Can Poetry Matter?

It’s that month of the year when poetry is celebrated and, while not everyone has stopped rolling their eyes at the mere mention of poetry, more and more are discovering–or rediscovering–it. April is National Poetry Month so again I’m encouraging you to explore some of the amazing work out there.

This year I’m not introducing poets and their work, but addressing the art itself. However, I did do some internal housekeeping and if you look under the A Writers’ Window tab, all the poet interviews I previously posted are listed and linked.

I began the celebration a few days early by attending an open mic, and closed out this past weekend with the final reading of the Kakalak 2021 contributors. In between I attended the 2nd Annual One Word Poetry Festival. I recognize that’s not how everyone likes to spend sunny, warm weekends, and to be perfectly honest it was a struggle for me to grab my notebook and pens instead of my gardening tools, but the decision wasn’t simply to enjoy great poetry.

The title of this post comes from Dana Gioia’s book Can Poetry Matter? Gioia was a panelist during a literary festival I attended back in the early 90s when the book was published. The book answered the question then; the title echoes the thread of conversations I had three different times with three different poets over the last month – does our kind of poetry still matter; have a place?

We asked this question because one of us held back during a recent open mic. She would’ve been welcomed, was encouraged to read, but believed her work didn’t fit with what other poets were reciting. I’m thinking there were folks in the audience who would’ve appreciated the difference.

We asked the question because two young poets launched a new literary journal to provide a home for the kind of poetry they write, and knew others wrote it too.

We asked because our poetry seems quieter, softer than current voices. Many topics are similar, we have no less passion about our subjects or in our delivery . . . it’s just different.

The answer to our question came in different ways over these first two weeks of National Poetry Month.

One was in the form of books. Two days after my friend didn’t read at the open mic, my book mail arrived with these. Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is about the loss of her father and how we live with all kinds of loss. Mike James’ Portable Light is a collection of selected poems from previous books and new poems, so the topics are wide-ranging. Joseph Bathanti’s Light at the Seam pays tribute to the men and women of Appalachia and its beautiful but scarred land.

My high school classmate, Bob, posted a poem on aging, reminding me our poetry still works. I’m not sure if he’s been writing poetry all along and just now sharing his ‘philosophical ramblings’, but I’m glad he’s doing it. His work is thought-provoking, sometimes humorous, always fits.

Rachel McKibben provided another answer in her workshop during the One Word Poetry Festival. She assured attendees we don’t have to spill all our blood on the page. There are reasons to hold things in secrecy, and times when ‘going deeper into the pain’ is unnecessary digging, if healing has already occurred. She was all in favor of quiet spoken word poetry . . . even while delivering its passion.

Then yesterday during that Kakalak reading even more evidence there is a place. There were poems about family, about politics, about nature, about the daily-ness of life.

Front row left to right: Debra Daniel, Kathy Ackerman, Julie Ann Cook, Doris Thomas Browder.
Back row left to right: Terri McCord, Richard Band, Kathryn Waller, Joy Colter, Al Black.
Missing from the photo is Sandra Marshburn.

Angelo Geter, Rock Hill Poets Laureate, is our new co-editor for Kakalak. Last week someone asked him what he’s looking for in the poetry submissions. He answered in three words, “Conveyance of experience.”

Angelo’s concise answer covers it all. We need poetry that reaches into our gut, pulls out the hurt and fear, and assures us we’re not alone. We need poetry that rages against and holds a mirror up to images we’d prefer to ignore. We need poetry that draws us to the sacred, that fills us with nostalgia, that grounds us in the places we call home. Poetry that makes us laugh.

Poetry matters. All of it. Even those bits and pieces you scratch on notebook paper that you think are ‘just philosophical ramblings’. It matters.

So instead of interviewing poets again this year, I’m linking to some poets actually reading. Their work covers different topics and styles. A warning, Rachel drops an F-bomb or two, but given the subject matter and her depth of pain, it fits.

Rachel McKibbens Glutton

Joseph Bathanti   Knocked

Wendell Berry The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

I’m also providing this link to Main Street Rag Publishing’s readings because these poets could be your next-door neighbors who just happen to write wonderful poetry about things you may know something about too. Today I listened to Mike Glose, Monica McAlpine, Pat Rivier-Seel, Jack Johnson, and John Lands, and heard poems about war, Parkinson’s, dreams, friendship, and moonlight.  There are separate links to each poet, just make sure ‘main street rag poetry’ is in the link for each reader.

Here are the links for the books I mentioned: Alana Dagenhart, Yellow Leaves. Mike James, Portable Light. Joseph Bathanti, Light at the Seam

Even if you’re not moved to write a stanza or two, or to read a poem here and there, I hope you sometimes feel the poetry and beauty in your own life experiences.

Yesterday began Holy Week, Friday begins Passover. Wishing all of you the blessings of hope and light as we enter this holy week.

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