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National Poetry Month–It’s Here!

For the USA, April is National Poetry Month. For thirty days, we celebrate the value and joy that poetry brings to our world.  According to the Academy of American Poets, the goals are:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry

When I was in high school, I was forced to learn poetry. I didn’t want to, saw no benefit to it, and unfortunately, the teacher didn’t change my mind. All that analyzing meaning and deconstructing stanzas went right over my head. Worse, selections such as Beowulf and anything by Elizabeth Barrett Browning seemed unrelated to my life and goals. Poems I loved like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “The Raven”, and “The Road Not Taken” were rare. It wasn’t until University, where I discovered that poetry speaks the language of dreams, that I fell in love with it.

Thankfully, today’s teachers communicate poetry’s essence much better than what I experienced.

What is poetry?

When many think of poetry, they visualize flowing groupings of soulful words as pithy and dense as a fruitcake and for some, just as (un)appealing. I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, here’s a definition (from Wikipedia):

an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content.

You are most likely to recognize a poem by its truncated lines that rarely end in a period (though this isn’t always true), the rhythm created when reading it, the liberal use of literary devices such as alliteration and similes, and its ability to tell an entire story in a very (very) few stanzas. A good poem not only communicates with words but with emotion, senses, and memories, it gives a reader permission to interpret the content in ways that speak to his/her dreams. It may ask a question or answer one but always, it encourages the reader to think.

Origins of poetry

The word “poetry” is from the Greek and rightly so as most historians agree it began in ancient Greece as a way to record cultural events or entertain listeners. It predates written text and back then, provided a colorful oral tradition where storytellers could relate tales or events either verbally or by singing. It also might have provided an easy way to memorize this information.

The two oldest surviving poems are the “Epic of Gilgamesh” written around 3000 B.C.E. and “Beowulf” written around 1000 B.C.E. The most famous poems are Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and everything by William Shakespeare.

Why learn poetry?

Poetry is as much about the beautiful connecting of words as it is about rhythm, musical sounds, and verbal beats. Listeners may not understand all the verses or the meaning of the stanzas, but they’ll feel the cadence and want to read more. If poetry were a song, the words would be the notes, stanzas the lyrics.

The most powerful reason to learn poetry came to me only after I’d read hundreds — thousands — of poems. Poetry quite simply is another method of communication. Often, those who have difficulty conveying their ideas with traditional words and paragraphs have no problem when their thoughts and feelings are put to the beat of a poem.

A seminal reason for poetry is that it nurtures creativity. If you feel stifled expressing yourself with the four-syllable words and paragraph-long sentences of academic papers, poetry may unleash you. In an era where creativity has become one of the most sought-after skills, nothing does that better than poetry (well, there’s music — I’ll talk about that another time). Imagine the joy of discussing intricate ideas simplistically through well-chosen, carefully-arranged poetry. As any writer knows, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment than putting on paper what rattles around in one’s brain.

The most utilitarian reason to learn and teach poetry is one of the most popular in schools: Writing poetry is good practice. When composing poems, writers gain command of language, cultivate a robust vocabulary, master literary devices, and learn to express themselves with imagery. 

Types of Poetry

There are three main categories of poetry: narrative, dramatic and lyrical.

  • Dramatic poetry is quite simply, drama written in verse. It’s a narrative in which characters use poetry to convey ideas and conversation. Shakespeare is probably the most recognizable example.
  • Lyrical poetry is a short, highly musical verse that conveys powerful feelings through the use of selected rhyme, meter, and literary devices that create a song-like quality.
  • Narrative poetry tells a story in metered verse. It does not require rhyme and includes genres like ballads and epics.

These three main categories often overlap. For example, an epic poem can contain lyrical passages or lyrical poetry can contain narrative parts.

Within the three categories are dozens of genres. Here are some of the most popular:

  • acrostic
  • ballad
  • cinquains
  • couplet
  • epic
  • free verse
  • haikus
  • limerick
  • odes
  • sonnets

Each genre follows its own set of rules that dictate structure, number and length of lines, number and length of stanzas, metering, and rhyming. None is better than the other, just a different way of communicating ideas. I won’t dig deeper into each but you can find detailed descriptions here.

Indie Poets You May Not Know

I write fiction but enjoy poetry immensely for how it makes me dig into my thoughts and emotions. Here are some great Indie poets I’ve run across as I tour the blogosphere:

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author--oh my, how she shares the beauty of Maine is amazing

Emotional Shadows–with Balroop, where all emotions are cared for

Andrew’s View of the Week–I found Andrew for his humor-filled discussion on life and later realized his passion is poetry

DL Finn, Author--I didn’t know Denise wrote poetry until I read this post; just lovely

Oldest Daughter and Red-headed Sister–an eclectic collection by Audrey of versatile, meaningful poetry

Robbie’s Inspiration — Robbie writes poetry and fiction, both with her own personal voice

Rob Taylor–author, poet, and photographer; I enjoy all of them on his blog

My Window–poetry is how Miriam shares her life

Walt’s Writing–the Tennessee Poet

@poetsorg

More websites about poetry:

Glossary of Poetry Terms

Rhyming Dictionary

TED Talk on Poetry: Why it is Important


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Winter 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

58 thoughts on “National Poetry Month–It’s Here!

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  1. I do enjoy poetry, can’t write it and admire those who are gifted poets. I was terrible at school interpreting, analysing and having to write essays on poetry, and really didn’t like poems. I have a greater appreciation for them now as an adult.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Perfect post to kick off National Poetry Month, Jacqui! A comprehensive intro to teaching poetry at any level. Thanks so much for including My Maine in the lineup. Happy reading and writing poetry–the benefits are a win-win for everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My high school teachers all refused to teach poetry but I was hungry for the keys to the locks. My first college course was taught by an ancient professor who focused on even more ancient poetry with minimal explanation but expected all of us to grasp the Christian references to each of them. Not being Christian, I had no idea what they meant. Our final assignment was to read a particular poem and explain it, phrase by phrase, stanza by stanza. She ordered us not to use Cliff Notes. I did what I was told and received a deserved C. Everyone else “earned” an A. Of course, they all used Cliff Notes, every single one of them. I hated poetry after that and thought I couldn’t write it so for years I read poems but never attempted to write them. Until about 8 years ago when I found I could write poetry. Still a deserved C but at least I no longer hate poetry. Now I adore many masters – Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Shel Silverstein (why can’t a poet make you laugh?) Denise Levertov, Jane Hirschfield, Robinson Jeffers, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and a young poet I bet you’ve never heard of: Rudy Francisco. And of course, he of one name: Shakespeare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wanted to do something different than favorite poetry websites. It struck me that a lot of people may not understand it much more than me so I added all this detail. Your poems are a good addition.

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  4. It is delightful to see this post Jacqui, I am glad you’ve already mentioned National Poetry Month. Many thanks for including my name in this enlightening post. Poetry has been called the “crown of literature.” It has to be nurtured during the impressionable years of a child’s development to make them understand its aesthetic value.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for including me your post, Jacqui! I see some new names in your list. Great post and introduction to the month. My planned blog posts in April are all reviews and no poetry, but I will be reading poetry:) Happy National Poetry Month.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing. I for one will definitely be taking advantage of it this coming month, as I am a poet at heart. I love rhyming and writing poetry. Please check out my blog mainstream-people.com and check out my stuff. It’s not all poetry, but there is a good mix of it throughout my blog. Again, Thank You for sharing, and have a great weak.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love kids poetry. Books by authors such as Graeme Base (especially The Worst Band in the Universe) were a delight to read to the Barbarians. I have kept those books even though they are of no interest to them now, because I love them.

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    • You are so right. I do love how some poets know just how to talk to kids. Shel Silverstein is another. e.e. Cummings–“Germs–Adam had’em”.

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  8. Hi Jacqui – thank you so much for this … I’ll be back to read properly … I’ve never got into poetry – and have been thinking sometime that I must take a proper look … so I’ll listen to the TED talk … sounds so interesting. I love the basic rhyming poems that we all learn as kids … but never got beyond those – so I’m glad it’s Poetry month – take care – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the write-up on poetry, Jacqui. Though I have never regularly followed or read any poetry, I think each person gets drawn to different kinds of poetry, and in different ways at different points in life. School was clearly the first exposure and William Wordsworth perhaps the first poet whose poetry moved me.

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