A Celebration of Poetry in April

The 2012 poster designed by Chin-Yee Lai, featuring the line “…wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life” from U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine’s poem “Our Valley.” See all of the previous posters at http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/98.

As an English teacher and lover of poetry, I’m thrilled that April is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a time when libraries, schools, literary organizations, and poets celebrate poetry through a variety of events, workshops, and readings.

According to the Academy, “The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

Great poems have meaning beyond the first reading. When I think of poetry, I think of how Keats defined it as “the knowledge of contrast, feeling for light and shade.” It is a vehicle that allows for contradictions, ambiguities, and grey areas. It’s a fascinating art form that requires careful thinking and creation and growth. Readers must pull back from the action of the poem and recognize the inseparable link between form and meaning. Patterns and breaks in patterns comprise critical elements in the study of poetry. Aside from what students learn about poetry, the poet, or the subject of a poem, understanding a challenging poetic form gives rise to the power of anticipation. I love that.

Many of our English classes study poetry at least several times during the school year, and the talented Jared Baird teaches an entire class on poetry. To celebrate this month, our librarians created a display of books about poetry:

Marin Academy’s National Poetry Month display in the library

According to librarian Trevor Calvert, “I wanted to represent both collections of poetry as well as books on writing. When I was younger, I would read these great poems, and think, ‘Oh I wish I could do that’ without realizing that I needed no permission. So the books on writing act as a sort of permission to people that yes, they can write poetry, and also affirm that poetry is not an arcane set of symbols and allegory that must be deciphered if you are going to ‘get’ a poem.

“For the poets themselves I tried to choose books that would interest readers in multiple ways: Verse & Universe blends science and poetry for those lyrical scientists among us; Fat Girl is interesting as it directly and honestly addresses the body, femininity, and body-image; The Angel Hair Anthology is really interesting as it collects a 1960s Berkeley zine created by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh—which really helped shape a lot American poetry. I think this really echoes a lot of MA’s creative and independent spirit—I can imagine some of our students going on to do the same. Gary Snyder could not be neglected as he spoke here during LitFest! And because I like locals, I wanted to add another local poet who teaches as CCA, Donna de la Perriere. Her book, Saint Erasure, is lyric, haunting, and vulnerable.”

Chris Lane’s cover for Rarer and More Wonderful

In addition to being one of our two beloved librarians, Trevor is a poet himself and author of Rarer and More Wonderful, a finalist in the poetry category for the 2009 Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year.

When asked why he loves poetry, Trevor answered, “Poetry is very plastic. Its flexibility stems from the plastic quality of language—every language has poetry. What is fascinating is that when I say dog, something manifests in my mind, which is quite different than in yours. I think there is a certain type of magic here, and poetry is one way to act as magician…When one reads a lot of poetry (and if one is writing as well, I think the ratio of reading to writing should be around 3:1), the world really does start to behave differently. I am not saying that the world is actually shifting, but you are, so your relationship to everything else changes. Experientially, the world does seem like it’s shifting. So doors are opening. Again metaphors are incredibly powerful agents of change. I’ve been a little more explicit with this idea in a series of poems called “North gives flesh to wind:”

Trevor Calvert leading a poetry workshop at last year’s Lit Fest.

It is cold in the north. A boy
structured transparent, to be
vesper, secret-agent of chance
destroyer of north’s dominion.
‘Such vayn thought as wonted
to myslede me’ must be my guide
for what else may? The wind?
Luck relies on egress—laughing
girls in spring eager to blade
grass into hair. Delicate feet:
the caul of ‘wylde’ flight, freedom
terrible as hurricanes; of Typhus
typed fictitious, ranting.

Power expresses place, grips
location shape-shifting, helping as
air. Masses crystallize into a
lad, wrapped in nightly winds, in chimney
smoke, in games of lore. I loved his
‘And all my honest faith in thee is lost.’
So blow the results here
until this rule finds a pause, ‘til each
wolf finds its magnetic declination.
Today the North finds a boy to bring ruin.
‘O upon easy sunshine, deception.’
Everything yet can be exhausted.”

Hats off to Trevor and to our English faculty for introducing our students to poetry and cultivating a love for the art in the next generation. Please also mark your calendars for Publications Assembly on May 18 when we will celebrate the work of our student writers in the MA yearbook, Echoes, and The Voice newspaper.

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About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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