Archived News

The party everyone’s invited to: National Poetry Month

The party everyone’s invited to: National Poetry Month

April is the season when Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered before setting off to Canterbury and the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. “Oh, to be in England,” wrote poet Robert Browning, “Now that April’s there.” Later, T.S. Eliot added a different perspective: “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of a dead land.” In her poem “Spring,” Edna St. Vincent Millay also looks askance at the fourth month: “To what purpose, April, do you return again?” and then ends with “It is not enough that yearly, down this hill/April/Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”

In April, poets have often discovered joy and sorrow, love and grief, the sacred and the profane. It is also the month when the rest of us are invited to join poets and enthusiasts for National Poetry Month. Sponsored by the National Academy of American Poets, and now in its 28th year, this festival of of verse written long ago and as recently as yesterday is the largest literary celebration in the world. Libraries, schools, bookstores, families, and poets all break out the noisemakers and balloons, and make a 30-day party of poetry. Anyone wishing to join in the festivities has only to search online for “National Poetry Month” and start clicking.

That fingertip exploration will bring the adventurer dozens of ideas for celebrations, hundreds of great poems, and online readings by lovers of verse and the poets themselves. Check out, for example,, and you’ll find all sorts of clever ideas, particularly for the kids, that will help bring to life the poems of writers both living and dead.

Now, certain readers of this column may be entertaining some thoughts along these lines: “Poetry. Don’t make me laugh. I haven’t read a poem since Old Lady Fleming’s lit class in high school. Talk about a snore. Studying that junk was like taking a hit of Xanax. It turned me into a zombie.”

Yet that same guy will finish up his coffee, put aside this paper, and head outside to his Ford Ranger, where he’ll flip on Johnny Cash singing “Long Black Veil:”

Related Items

The judge said, son, what is your alibi

If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die.

I spoke not a word, though it meant my life

For I’d been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.

He doesn’t realize it, but our pickup driver is listening to poetry, only in this case it’s set to music. “Long Black Veil” is a beautiful ballad about personal honor and the death of an innocent man.

Others may claim they just don’t get poetry. They read Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and think it might be more appropriately titled “A Waste of Time.” Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” leaves them as bumfuzzled and frustrated as the man who has once again misplaced his car keys.

Here I can sympathize. Years ago, I sat in a bar in Charlottesville, Virginia, listening to a 20-something writer read a long, impressionistic poem about a motorcycle wreck. For nearly half an hour, we in his miserable captive audience suffered his water torture of nonsensical verse. Here is a facsimile representative of our time in that dungeon:      

Hot tar and gravel

The whine of a single mosquito

Sky the color of dust

A whirring of crickets

Broken glass

Jenelle phone home

Or was that E.T.

Such a torment might easily have qualified as a tenth circle in Dante’s Hell.  

Despite these encounters with obscure verse, I would argue that inside most of us there’s a heart for poetry. My proof? Take any 3-year-old, plop that little whirlwind down on the sofa beside you, and open “Mother Goose.” Add a dose of dramatic flair, put some rhythm in your delivery, and feed him classics like “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “The Farmer in the Dell,” and “Little Boy Blue.” That kid may have never laid eyes on a sheep and couldn’t tell you what a dell is for all the M&Ms in the world, but if you’re putting some beat and rhyme into your voice, you’re going to have a captive audience. Add hand-motion poems like “Pat-a-Cake” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” and your triumph is complete.

Like those children, we adults can also enjoy a romp with words, a rollicking verse or a humorous surprise as is found in C.A. Smith’s “An Unexpected Ending.” On the other hand, a poem can provide solace for an aching heart. We may not fully grasp, for example, the meaning of Millay’s “Dirge Without Music,” but for anyone who has ever grieved by the grave of a recently departed loved one this raw elegy will likely strike home.

They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. 

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Which brings us to this point: poetry is good for the soul. It is wisdom distilled. It can bring us laughter and tears, beauty and truth, but whatever its effect, at best it expands us, making us more fully human.

And here’s April, tapping us on the shoulder, opening the door, and inviting us to the banquet.

Let’s join the party.

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.