Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Delight

When I awoke April 24, 2014, I had two appointments on my mind.  First, I needed to find the time during my busy day to post "Habits of the Past," the blog I had planned for that week because Isaac Werner loved Shakespeare and the previous day had been Shakespeare's birthday.  Second, my friend Shirley had invited me to join her at a poetry reading by Kansas Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley at the Kinsley Public Library.  At that time, I did not remember that April was the National Poetry Month, although my intended blog fit that celebration perfectly!  

Although Shakespeare was apparently Isaac's favorite writer, he was very interested in the lives of other famous writers.  Among the books in his library were Wharton's History of English Poetry, Authors' Classical Dictionary, Allibone's Dictionary of American & British Author's (2 Vols.), Fiske's Manuel of Classical Literature, Abbott's Shakespearean Grammar, Clark's Shakespearean Concordance, Lippencott's Biographical Dictionary, and Harbauch's Poems.  His engravings, stereoscope collection, and photograph cards also included images of poets and writers.  Isaac was on my mind as I entered the Kinsley Public Library for the reading.

Wyatt Townley, KS Poet Laureate 
We arrived at the library early and enjoyed the opportunity to meet the poet, Wyatt Townley, purchase books, and meet her husband, Roderick Townley who is also a poet and author.  Not all poets have the gift of both writing beautiful poetry and reading beautifully; however, Wyatt certainly possesses both talents, as well as a gift for public speaking, weaving together her poems, the stories behind her poems, and bits of poetry from other poets.  I was surprised when she quoted the same lines from William Carlos Williams that I had included in my blog!  (See "Habits of the Past, 4-24-2014.) 

A former dancer, Wyatt has transformed that sense of grace and motion into her dual roles of poet and yoga instructor.  Add to that a cunning sense of humor, and you have the ingredients for a compelling hour of poetry.  I was very proud to see that our current Kansas Poet Laureate represents the face of poetry to those within and beyond our state so well. 

Langston Hughes
What I did not know was that the evening of April 24, 2014, the celebration of poetry continued at Lincoln Center in NYC as the Academy of American Poets presented an evening of poetry, recited by a luminary group of actors and musicians, reading poems written by a wide variety of poets--what AP writer Hillel Italie called "a mini-survey of American verse."  As examples, musician Esperanza Spalding read "Life is Fine" by Langston Hughes, (1902-1967), with the defiant closing stanza:
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry--
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine!     Fine as wine!     Life is fine!

Maya Angelou with President Obama
Meryl Streep read poets Richard Wilbur and Sylvia Plath, while Kevin Kline read a poem by the popular Billy Collins called "To my favorite 17-year-old high school girl," and Tina Fey read James Tate.

Rosie Perez read 2013 Medal of Honor recipient Maya Angelou's triumphant poem "Still I Rise."
     You may trod on me in the very dirt
     But still, like dust, I'll rise. 
Edna St. Vincent Millay
photo credit Carl Van Vechten

Actor Patrick Stewart read Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, "God's World," which he indicated was a personal favorite, sharing the story of having experienced the incredible beauty of a New England autumn that left him in tears and having been given Millay's poem that same weekend.
     O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
     Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
     And all but cry with color!
                    Lord, I do fear
     Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
     My soul is all but out of me,--let fall
     No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

What an incredible day of poetry April 24th turned out to be for me, and since I had remembered Isaac by sharing some of the poetry he may have admired, it seemed appropriate for me to use this week's post to share some more recent American poetry.  The e-mails and comments you sent in response to last week's post indicate that while not everyone who reads this blog particularly appreciates poetry, many of you do, and I hope others will read these blogs and consider picking up a book of poetry at the library, or perhaps some old textbook from high school or college long ignored.  Or, next time you are in a bookstore, you might find the poetry aisle and see if some modern poet is to your taste.  I will close with a poem that my unexpected day of poetry inspired me to write.  (The three lines that open the poem were spoken to my husband when he found me reading aloud from the book "The Afterlives of Trees" by Wyatt Townley, which I had bought at her reading the previous day.  The lines were offered to explain why I was reading aloud to only myself, and this poem grew from that short explanation.)

Poems only live when spoken.
When you read in silence,
they just lie there on the page--
Stillborn from the poet's pen,
awaiting a voice
to coax the breath of life
into the lovely words.
                                    (c) Lyn Fenwick 

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