National Poetry Month, Celebrating Literary Awareness and Achievement

By Erin Cotton

The art of poetry is essential to language. Being a fundamental expression of emotions, cultural values, and ideologies as expressed in distinctive style and rhythm traits, this condensed, linguistic-centered, form of writing is often used to convey deep and personal meaning. The monumental importance of poetry, to both education and literary awareness, is celebrated around the world each April. 

National Poetry Month is an international literary celebration marking poetry’s importance to cross-cultural and personal expression. The Academy of American Poets, AAP, established National Poetry Month in 1996 with the goals of encouraging the general distribution, reading, teaching and support of poetry on a global scale. Liberal arts colleges across the nation have spent this past month meeting these goals by grounding the value of poetry within their campuses.

A co-sponsored event between the English Department and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Auburn University in Alabama, invited poet Steve Scafidi to give a reading at the campus in celebration of National Poetry Month. Scafidi, from Summit Point, West Virginia, is the author of many poetry collections including Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer and The Cabinetmaker’s Window. His command over language gives new voice to American history. Through sensuous diction, mixing the realm of dream and desire with fact, Scafidi takes readers on a journey to experience society within the American South through a new lense.

To combat the uneasiness and anxiety often associated with the study of poetry, Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, celebrated National Poetry Month with a series of readings and performances by faculty and invited guest presenters. A critical goal of AAP is to replace these fears through community-building events such as this that build an understanding of poetry’s purpose as well as an interest and passion for this linguistic form.

Auburn University at Montgomery, College of Arts and Sciences, took the goal of awareness one step further by hosting four separate events all aimed toward different age groups and educational levels, and featured the work of writers across a spectrum of experience. The college titled these events: “Four Mondays of Poetry.”

The first Monday featured a poetry workshop open to all students with local poet Tony Crunk, author of Living in Resurrection. The following Monday, an open mic was held at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, which was open to both college and high school students. On April 20, local poets were invited to the campus to read their works as well. The final event featured a reading by nationally recognized poet, Maurice Manning, author of four poetry collections including The Common Man. These events work collectively toward the goals of AAP by promoting the creative process in young writers, sparking conversation, and providing the foundations for a positive environment to relieve anxieties and improve linguistic precision.

William Wordsworth once referred to poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Scafidi’s reading at Auburn University exemplifies the ability of words, when purposely composed in a pattern of sections, rhythms and sounds, to empower a people, express cultural significance, and at the same time set aside intention for individualized interpretation. Poetry is like a paint-spattered canvas, where the flecks of paint are words and the image they collectively represent is left to beholder’s interpretation.

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry,” explained Emily Dickinson.

Erin Cotton is a junior at Wheaton College majoring in anthropology and creative writing. Wheaton College is the home of the Kappa of Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.