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12 Steps to a More Meaningful National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. While this is a wonderful acknowledgement of the importance of poetry to the cultural life of this country, I believe that more than a passing nod is needed to make this idea truly meaningful. I would like to devote today’s column to my suggestions for ways to put this recognition into a form of grass roots action. Here is my list of recommendations for the Twelve Things You Can Do to Support Poetry during National Poetry Month (and beyond). They’re presented in ascending order from the simple to the most challenging.

1. Buy a book of poetry by a local poet. You probably won’t find these titles at the large bookstore chains. In fact, the people who work there may not be able to identify a local poet by name.

2. As a natural extension of my first suggestion, you could attend a reading by a local poet at one of the colleges in your area. And these poets will have copies of their books for sale at their readings.

3. Ask the library director at your local library to initiate a poetry reading series featuring local poets presenting their work as well as local residents reading their favorite poems.

4. Organize a poetry reading at your local independent bookstore. In the spirit of egalitarianism, you could begin with an open mike reading that would give everyone who wants to read their five-minute opportunity to shine. Eventually, you might invite a local poet to be the featured reader while preserving the democratic open mike format. 

5. Host a reading by an experienced poet in your own home. This used to be a common practice in Europe and was known as a private salon. I’ve attended a similar event in Connecticut and it was very enjoyable. The host invited 10-15 poetry aficionados to hear a respected poet read from her new book. A reading in a private home offers a comfortable atmosphere in an intimate setting. It makes the poet feel very well appreciated and gives the guests an opportunity for a relaxed discussion with the author.

6. Organize a poetry workshop led by a experienced poet and/or college teacher. Many excellent teachers are not good poets, and many fine, well known poets are not the best teachers, so you in all likelihood will have to choose. (The celebrated poet who is also a great teacher is a rare bird indeed.) Most teachers and poets are not very adept at marketing and promotion, so you will be doing them a great service by providing them with this type of assistance.
7. Organize a poetry support group for new and emerging poets who simply want to get together and share their work with kindred spirits. No instruction here, just a lot of encouragement.  Writing can be a very lonely and heartbreaking process, and poets need a lot of moral support. Our society tends to denigrate any activity that doesn’t have monetary reward as its primary goal. The poet’s work isn’t even on the career radar screen, and they are in constant need of validation that what they’re doing is important and worthwhile.

8. Start a poetry blog. Freedom of expression is the internet’s great gift to the world, and you can help promote poetry and your favorite poets with a personal blog. There are many fine poetry blogs out there already. I recommend you take a look at Rus Bowden’s “Poet and Poetry in Rags” for an excellent model.

9. Donate funds for your local high school to sponsor a visiting poet. Norwich Free Academy does a fine job of bringing in established authors as part of their Reading Madness program; however, as far as I know they haven’t hosted a poet in recent years. You might ask the person who coordinates this series for advice on contacting authors.

10. Donate funds for a local poetry prize. This could also be a way to honor a family member with a love for poetry.

11. Organize a committee to create a poet laureate position for your city or town.

12. Establish a bookstore that specializes in poetry or has a large poetry section. This could be done with minimal capital investment if you do it as an online bookstore. If you have a lot of capital to invest, then you might want to create a bricks-and-mortar store for new and used books.

If each of us performs one simple action to help promote poetry, the cumulative effect will be quite significant. If you have a lot of time and financial resources to commit, you can bring a major event to life. In either case, there is something meaningful we can all do to translate a slogan into an initiative for the greater good of poets, poetry and our culture.

-- an excerpt from my book ON POETRY, THE MYSTERIOUS ART, published by Lorenzo Press and available in a  Kindle edition only