This sense of viral isolation, dread and global make-over — for better and worse — gets the proverbial juices flowing of our local and national bards. It’s not a stretch to say there are many people on our coast and farther east who consider themselves to be “poets.”
With a liberal dose of simile, any number of cultural and natural events harken the phrase, that they are “like poetry in action.”
For example: ever see a dolphin in the wild underwater? Ever see Carl Lewis compete in the long jump? Ever see a skateboarder compete in an extreme sports competition? Ever see a peregrine falcon dive at over 220 miles an hour?
April is National Poetry Month. Through the work of the Academy of American Poets who saw the success of other celebrations such as Black History Month and Women’s History Month — February and March, respectively — writers, poets and teachers helped found Poetry Month.
The aim is simple: highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets; encourage the reading of poems; assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms; increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media; encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books; encourage support for poets and poetry.
The Oregon coast celebrates writers through conferences, workshops, organizations and, of course, readings. For now, like the summer Olympics, the live lyrical works and in-your-face performances by poets have been cancelled.
However, there are online options. Lincoln County librarians are putting more resources up and are encouraging poets and other writers to record their performances.
I asked Toledo’s head librarian, Deborah Trusty, about her take on the written word’s value in a time of crisis.
“The value of literature is great, as it has always been, because it speaks to the universal human experiences. ‘Now,’ whenever now is for anyone, is always a good time for literature and an opportunity to contemplate the deeper feelings and experiences of what it means to be a human being,” she answered.
Yes, poetry can be dreaded, only because it has been poorly taught and presented.
Poet Marianne Klekacz stated, “I think many people are intimidated by poetry, a reaction that probably dates back to middle or high school. Elementary school students seem to get it immediately, because, I suspect, they haven’t had the imagination trained out of them yet.”
William Stafford is one of the country’s preeminent poets, one whose work is relevant in this time of COVID-19. His son, Kim — also a Willamette University faculty member — was poet laureate of Oregon until last year.
Here are some definitions of poetry:
Mary Oliver once said, “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”
Salvatore Quasimodo’s take: “Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”
According to Rita Dove, “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”
And James K. Baxter has said, “The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.”
Editor's Note: In this time of isolation, we invite our readers to express themselves and share words with others. Each week, we want to publish your work and create connection through art. Whether it’s your first stanza or you’re a poetry pro, we want to hear from you.
Please email your work to [email protected], along with your name and age or city of residence. We ask that submitted poetry is free of obscenities and is not sexually explicit in content.