National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry first introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. It is celebrated every April in the United States and (since 1999) in Canada as well. Since 2000 Great Britain has celebrated a National Poetry Month each October.
National Poetry Month was inspired by the success of Black History Month, held each February, and Women's History Month, held in March. In 1995, the Academy of American Poets convened a group of publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary organizations, poets, and teachers to discuss the need and usefulness of a similar month long holiday to celebrate poetry. The first National Poetry Month was held in 1996.
In 1998, the Academy joined the American Poetry & Literacy Project to distribute 100,000 free books of poetry from New York to California during National Poetry Month. On April 22, President Clinton and the First Lady hosted a gala at the White House that featured Poets Laureate Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and Rita Dove.
For National Poetry Month in 2001, the Academy invited people to "vote" for poets they most wanted to have a postage stamp. More than 10,000 people cast ballots, with Langston Hughes receiving the most votes. The vote tally was sent to the United States Postal Service, which issued a Langston Hughes stamp in January 2002.
Each year, a special poster is commissioned by the Academy of American Poets for National Poetry Month, with almost 200,000 copies distributed for free. In the past, posters have been designed by noted graphic designers such as Chip Kidd and Milton Glaser. The 2007 poster was designed by Christoph Niemann.
This year, Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Kathi Appelt, and April Halprin Wayland are some of the writers that will participate in 30 Poets/30 Days, a celebration of children's poetry during the month of National Poetry Month. Every day of April, author Gregory K. Pincus's GottaBook Blog and Twitter site will feature an unpublished poem by different poets. This feature is free and open 24/7. Pincus said that 30 Poets/30 Days was very successful last year. Many people read the poetry and schools incorporated this even into their lesson plans.
Numerous books and poetry compilations have been published acknowledging National Poetry Month, such as The Knopf National Poetry Month Collection by Random House and Celebrating National Poetry Month by children's book author and poet Bruce Larkin.
Like Black History Month, the celebration of poetry each April has grown and established itself organically, in both official and unofficial ways. Each year, publishers, booksellers, educators and literary organizations use April to promote poetry: publishers often release and publicize their poetry titles in April, teachers and librarians focus on poetry units during the month; and bookstores and reading series frequently hold special readings. National Poetry Writing Month encourages writing a poem a day in celebration.
In a proclamation issued on April 1, 1996, President Bill Clinton declared: "National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today's American poetry….Their creativity and wealth of language enrich our culture and inspire a new generation of Americans to learn the power of reading and writing at its best." In addition, similar official National Poetry Month proclamation have been issued by mayors from towns and cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.
Poetry & the Creative Mind
In 2002, the Academy organized the first Poetry & the Creative Mind gala to raise funds in support of National Poetry Month, and it has become an annual event. Each year the Academy invites some of America’s leading artists, scholars, and public figures to read favorite, canonical poems. Hosted each year by the two-time Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, the event has featured readings by Liam Neeson, Tony Kushner, Maya Lin, Sam Waterston, Suzan-Lori Parks, Minnie Driver, Dan Rather, Agnes Gund, Frank Rich, Diane von Furstenberg, Wynton Marsalis, Alan Alda, Wendy Whelan, Mike Wallace, Dianne Wiest, Oliver Sacks, Gloria Vanderbilt, William Wegman, and Christopher Durang, among others.
National Poetry Month has also sparked some debate among writers, most notably from poets such as Charles Bernstein and Richard Howard. Critics suggest that National Poetry Month trivializes the art form and floods the market with books in a matter of just a few weeks, overwhelming readers.
International recurring celebrations
Since 1999, National Poetry Month has been celebrated each April in Canada, where it is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets and organized around a different annual theme.
In the United Kingdom the festival “October is National Poetry Month” was founded in 2000 by Celtic bard Jim MacCool and was adopted by the Birmingham-based Performance Poetry Society that same year. From makeshift beginnings, National Poetry Month has been exploited by primary and secondary schools, colleges of further education, public library services, the prison estate, and to a lesser extent, more localised festivals. Professional poets appear in all corners of the United Kingdom under the aegis of the Performance Poetry Society, which co-ordinates a proportion of their efforts and ensures that they are paid a normal rate for their appearances.
National Poetry Day, founded in 1994 by William Sieghart is celebrated on the first Thursday of October in the United Kingdom; this has become an established fixture in the cultural calendar. Events take place in schools, pubs, arts centres, bookshops, libraries, buses, trains and Women’s Institutes, and the day is the focus for media attention for poetry. The Forward Arts Foundation (a registered charity) was set up in 1995 to administer the Forward Prizes and National Poetry Day.
On October 8, 2009, the BBC announced on National Poetry Day the results of its poll to find the nations favourite poet. The winner was T. S. Eliot, followed by John Donne, Benjamin Zephaniah, Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin (in that order). It has been organized since 1994 by the Poetry Society in the United Kingdom, which chooses a different theme each year to highlight particular poets and styles of poetry.
In 1999, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared March 21 to be World Poetry Day. The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and, as the UNESCO session declaring the day says, to "give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements."
- Lund, Elizabeth "Poetry's Underpraised Promoters" Christian Science Monitor (June 13, 2005). Accessed 2007-02-12.
- National Poetry Month History & Highlights Poets.org. Accessed 2007-02-12.
- National Poetry Month Poster Gallery Poets.org. Accessed 2007-02-12.
- National Poetry Month Proclamations Poets.org. Accessed 2007-02-12.
- Poetry & The Creative Mind Poets.org. Accessed 2007-02-12.
- Bernstein, Charles "Against National Poetry Month As Such" University of Chicago Press (April 1999). Accessed 2007-02-12.
- Canadian National Poetry Month The League of Canadian Poets. Accessed 2012-04-08.
- National Poetry Day The Poetry Society. Accessed 2007-02-12.
- Rainy Day Poems A collection of classic poems and modern poetry books
- National Poetry Month at the Academy of American Poets website
- Against National Poetry Month As Such, essay by Charles Bernstein
- Library of Congress - National Poetry Month
- Article about Canada's National Poetry Month, April 2, 2008.
- National Poetry Month Events in Chicago
- Rhode Island College LibGuide - National Poetry Month
- Haiku inspired by Ito Jakuchu's Colorful Realm of Living Beings, April 2012