that you love poetry. Remember why you started writing it in the first place, and why you continue.
Poetry isn’t as visible in our society as we’d like. Our friends and family might not understand why we devote so much time to reading and writing it. Even our writing colleagues might have attitude about the bandwagon.
One of the best things about NaPoMo is how we can make it our own. Beth Weaver-Kreider of Lower Windsor Township knows all about that. She’s designated a tree on her property The Poet-Tree, and has spent the first half of Poetry Month clipping poems to its branches.
Weaver-Krieder has tried the poem-a-day challenges. She wanted to do something different to mark this month.
If cynicism about Poetry Month has an opposite, here it is.
“I wanted to do something creative to keep my juices flowing,” Weaver-Krieder said. Putting the poems on the tree is “kind of like a magic spell, a bit like May Day and the ribbons on the trees.”
Some of the poems are her own, and some were written by friends of hers. Still others are by famous poets, like Bob Hicok’s “The Mapmaker’s Faith.” She said there are no rules, no schedule — she puts a poem on the tree whenever one strikes her.
In fact, it was refreshing to talk to Beth for this very reason. She isn’t hung up on spending too much money on literary conferences, or publishing in only the best literary journals.
“Putting my poems on a tree IS publishing them,” she said. “It’s giving them to the wind.”
We talked about story-telling, the indefatigable human desire to communicate and connect with others. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken with someone about poetry that way. It isn’t that it doesn’t happen, it just comes with, well, cynicism.
Beth told me that even members of her farm crew are interested in the tree. Something she’s been hearing a lot of lately is, “I’m not a poet, but I wrote this one poem and maybe I’ll put it up…”
I’ll say this about Poetry Month: It’s sanctioned by an establishment, is profitable and marketable, and therefore, like all such things, is slightly suspect. It IS trendy. If you aren’t particularly prolific, there is a bit of shaming involved if you can’t or choose not to keep up with the poem-a-day pace. And it’s gotten a bit gimmicky. (Still, tell me you don’t want a “Keep Calm and Write Poetry” T-shirt!)
But if whatever you’re doing to celebrate, be it a daily writing challenge or tying poems onto trees, if it makes you happy, and you can get not-a-poet-but’s to write, to engage with poetry, to discuss poetry, to consider displaying their written efforts in public spaces, then it can’t be too bad.