by Andrew Swensen
It is National Poetry Month, and we at The Muse Dialogue want you to celebrate. I will start with a few suggestions from our own archives…
Last year, I wrote an article titled “Bring Back the Poets,” which holds a special place in my heart. Not necessarily because I think it to be especially good — I will leave you to be the judge of whether it is or not — but rather because it comes from the heart. I have written about many things here, and they all matter in their own way. Yet I have a special place in my heart for poetry. I will not be shy to say that the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Mary Oliver have all changed my life with single works. Among the arts, poetry has so many wonderful qualities — it is portable, so compact that you could copy one and carry it in your wallet; and yet it has the capacity for such impact. Unfortunately, our era seems to have lost its regard for poets, except those who set their lines to music. While I also have great regard for some lyricists out there — John Lennon has penned some powerful lines — we do not spend enough time with the magnificence of the small, the beautiful poem.
You may be interested in hearing from a poet during this month, and we can offer you a couple of those as well. The poet Richard St. John, from our beloved Pittsburgh, offered up a two-part series “The Power of Personal Experience” (the link goes to the first installment, and a link to the second appears at the bottom). St. John has a wonderful sense for how poetry speaks to our individual selves, and to the power of truth. For a different sort of poetic offering, you may also be interested in an interview conducted last year with slam poet and education advocate Taylor Mali. The article also includes links to his work and a video to his performance of “Labeling Keys.”
Beyond those celebrations from our own pages, consider a couple of other wonderful resources. Both the Poetry Foundation and The Writer’s Almanac offer email subscriptions for you to receive a poem every day, and the Poetry Foundation has a host of other wonderful resources as well, all related to poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac includes the literary birthdays of any given date. I subscribe to both, and I encourage you to do so as well. The few minutes that it takes to read a poem can open doors of aesthetic experience that one cannot anticipate. It is a daily discovery, and the practice of checking in with a poem reminds us to always take time for a little art in the everyday moments of our lives.
One last suggestion: write a poem. It does not have to be good. It does not have to be long or complicated. It does not have to be shown to anyone. Yet the very act of artistic creation has its own benefits for the inner self. Cultivate that place in yourself, that place that can issue forth in artistic words. Make it your own private celebration of National Poetry Month.
The Power of Personal Experience — Part II
Shrine, Richard St. John's most recent publication
by Richard St. John
What if you feel you can’t connect with poetry? What if it seems less like “felt experience” than a complex “story problem” you were assigned in class, but never were able to solve? Well, lots of people feel that way. I think it’s because they were taught that you had to “understand” poetry in order to experience it, when really it’s the other way around. Poet Richard St. John discusses entering the world of poetry in the second of his two-part series “The Power of Personal Experience.”
Click here to read St. John’s latest contemplation on poetry, “The Power of Personal Experience — Part II”
Click here for the full table of contents to our current issue The Case for Poetry in Our Age
From Poet to Teacher and Back: An Interview with Taylor Mali
“I don’t see the world in a particularly unique way. People tell me I do, but I don’t think they’re being honest with themselves; I think I see the world just like everyone else I just have the audacity to know that people will be entertained by an eloquent articulation of their own vision.” –Taylor Mali
Taylor Mali took the online world by storm with a video of his poem “What Teachers Make.” The video has over 5 million views and counting, and it has inspired students, teachers, and the rest of us to realize the truth of his poetic claim: “You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder.”
James Ranson recently talked with Mali on behalf of The Muse Dialogue, and we are pleased to share this interview as part of our series on poetry — and yes, it includes two fine video performances: “From Poet to Teacher and Back: An Interview with Taylor Mali.” (click here to see full text of interview).
Taylor Mali, poet and teacher
Bring Back the Poets
by Andrew Swensen
Poetry. We seem to view poetry nowadays as if it dwells singularly in the province of pretentious intellectuals, academic institutions, and (if we are lucky) the occasional 11th-grade English classroom. I find this development sad. For some reason we think that poetry is somehow inaccessible, a rarefied highbrow art form expressed in overwrought language. Yet if you think about the birth of the arts from back in the days when we were sleeping under the stars and keeping warm by open fires, we were also doing a couple of other things, practicing our most primal elements of culture: dance, song, some basic rhythms for music, and yes, speaking or chanting poetry to one another. Now we have arrived in the 21st century, and we seem to have neglected our origins under the open sky. Bring back the poets, I say.
Click here to read our most recent article, “Bring Back the Poets,” released today.
Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, after Amelia Curran, and Edward Ellerker Williams (National Portrait Gallery, London)
Vol. 1, No. 6: The Case for Poetry in Our Age
Frank X. Gaspar, Night of a Thousand Blossoms
TMD is releasing a new issue this week: The Case for Poetry in Our Age. Our first article comes from poet Richard St. John as he considers how personal and true the poem is as a form of human expression. “There are lots ways to talk about poetry. Here’s one that resonates, especially, for me: Poetry is a way of telling truth. A particular kind of truth: not the stripped-down “truth” of a mathematical equation or controlled scientific experiment, but the felt, lived truth of human experience.“
Read more in this most recent contribution to The Muse Dialogue: “The Power of Personal Experience” by Richard St. John.