Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another Look at Poetry

Visiting the grave of Emily Dickinson 
It has become my tradition to remember the importance of Poetry in April.  Those of you who are regular followers of the blog may remember my post inspired by a reading given by Kansas Poet Laureate (2013-2015) Wyatt Townley.  It was my friend Shirley who invited me to join her at the Kinsley Library to hear Ms. Townley read some of her poetry at an event sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council (KHC).

Two specific things were the direct result of my participation in that KHC sponsored event.  First, I tend to write poetry in spurts, a genuine amateur who lacks the discipline to sit down regularly and wait for the muse to whisper in my ear.  Rather, some sight or sound or thought will inspire me, and the result will be another poem added to my ever-growing notebook.  Wyatt Townly inspired me that day with her own poetry, her enthusiasm, and a challenge to try a form of verse I had never heard of, and consequently, had never tried to write.  The Cinquain consists of five un-rhymed lines of poetry with a strict adherence to the number of syllables per line:  2/4/6/8/2.  Each Kansas Poet Laureate develops some project to encourage an appreciation for poetry, and Townley encouraged Kansans to write a cinquain about their state.  Each month she selected a cinquain to be published as part of her regular poetry columns printed in newspapers across the state.  One month, mine was chosen to be published.  My cinquain that was selected by Wyatt Townley for recognition appears below.


Bugs at twilight,
Juicy watermelon
On the lawn, serenaded by

Wyatt Townley at Kinsley
At that time I was serving on the Board of the Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS, and the second direct result of hearing Townley was my recommendation that we invite Wyatt Townley to speak and read her poetry to our Legacy Arts Supporters.  She was nearing the end of her two-year appointment as Poet Laureate, but she managed to fit an evening into her schedule.  Frankly, there were those whose enthusiasm for inviting Wyatt did not quite match mine; however, the evening was a huge success--among the most enthusiastic fans by the closing poem were some of those who had worried the most about how well a poetry reading would be received!  Of course, it doesn't hurt that Wyatt Townley is an excellent speaker as well as a fine poet, but the doubters in the audience that night learned that poetry, well-read, can be a compelling experience.  Wyatt Townley even sold out some of the volumes she had brought to make available at the end of her presentation!

Recently, I received an e-mail from Wyatt and three other past Kansas Poet Laureates--Denise Low (2007-09), Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (2009-2013), and Eric McHenry (2015-2017).  The message reminded Kansans that in 2016 KHC had provided over 700 free programs to nearly 400,000 people in all 6 sections of our state.  The current cost-cutting threat to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which costs the average American 50 cents a year according to the e-mail, is the primary support for many humanities programs in Kansas and other states.  

Robert Service "The cremation of Sam McGee"
The e-mail pointed out that the Kansas Poet Laureates average 50 public appearances a year at colleges and schools, but primarily small-town libraries and community centers, with the travel stipend they receive paid entirely by private donors--like those who paid expenses when Wyatt visited the Filley.  (It should be noted that, in turn, Wyatt spent that stipend for lodging, fuel, and other purchases in the Pratt community in connection with her visit.  The benefits to the community were economic as well as cultural.)  The NEH funding of the Kansas Humanities Council funds the staff that supports the Poet Laureate program, a program with a national reputation for excellence.

The number of "closet" poetry fans is surprising.  We had a friend who could launch into the recitation of long narrative poems with the slightest encouragement.  Our niece, who has been engaged in a brave battle with cancer for several years, finds solace and courage in poetry and is sometimes inspired to write her own.  Humorist Garrison Keillor shares his love for poetry on NPR; former President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, has published a book of her favorite poems for children; young parents recite nursery rhymes to babies who will carry on the tradition to their own children in an unbroken generational chain...  Traditional, un-rhymed, humorous--the list of poetry that people enjoy is endless.  

So, as I tend to do each April, I encourage you to pick up a book of poetry this month--if you have forgotten how much enjoyment and inspiration poetry holds, or pick up a pencil and exercise your own talents for poetry which you have allowed to lie dormant.  And while you are thinking about it, you might consider speaking out in support of the importance of the arts and humanities to the nation.  We must not realize the individual and national importance of those things only too late--when they are already gone...

(Just for fun, I challenge you to write your own cinquain about April or Spring, or whatever inspires you, and send it as a Comment to this blog post or directly to me.  Teachers, challenge your students of all ages to write a Cinquain.  Remember:  five lines with specific syllables in each line--2, 4, 6, 8, 2.  It's about the creative discipline of imagery and feeling within the strict limitations of syllable counts.  I'm curious to see if any of you will take the challenge!) 

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

No poem from me, sorry, but here is my favourite Sandburg poem:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.