Happy National Poetry Month! And what better month to celebrate, as Webster put it,
“Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.
Bookish, yes. But true.
April’s a month festooned with birthdays of some of the most glorious wordsmiths the world has ever known: Shakespeare (born and died on his birthday, April 23), Hans Christian Anderson (whose fairytales read like narrative poems, April 2), George Herbert (April 3), Maya Angelou (April 4), Algernon Charles Swinburne (April 5), the late, great country poet-songwriter, Merle Haggard (April 6), William Wordsworth (April 7), E. Y.. “Yip” Harburg (wrote “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” April 8), Charles-Pierre Baudelaire (April 9), Seamus Heaney (Whitbread winner for his translation of Beowulf, April 13), Walter De La Mare (April 25), Robert Penn Warren (first US Poet Laureate, April 24).
This isn’t simply a list of names. These are friends, some of whom were introduced to me by my father, Max Grant. All of whom I have read time and again. Dad was a petroleum engineer with the heart of a scrub brush poet. When he told us bedtime stories, you never knew if you were going to get a “made up” story, a chapter out of Will James, or one of the old cowboy poems that he loved so much. I was reared in a storytelling family in South Texas. Most of the poetry I heard and learned in those early days were story poems by the likes of Robert W. Service the poet laureate of the Yukon. Poems like The Cremation of Sam McGee:
There are strange things done in the midnight sunBi the men who moil for gold;The Arctic trails have their secret tales,That would make your blood run cold;
Or, The Ballad of Salvation Bill:
‘Twas in the bleary middle of the hard-boiled Arctic night,
I was lonesome as a loon, so if you can,
Imagine my emotions of amazement and delight
When I bumped into that Missionary Man.
It wasn’t until I reached high school that I graduated to Shakespeare, Angelou, and scores of poets living outside the April calendar. And yet, despite the beauty, the elegance, and perfection of more complex forms, my first love was and will always be the narrative poems of my youth. I suppose, because they were as close to story as you could get. But more importantly, there’s the warm memory of my dad reading or reciting those great cowboy poems by the fire on a winter’s night, or camping under the big oak down on the river. I think it’s the relationship with my dad more than the poems themselves that made poetry special in my life.
Why not choose one of the April poets from the list above and really read one of their poems aloud? It doesn’t have to be long. Then share it with someone you love.
Who knows? You may even come to experience a “specific emotional response!”