To all my lovely readers, friends, random visitors: tomorrow is the last day of National Poetry Month AND Poem in Your Pocket Day.
The point of the day is to celebrate poetry by sharing it with others. Print out your favorite poem and read it to a friend at lunch. E-mail one to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Read one over the phone to your mom. Plaster the boring bathroom stalls in your dorm with beautiful words. You get the point.
I wrote a column about this delightful holiday last year for the Stanford Daily. I’d post the link but the Daily Archives are a bit wonky so here’s some of the text with a few alterations and cuts:
What do you carry around in your pockets every day? A lanyard heavy with keys, a weathered wallet, your (only) chewed-up pen? Backpack pockets and purses count, too. What small treasures do you deem essential enough for constant transport? This upcoming Thursday, Apr. 30th, the Academy of American Poets and your trusty columnist (blogger?) here are encouraging you to place a poem in that lint-filled compartment of yours in honor of the first national Poem in Your Pocket Day.
The “rules” of celebrating this day, which falls on the last day of National Poetry Month, are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. You need to share it with people by unfurling the little piece of paper and reading it aloud whenever you can. Or, if you prefer, by inviting someone to stick their hand in your pocket and read it to you.
Because I am a lover of poetry, the possibilities of this day — or what it represents — really excite me. I realize, however, that my giddiness over poetry might not be shared by the masses. It makes me sad when I hear friends, peers or even adults say that they don’t read or enjoy poetry because they don’t think they “get it.” I think we all carry around this painful image of hunching over a poem in a high school English class, trying to squeeze out meaning by underlining as many literary terms as possible, hoping that the shiny key is located somewhere in that third example of synecdoche.
As an English major, I would be lying (and also admitting to wasting huge amounts of time) if I said there was no value in that kind of poetic investigation. However, I think that one can enjoy poetry and dare I say understand poetry without beating it senseless.
If it makes you think, if it makes you smile, if it makes you walk through the world differently that day, it has meaning. To you. Pleasure is too often underrated in an art form that celebrates the power of words.
The door to poetry is different for everyone. Some prefer the easy-to-open, familiar screen door of Billy Collins and the like. Others would rather scratch away at a cast-iron gate until it creaks open or ignore doors altogether and squeeze in through the chimney. My first real portal to poetry was through the oven door of Sylvia Plath when I was fifteen-years-old. Cliche? Maybe. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. Something in her raw confessions resonated with me, and I’ve been devouring poetry ever since.
I get slightly frustrated when I hear people arguing against poets like Billy Collins or poetry-arrangers like Prairie Home Companion man Garrison Keillor simply on the principle that they are philistines — the fast-food verses for the impatient masses, the easy listening for those unwilling to hear something a little more complex. In my opinion, it is better to have access than to never find an entry point at all. And that’s what events like Poem in Your Pocket Day try to accomplish, as well. To bring poetry out of the anthologies and into our every day lives.
I think it’s important for the poems to be read aloud as much as possible — for your voice to bring the authors’ to life. But if you’re understandably apprehensive about disrupting your chemistry section to share some Yeats, there are other ways to celebrate the day. Slip haikus under people’s doors; read a sonnet over the phone to a friend; cover the bathroom stall doors with some soothing verses.
So come Thursday, tuck a poem into your pocket, backpack, bike basket or whatever and share it whenever you can. Reminisce about childhood over some Shel Silverstein. Lament the cruelties of April and the annoyance of footnotes over T.S. Eliot. Get your seminar hot and breathlessly bothered with Walt Whitman. Feel fragmented with Sappho. Partake in the guilty pleasure of William Carlos William’s plums. Get conceit-ed with John Donne. Or, liberate a poem you wrote from the digital dust of your laptop and let it be heard.