This year marks the 20th anniversary of Canada celebrating National Poetry Month in April. Established in 1998 by the League of Canadian Poets, National Poetry Month brings together schools, libraries, publishers, and poets from around the country to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canadian culture. It’s a great time to discover a new interest in poetry or revitalize an ongoing passion for this rhythmic language. Some well-known Canadian poets worth checking out are Anne Carson, George Elliott Clarke, Gregory Scofield, and Bronwen Wallace.
But why read poetry in the first place? This is a question students have been asking teachers for centuries, and most of us forget about poetry once we’ve finished school and it’s no longer required reading. Matthew Zapruder answers this question beautifully in his book Why Poetry. He argues that the way we were taught to read poetry in school – minute dissection, agonizing analysis – prevents us from enjoying it later in life. It leaves us feeling inadequate and requiring an intermediary to understand poetry, but this is simply not true. Zapruder explains that we are all experts in words and have been for a long time, and reading poetry can be as easy as enjoying the words on the page and the unique effect they have on us – there is no one correct meaning we must search for, our individual experience of the poem is what matters. Poetry is different than other forms of literature because it often connects words and ideas in unusual ways, and can produce new and important thoughts and emotions in the reader – it can even help us to lead our lives with greater meaning or purpose.
It can be difficult to know where to begin with the enormous amount of poetry out there. Starting with classics can be a great idea, they are popular and have stood the test of time for a reason. For example, something simple like “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, the beautiful “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats, the romantic “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the melancholy “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. Other exceptional poets include William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, and Maya Angelou. There are countless others worth reading, and a look into the local library or bookstore can offer some great ideas.
One easy way to get involved in National Poetry Month is by participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26. Simply select a poem you enjoy and and carry it with you throughout the day, sharing it with others at libraries, coffee shops, workplaces, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem.