Thank you for sharing our belief that poetry is one of the great art forms, and that reading and appreciating poems—from classic to contemporary work—enriches our lives in deep, transformative ways. Because they are made and molded with language—the clay of communication—poems have the unique power to uplift and wake us. They are meant to be returned to and reread, to demonstrate the possibilities of language to depict what Muriel Rukeyser described as “the emotional meanings at every moment.” And as it is our feelings, as Audre Lorde wrote, that “are our most genuine paths to knowledge,” poets—artists who wield words with care and precision and trade in beauty and truth—have an increasingly meaningful role to play in our culture and communities. Sometimes the knowledge poems offer resonates on a personal level. We contemplate the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” that Mary Oliver poses as a request in her poem “The Summer Day.” And other times, as Elizabeth Alexander reminds us in her “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe,” the knowledge is beyond ourselves and toward community, as “Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) / is the human voice, / and are we not of interest to each other?” The historic appointment of our Chancellor Joy Harjo as the poet laureate of the United States, the first Native American poet to be awarded this distinction, is an important step forward for our nation, one we applaud. We are also honored to introduce you to the first Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellows, all of whom have been indefatigably working in their states, cities, and towns to share poetry with young people and address urgent issues, such as the devastating effects of the California wildfires and the protection of the Columbia River, with public poetry projects. Thinking about poetry and the public sphere, we are launching a new poetry prize this fall thanks to Treehouse Investments that will seek poems that help convey the urgency of addressing our dire impact on the environment. As author and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote: “I’ve spent thirty years thinking about climate change—talking with scientists, economists, and politicians about emission rates and carbon taxes and treaties. But the hardest idea to get across is also the simplest: We live on a planet, and that planet is breaking. Poets, it turns out, can deliver that message.” Thank you for helping us champion poetry and poets, as well as the guiding lines they write—beacons, light.
This letter originally appeared in the Fall-Winter 2019 issue of American Poets, the biannual journal of the Academy of American Poets. Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Benka. To receive American Poets, become a member.
Browse more from the Fall-Winter 2019 issue of American Poets.