Imagine walking into an airy, beautiful, contemporary building with 50,000 poetry books, one of the largest audio and video archives of poetry in the word, a small theater for readings, spaces dedicated to workshops, meetings and conferences, and its own little cottage for visiting poets. The odds are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re among the people who will appreciate what a rare experience it would be.
It would take a poem to describe the feeling of standing in the main library of the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center in Tucson, looking around at the stacks, and trying to imagine the time, resources, work and perseverance that went into creating it. People, many people, chose to bring this place into existence and keep it thriving. Even in these times, there are people making a space for poetry, not only in their own lives, but for everyone.
That spirit is also behind the work of The Poetry Coalition, a group of the largest poetry non-profit organizations who are working together to bring poetry into more people’s lives. When we met in Arizona this past weekend, we all felt the power of the place we were in, not only the physical place of the Poetry Center, but the collaborative one created by our gathering together for a common purpose: to increase the visibility of the art form and demonstrate its unique ability to spark dialogue and encourage empathy.
One of the things we accomplished was to choose a shared theme for our March 2018 national series of poetry events: Poetry and the Body. This marks the second year that over twenty poetry organizations will present events on a common theme. Each organization brings its own approach, so check back with us at Dodge, and follow the Poetry Coalition news for information about events in your area.
After a day of meetings, we traveled to the Phoenix Art Museum for a reading by Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and Joy Harjo, hosted by Natalie Diaz in partnership with ArchiTEXTS: A Conversation Across Languages. Listening to those three powerful voices reminded all of us in the coalition that, yes, this is why we do the work we do.
Poetry Coalition members in attendance included executive and senior staff from the Academy of American Poets, the founder of National Poetry Month and administrative leader of the coalition; Beyond Baroque; CantoMundo, which serves Latinx poets; Cave Canem, which serves African American poets; the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest in the nation; Kundiman, which serves Asian American poets; Letras Latinas, which serves Latinx poets; Mass Poetry; the National Student Poets program; O, Miami; the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine; the Poetry Society of America; Poets House; Split This Rock poetry festival in Washington, D.C.; Urban Word and the Youth Poet Laureate program; the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State; and Woodland Pattern, the largest literary center in Wisconsin. This gathering was made possible thanks to a major grant from the Ford Foundation secured by the Academy of American Poets.