Happy National Poetry Month

Posted on

Apr 01 2018

Although the team at the Academy of American Poets works tirelessly to champion poets and poetry every day of the year, it is in April—National Poetry Month—when we’re especially excited to share educational activities, book recommendations, and poems with students and other readers who are engaging with poetry for the first time. We know this introduction can lead individuals to becoming lifelong readers of poems.

We have been increasing the audience for poetry. In the past year more people than ever before have visited Poets.org to read poems; signed up for Poem-a-Day, the first place of publication for hundreds of poems by today’s poets; and used our K–12 Materials for Teachers to incorporate poems into classroom lessons. But, while we’re now reaching many millions of readers and experiencing increasing demand for our programs and publications, poetry remains an underfunded art form.

There are very few foundations and corporate funding programs investing in the promotion of great literature. And so hundreds of nonprofit poetry organizations and presses across the United States that help sustain the art form and its practitioners by publishing and distributing poets’ books; presenting poets at readings, workshops, and conferences; offering fellowships and awards; providing writing time through residencies; and maintaining archives and libraries, among other activities, exist on relatively modest budgets.

Some of poetry will always live outside of the marketplace and in the gift economy. Poems are shared freely on social media. And it doesn’t cost anything to memorize a poem or to write one (excluding the hours of attention paid to transforming a blank page into a work of art). While this makes poetry arguably one of the most democratic and accessible art forms, it means poetry in the United States needs you.

The Academy of American Poets is the leading organization advocating for poets and poetry organizations, and knowing that you back our efforts amplifies our cause. The more people standing with us, the stronger the case we make to the media, funders, and other stakeholders about the importance of poetry. And poetry is exceedingly important now.

We are living in a time when the language barraging us and the quality of public debate are often low. Poetry can provide many things to readers, including a powerful reminder of how language can be used memorably and artfully to express deep emotions and constructive ideas. Words matter—and are matter. Sentences can be sculpted and shaped to shine light on love, loss, and leadership. Poetry demonstrates and renews what language can be, and it helps us understand one another. As Mark Doty wrote: “People who read imagine the lives of others. Literature makes other people more real to us. It invites us to notice differences but, even more so, points toward commonality.”

Now is a time for the reflection on thoughtful language and our shared humanity that poetry prompts. Now is a time for poets.

Jennifer Benka, Executive Director, Academy of American Poets

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