Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
The Favorite Poem Project launched by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky reminded us that the audience for poetry was much larger than many would have us believe. We discovered that tens of thousands of Americans, from all walks of life, have favorite poems they’ve carried with them through their lives, often committed to memory.
It’s easy to lose track of how pervasive a presence poetry is because for much of the time the poems that matter to us are carried “by heart” within us, where they are rarely heard by others. When we do give poems a voice, the audience is often small and intimate: we say them to a beloved, to friends or family, or to a gathering at our local café or library.
Because of this, we may be led to the false impression that few people care about poetry. But poetry circles, reading groups, workshops and open mics are in nearly every city, suburb and small town. In the tiny rural village where I now live, the two coffee shops in town have each run their own poetry reading series. Such gatherings might be small, but they are everywhere.
And poetry has been shared in small gatherings for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years. This is how it has been since before the development of written language, and how it will likely be for as long as human beings exist. The audience for poetry hasn’t diminished; it’s just that in the last century many of the other performance arts have reached the scale of spectacle.
Compared to a rock concert in Madison Square Garden, or the latest 3-D epic in an IMAX theater, a poetry reading can seem like a small event. But for much of human history theater and music were performed on a scale closer to that of a poetry reading. Before the invention of electronic amplification and Jumbotrons, their size was dependent upon the power of the human voice.
The poetry reading reminds us of that power, of the intimate experience of gathering together to listen closely to one another. There may never be a single poetry reading that packs Giants’ stadium as a Springsteen concert can, but there are easily as many people listening to poetry at the thousands of poetry readings happening on any given night.
So, to celebrate National Poetry Month, check your local paper and visit the nearest reading or open mic. There’s sure to be some listed. Or track down one of your favorite poems, perhaps one you haven’t revisited in years, and have your own poetry reading, even if the only audience is a beloved, or a friend, or yourself.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays and to visit our Poetry Festival website for news on the upcoming 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.