Thoughts on poetry this auspicious month

Most of my active writing life the past few years has been journalistic nonfiction and plays; between my job at a small-town newspaper and my involvement in the same small town’s theater community, there was little time for much else. That’s one of the perks of poetry though. It can be easy to dabble with when you don’t have much time.

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April, in case you were unaware, is National Poetry Month. In fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the recognition of April as National Poetry Month, as it was inaugurated as such by the Academy of American Poets back in 1996. Especially with the rich poetic history that this country has, from Poe to Whitman to Cummings to Hughes to Ginsberg to Collins, we need at least a month to pay sufficient tribute to this most populistly human art form. Personally, I’ve spent a few Aprils organizing poetry readings in this small town in northern Minnesota, each of which have been surprisingly successful. Not that they shouldn’t be, but when you organize an event, you estimate attendance, and nearly every reading I’ve helped organized has surpassed that estimate. In fact, last April my theater comrade, John, and I organized an event called Porters & Poetry, a combination of spoken word and dark beer. We anticipated about 30, which is fair, but close to 90 actually showed up!

So we decided to make this a regular thing. And since this is an election season (and a tumultuous one at that), we thought we might as well embrace it and make slam poetry our theme this April. Our hope is to get a flush of pissed off people each with a bunch of rant poems in tow.

All this got me thinking lately about the topic of voice, which was the topic of the last post on this blog. The last time we did a Porters & Poetry, our theme was haikus and limericks, so naturally I wrote a whole pile of short poems, ranging from the brief and introspective to the coarse and bawdy. It should be noted that I had no real history of writing poems in either of those styles as well. So now that I’m taking on slam poetry, I’m trying to decide if this is a great way to challenge my writing voice, or if it’s a weird manner of going out of my way to muddy up any writer’s voice development I’ve already created. Fortunately, there’s no real answer to that, though I’m leaning toward it being an exercise in craft development. And regardless, who doesn’t enjoy a little challenge every now and then.

I’m also writing a few examples of what I’m calling “hip-hop sonnets.” Since the rhyming scheme of the sonnet is so sporadic, in a sense, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to simplify it further provided I maintained the 14 lines and kept a more-or-less iambic rhythm. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Angel and a Poet

Once upon a time I caught an angel and a poet
Starring at the trees at the moment that a crow lit.
The angel and the poet talkin’ jive as the bird
Looked back on the duo spreadin’ lies, havin’ words.
Never more, so they say, is the motto of the raven
But a bird black as this never had the use of savin’
Such pair of magic beings from their over-holy contest
In the middle of the night of an evil-looking forest.
Here the poet claimed the angel couldn’t even write a rhyme
While the angel shamed the poet ‘cause he’s runnin’ outta time.
“I’m a never-dying being, don’t lose sleep on my eternity
so your rhythm and your rhyme is barely like a word to me.”
So the poet had to say, while he’s writing on his notepad,
“One knows eternity in moments if it’s the only time he has.”

I must say, these poems are really hard to write! But that’s just because there’s a specific structure that needs to be abided by, and it’s a structure that doesn’t come naturally to me. Regardless, I’m thoroughly enjoying writing these pieces, and I look forward to performing them before a live audience at Porters & Poetry on April 22.

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