Apr 13

Celebrating National Poetry Month

  • BirchesBloedelDSCN9428
    Celebrating National Poetry Month

Dear friends,

In the words of T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.” Here in the Northwest, Eliot’s words ring true, where temperatures during the day rise to the 60s but drop down into the 30s at night, reminding us—and our tender plants—that spring isn’t here quite yet. But the cherry trees are in full bloom in our backyard and tulips form a quilt of color in the Skagit valley to the north.

April is also National Poetry Month, so poetry readings, like tulips, are abundant. Last weekend, I participated in a poetry event at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a sanctuary of land set aside by Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia, who resided on the property from 1951- 1986. The Bloedel family loved poetry and Theodore Roethke was a regular visitor to their home, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Bloedel Reserve re-connected with poets.

This year they did so by offering the first Poet-in-Residence to former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken and inaugurating a poetry walk, curated by University of Washington professor and poet Linda Bierds and novelist and poet David Guterson, both residents on the island. In honor of National Poetry Month poems would be nominated by local poets and poetry readers and placed along the extensive walking paths, so visitors can contemplate the poems along with the gardens and views.

In February, I was invited to nominate a poem. This meant I was invited to visit the Bloedel Reserve and walk the paths with a map that indicated the poem sites, then suggest a poem or two.   I love an assignment, and especially one which gave me an excuse not only to visit the Bloedel, but also to re-visit favorite poems. Soon I was pulling books off the shelf—Gary Snyder, Denise Levertov, John Haines, Robert Sund—until I had a small stack. I read through them, made copies, and took a sheaf of poems with me on my walk with my friend Heidi as navigator and guide.HeidiBloedel

A chilly February day made it a challenge to envision the landscape in spring, but Heidi, a regular visitor to the Bloedel, filled in the gaps: “oh, the cyclamen will be blooming here in April,” she said as we rounded a corner by the stream. I began to match up sites with poems and sent Linda not just one nomination, but five because I couldn’t decide.  “That’s just fine,” Linda said. “We know there will be duplicates.” (In fact, turns out we all wanted to nominate Yeats “Wild Swans at Coole” for the pond where, yes, the wild swans returned each year). I nominated poems by Denise Levertov, Tess Gallagher, Gary Snyder and Linda Gregg, as well as a poem by Pablo Neruda. They chose the Linda Gregg poem, “Praising Spring” and another nominator selected the Neruda poem for her nomination.


Last weekend, the curators, nominators and other local poetry lovers met to walk the trails and read the poems. The weather cooperated, clearing in the afternoon as we gathered at the sheep shed. After an introduction by Bierds and Guterson, local Olympic peninsula poet and naturalist Tim McNulty read his poem that had been nominated and Poet-in-Residence Kathleen Flenniken read the poem she’d nominated by Richard Wilbur. Then we were off to walk the bark paths and read the poems, gathering after at the Bloedel residence for wine and appetizers.

This turned out to be a perfect way to celebrate National Poetry Month. While you may not live close enough to visit the Bloedel Reserve, I hope you’ll seek out poetry readings or events in your community this month. Here are links to a few ways you can get involved:

The Academy of American Poets has put together a list of 30 Ways to Celebrate <http://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/30-ways-celebrate-national-poetry-month

For those in the Northwest, here’s a list of local readings and events put together by the Puget Sound Poetry Connection: <http://pugetsoundpoetryconnection.us8.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=035d08d1d2ea5ebc8c310a886&id=5292204498&e=1421216789> .

Thanks to the poet Drew Myron for sending the following suggestions—be sure to check out her inspiring website at http://www.drewmyron.com/, where she’s giving away free poetry books to celebrate National Poetry Month!

Twitter Poetry ContestStenhouse Publishers invites your brevity with a poem that is 140 characters or less.

Poem in Your Pocket Day : Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 30. Pick a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others.

Yours in the celebration of National Poetry Month in all its myriad creative forms,