Let’s Love Poetry — April is National Poetry Month

I love poetry. I love the way it says so much by hardly saying anything. I love the way language becomes playful through the pen of a skilled artist. I love the way images juxtapose and compile to make new meaning.

I think too few people enjoy poetry because there is an assumption that every poem has a right answer that needs to be wrung from it through some mystifying process of decoding symbolism and rhyme and form.

While that can sometimes be helpful, I love a different approach to reading and writing poetry: enjoy it. Don't try to understand it or figure out what it “means.” There is no right answer. Instead, let it be what it is and be swept away — by the way the words sound together, how it feels coming out of your mouth as you speak. Enjoy the rhythms and the images and the things you don’t understand. Listen, and be unarmed by beauty.

In an interview with Poets & Writers, Poet Jenny George said something I wrote down and have sitting on my desk to remind me of why I do what I do: “I remind myself that language isn’t my job. Writing a poem isn’t my job. My job is the human job of waiting and listening, and language is just what poets use — like wind chimes — to catch the sound of the larger, more essential thing. Wind chimes themselves are not the point. The point is the wind.”

It is the most apt definition of poetry I have read. Poetry tells us about this experience of being human through the use of words put next to each other, and therefore, it is an important and necessary tool for sharing, for reconciliation, for peace.

April is National Poetry Month, and during it, I hope you celebrate all it means to be human by reading poems that shake you up and jolt you back awake, that make you marvel at beauty and loss and mundanity. I hope you enjoy poems by people who experience the world similarly to you, and I hope you seek out poems by people who experience the world differently than you. And I hope you use your time to place words side by side, writing a poem or two about your own experiences of being a person in the world. Happy celebrating!

Read some poetry: 5 places to find poets to love

The Unbound Book Festival based out of Columbia, Mo., is virtual this year, and they are hosting two poetry events with renowned poets this month at 7 p.m. The first, on April 15, is a poetry reading featuring Kerrin McCadden, Janine Joseph and Cate Marvin. The second is the keynote address on April 23, featuring Tracy K. Smith and Jericho Brown. Tune in at facebook.com/unboundbookfestival. These poets are a big deal — see you (virtually) there.

Poets.org hosts Poetry & The Creative Mind virtually April 29 at 6:30 p.m. The event brings together poets with artists of other disciplines to read poetry together and speak about how poetry inspires their work. Past readers have included Tina Fey, Paul Simon and Meryl Streep, among many others. For more information and to register for free, visit poets.org/academy-american-poets/programs/poetry-creative-mind.

The Poetry Magazine Podcast is produced by — you guessed it — Poetry Magazine and is a place where poets read their poems and discuss their work in relation to a larger context. Listen and subscribe at poetryfoundation.org/podcasts. You’ll find a host of other podcasts with poets speaking the wisdom of poetry there, too.

The Favorite Poem Project, a project founded by Robert Pinsky, the 39th poet laureate of the United States in 1997, features videos of Americans reading their favorite poems and talking about why they love them. Find the project at favoritepoem.org.

Sign up to receive a Poem a Day in your inbox year-round at poets.org.

Write some poetry: 5 ideas to get started

1. Write a poem about the way someone’s voice sounds.

2. Write a “perhaps” poem: Start each line with the word “perhaps.”

3. Have someone else place 10 random objects in a brown paper bag. Then, draw them out at random, one at a time. As you pull each one out of the bag, write that object into a line of a poem.

4. Write a poem that doesn’t rhyme or have a form. Then, find a form or rhyming structure you are interested in and rewrite the poem to follow those rules.

5. Practice the art of revision: Take a poem you or someone else has written and re-envision it into a different genre or medium. Write music for the poem’s words, turn the poem into a short story or write a creative nonfiction essay inspired by it. Paint something inspired by a line from the poem, cook a meal that goes along with the poem (and then read the poem as you dine), or pull out a word from the poem and use it as the first word in a new poem you write. Essentially, use a poem as inspiration to create something new in a medium you love. As is often the case with poetry, the possibilities are endless.