Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poetry for the People!

Hold the phone; it’s almost April! For me, this month is a big deal. Not only is it National Poetry Month, but also I turn in my MFA thesis come the 11th. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can breathe again, people!

In celebration of this, my holiest, month, and because of it being National Poetry Month, I want to talk poems. Specifically, I have found myself lately considering how poetry reacts to, draws from, influences, and reaches people. Maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching new writers, some of who don’t particularly rush into the world of poetry, some of who have been taught that poetry is something unreachable or not understandable. I don’t think that’s true. I hope it’s not true. So, in honor of my good friend April, and all my Intro to Creative Writing students, here’s a short list of poetry that is grounded in reaching out to real (not poets-only) people, poetry that is moving beyond the page into the world.

1. Slam Poetry— This isn’t exactly news, but man do I still love a good slam poem, and it didn’t seem fair to ignore this in my list of poetry for the people. May I suggest, if you are new to slam poetry, a quick listen to Jill Scott’s “One Second of Warped Security” and Shane Hawley’s “Wile E. Coyote” (a couple personal favorites).

2. Motion/Moving Poems— These gems are art collaborations between filmmakers and poets. The idea is quite simple: set a poem to a short film/moving images. What is especially cool about this idea is that the group Motion Poems does projects related to nearby communities. One such project conveniently located not too far from us in Mankato, Minnesota is the public art project “Arrivals & Departures at St Paul’s Union Depot.” This project highlights local writers and filmmakers, with these motion poems being projected onto the St. Paul’s historic Union Depot at 5-minute intervals (like the intervals of the trains).

Sidewalk Poem
Photo Credit: Public Arts Saint Paul

3. Sidewalk Poetry— Another neat local arts initiative is St. Paul’s “Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk” project. This public arts venture has been around since 2008, and of this project, its leaders write, “As Public Works goes about its business fixing sidewalks, we efficiently install beautiful poems into this everyday element of our lives. This award-winning program invites our own residents to write in our city-sized book of poetry…Thank you for your submission, and thank you for helping Saint Paul pave its streets with poetry!”

4. Poetry in Sculpture— Another great arts collaboration is happening between poets and sculptors, with poetic lines written wrapping around the edges and twists and turns of sculptures. Poetry Paths in Pennsylvania is doing this and more, so check them out!

5. Guerilla Haikus— Like the warfare, this is all unusual methods and places. Unlike the warfare, this is all about community and poetry. Groups of renegade poets create haikus about a particular community. They then write these little poems throughout that community’s parks and streets, often with chalk.

6. State Parks as Poetry— Again, this isn’t something new, but something that has stuck with me once I first heard about it. The concept is a merging of nature, history, and poetry. Writers posting poems not in a book or journal, but instead on plaques in state parks or lookout points. Famous example: William Stafford who was commissioned to write the roadside plaques for the Methow River, most of which still stand today.

7. Pocket Poems— What I like so much about this is that everyone can be a vessel for poetry. Poem in your pocket day falls in April, this year on the 24th. This day calls for people to place tiny poems in their pockets, and then to find times to share their pocket poem throughout the day. It’s a very simple concept, even a little silly maybe, but it’s moving poetry into the world.

8. The Great Wall of Poetry— Some communities are coming together to celebrate art on the walls of old downtown buildings. This is sort of graffiti poetry. Some of it is permanent, painted on, and some celebrates its impermanence like the guerilla haikus in chalk. Groups like urban poetry project, POETICA, are creating interactive poetry instillations. Local writers then do readings of their wall poems for the public/passersby.

9. Poetry Flash Mobs— I know, for some of you, the words “flash mob” make your eyes roll. It’s as out as planking. But here’s the thing— this is with poetry! And it’s pretty cool, so check it out before you write it off. (It’s like slam poetry but more awkward!)

10. Solar Poems— This is something I literally just heard about today thanks to my mom. These poets and visual artists are creating solar-powered billboards of poetry. This means short poems read at night by anyone that might walk by. I’m in love with this.
Solar Typographic Poem
Photo Credit: Artist Robert Montgomery

Happy Poetry Month to you and yours,