National Poetry Month

Patricia Smith, National Poetry Month

national poetry month 2014
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about the festival

about the festival

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

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Poet-to-Poet

A multimedia educational project that invites young people to write poems in response to those shared by our Chancellors.

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Poem in Your Pocket Day

Thousands of individuals across the U.S. carried a poem in their pocket on April 24. 

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Poetry & the Creative Mind

Our twelfth annual gala sold out Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City on April 24.

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upcoming events

date
Jul 26 2014
Academy of American Poets Summer Reading Series at Governors Island

Lynn MelnickKamilah Aisha Moon, and Danniel Schoonebeek

A Reading at the New York City Poetry Festival
Location: Governors Island, Colonel’s Row
Free and open to the public.

Cosponsored by the Academy of American Poets and the New York City Poetry Festival

 
6am
Governors Island
Colonel's Row
New York, New York

Poems by Our Chancellors

Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Burning the Old Year
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
The Weakness
Toi Derricotte, 1941
That time my grandmother dragged me
through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up
by my arm, hissing, "Stand up,"
through clenched teeth, her eyes
bright as a dog's
cornered in the light.
She said it over and over,
as if she were Jesus,
and I were dead.  She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked
  on swirling
marble and passed through
brass openings—in 1945.
There was not even a black
elevator operator at Saks.
The saleswoman had brought velvet
leggings to lace me in, and cooed,
as if in service of all grandmothers.
My grandmother had smiled, but not
hungrily, not like my mother
who hated them, but wanted to please,
and they had smiled back, as if
they were wearing wooden collars.
When my legs gave out, my grandmother 
dragged me up and held me like God
holds saints by the
roots of the hair.  I begged her
to believe I couldn't help it.  Stumbling,
her face white
with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing
away from those eyes
that saw through
her clothes, under
her  skin, all the way down
to the transparent 
genes confessing.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
A Green Crab's Shell
Mark Doty, 1953
Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like—

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
—size of a demitasse—
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this—
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Personals
C. D. Wright, 1949
Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don't get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I'd meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I'm still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn't better suited.
I've seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish
like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs.
Which reminds me of a little known fact:
if we were going the speed of light, this dome
would be shrinking while we were gaining weight.
Isn't the road crooked and steep.
In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I'm not one
among millions who saw Monroe's face
in the moon. I go blank looking at that face.
If I could afford it I'd live in hotels. I won awards
in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago.
Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him
Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
tomorrow I leave to El Paso, Texas
Juan Felipe Herrera, 1948
see my brother-in-law with a styled shirt

in spite of his cancer below 

then a small dinner in the evening the next day

no one knows except I may be on the road

Mesquite where my father settled in '31

forty-five minutes west then a left you go in

sister Sarita waits for me on Abby Street

after decades in separate families we just met 

now I hear the clock snap I swipe an ant

time to walk my dogs five blocks and back

a different route to soothe the mind

it is the same one but I am hopeful
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Lyric
Khaled Mattawa, 1964
Will answers be found
like seeds
planted among rows of song?

Will mouths recognize
the hunger
in their voices, all mouths in unison,

the ah in harmony, the way words
of hope are more
than truth when whispered?

Will we turn to each other and ask,
how long
has it been...how long since?

A world now, a world then
and each
is seeking a foothold, trying

to remember when we looked
at one another
and found—A world again—Surely

what we long for is at the wheel 
contending.

Surely, we'll soon hear 
its unearthly groan.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Matriot Acts, Act I [History of Mankind]
Anne Waldman, 1945
you no longer believe in anything
movement of train, mauve waves
grammar's anomie
gets you down or
war at the back and crown of head
PsyOps, o chicken little the sky! the sky!
o the fallen sky an edge of blue
hanging but
still breathing those colors?
a garden broken & restored many times
how often trying to leave it, bend away
words from that beautiful throat
listen or break or oscillate or
clamor as opposed to "read about"
could you be my model human being
up there on the dais?
o you, she...maybe he's the one
& we came back from the cinema
glow behind our tears
and you saying a woman, a woman!
how tragic to be such slender thread of a woman
where was I being led?
more people thick in space
in constant motion
twisted around a clock
solar wind, solar heat, sociable matrix
it's an atavistic mixed-up dream
and stirs the branches
high in Freedom Park
it was the voice of a desultory fragment
of speech now, talking about "state" and "union"
how darkness turns at the wrist
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Headaches
Marilyn Hacker, 1942

Wine again. The downside of any evening’s
bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution :
stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s
site of bombardment.

Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary
like a forest littered with unexploded
cluster bombs, no exit except explosion
ripping the branches. 

Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table
wall a jar of Tiger Balm. You grope for its
glass netsuke hexagon. Tic stabs, dull pain 
supercedes voices,

stills obsessive one-sided conversations.
Turn from mouths you never will kiss, a neck your
fingers will not trace to a golden shoulder.
Think of your elders —

If, in fact, they’d died, the interlocutors
who, alive, recede into incoherence, 
you would write the elegy, feel clean grief, still
asking them questions

— though you know it’s you who’d provide the answers.
Auden’s Old People"s Home, Larkin’s The Old Fools
are what come to mind, not Yeats.  In a not-so
distant past, someone  

poured a glass of wine at three in the morning,
laid a foolscap pad on the kitchen table,
mind aspark from the long loquacious dinner
two hours behind her,

and you got a postcard (a Fifties jazz club) 
next day across town, where she scrawled she’d found the
tail-end of a good Sancerre in the fridge and
finished the chapter. 

Now she barely knows her friends when you visit.
Drill and mallet work on your forehead. Basta!
And it is Màrgaret you mourn for..  Get up, 
go to the bathroom. 

You take the drugs. Synapses buzz and click.
You turn the bed lamp on, open a book :
vasoconstrictor and barbiturate 
make words in oval light reverberate.
The sky begins to pale at five o’clock. 
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Lay Back the Darkness
Edward Hirsch, 1950
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops. 
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Imagining Starry
Marie Ponsot, 1921
The place of language is the place between me

and the world of presences I have lost

—complex country, not flat. Its elements free-

float, coherent for luck to come across;

its lines curve as in a mental orrery

implicit with stars in active orbit,

only their slowness or swiftness lost to sense.

The will dissolves here. It becomes the infinite

air of imagination that stirs immense

among losses and leaves me less desolate.

Breathing it I spot a sentence or a name,

a rescuer, charted for recovery,

to speak against the daily sinking flame

& the shrinking waters of the mortal sea.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
After David Hammons
Claudia Rankine

In the darkened moment a body gifted with the blue light of a flashlight
enters with levity, with or without assumptions, doubts, with desire,
the beating heart, disappointment, with desires—

Stand where you are.

You begin to move around in search of the steps it will take before you
are thrown back into your own body, back into your own need to be found.

Destinations are lost. You raise yourself. No one else is seeking.

You exhaust yourself looking into the blue light. All day blue burrows
the atmosphere. What doesn't belong with you won't be seen.

You could build a world out of need or you could hold everything
back and see. You could hold everything back. You hold back the black.

You hold everything black. You hold this body's lack. You hold yourself
back until nothing's left but the dissolving blues of metaphor.

Poems by Our Chancellors
next
The Chair She Sits In
Alberto Ríos, 1952

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in

But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one

And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.

There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.

It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,

The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.

It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.

Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Late Self-Portrait by Rembrandt
Jane Hirshfield, 1953

The dog, dead for years, keeps coming back in the dream.
We look at each other there with the old joy.
It was always her gift to bring me into the present—

Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.

Happiness and unhappiness
differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one of pressed tin,
this painting proposes.

Each carries the same water, it says.

Poems by Our Chancellors
next
Dusting
Marilyn Nelson, 1946
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.
Poems by Our Chancellors
next
At the Equinox
Arthur Sze, 1950
The tide ebbs and reveals orange and purple sea stars. 
I have no theory of radiance, 

                but after rain evaporates 
off pine needles, the needles glisten. 

In the courtyard, we spot the rising shell of a moon,
and, at the equinox, bathe in its gleam. 

Using all the tides of starlight, 
                we find 
                vicissitude is our charm.

On the mud flats off Homer, 
I catch the tremor when waves start to slide back in; 

and, from Roanoke, you carry 
                the leafing jade smoke of willows. 

Looping out into the world, we thread 
                and return. The lapping waves 

cover an expanse of mussels clustered on rocks; 
and, giving shape to what is unspoken, 
		
                forsythia buds and blooms in our arms.

recent news and updates

May 28 2014
For this year's National Poetry Month, we asked students throughout the United States to write and submit poems in response to those shared by some of the award-winning poets who serve on our Board of Chancellors. We received over 1,000 submissions to our Poet-to-Poet Project, including poems from the National Student Poets and the students at 826 chapters nationwide. Thank you to all of the participants! View a selection of Poet-to-Poet poems here.  
May 19 2014
Thank you to our sponsors and the many millions of teachers, students, booksellers, librarians, small press publishers, and especially poets, who helped make National Poetry Month the largest literary celebration in the world. In April 2014, National Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket Day was mentioned thousands of times in news publications throughout the United States, and many inspiring events took place in local communities. For example, one North Carolina based poet was able to secure 18 official mayoral proclamations declaring April as National Poetry Month.

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