In 1996, the American Academy of Poets established National Poetry Month, which is now one of the largest literary celebrations in the world. Caribbean-American writer, activist and poet Audre Lorde writes, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” So, dive in, wrestle with, and rediscover the foundation of society’s architecture through local state humanities councils’ poetry-related programs. There are multiple ways to participate in April’s worldwide celebration of poetry – through reading and discussion groups, evening lectures, writing workshops, conversations with Pulitzer Prize-winning poets, festivals, and even the Indy 500! Check out the list of featured council poetry programs or read on and learn more.

Notable Veteran and Student Poetry Programming

Describing his war experiences, his connection with other veterans, and poetry, Vietnam veteran and poet, Steve Mason, said in a 1986 interview with The Chicago Tribune that “He had expected to find himself through the poems. ‘Instead of me,’ he said, ‘I found us.’” Humanities councils have long since recognized this importance of expression through poetry, and healing.  Council programs address PTSD, reintegration, and community understanding through connecting veterans with other veterans and exploring the experiences of war, on the field and back home, through poetry, literature, storytelling, and art. These programs include Standing Together, a grant initiative by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Literature and Medicine by the Maine Humanities Council, Service: Standing Down by the New York Council for the Humanities, War Ink by California Humanities, among others, and a new poetry-driven veteran’s program by the North Carolina Humanities Council called Arts & Humanities Deployed at the Charles George VA Medical Center. View all veteran council programming here.

Through poetry, councils are also reaching students and educators, challenging them to explore contemporary issues through the poems. In Pennsylvania, former York Poet Laureate Carla Christopher is facilitating the council’s popular Teen Reading Lounge program aimed at encouraging teens ages 12-18 to read contemporary literature and poetry, and share their reflections. In addition to serving the students, this program addresses capacity-building in library services directed to teens. In Hawaii, the council has partnered with Bamboo Ridge Press to feature humanities programs associated with local literature and poetry, including linking together poems by four women using a traditional Japanese model adapted to contemporary issues. The program features an online webpage, The Teachers Corner, to guide educators on how to use the content.

Additionally, several councils feature programs or opportunities to practice and develop poetry recitation and writing skills. The North Dakota Humanities Council, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, is supporting Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. And, Indiana Humanities is providing a poem and prompt, per day in April, developed by the Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner on a blog to encourage teachers to include the poetry in their lesson plans for the month.

Meet and Work with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poets, State Poet Laureates and More

Several councils are incorporating Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry and poets into their April programming. Humanities Montana is running a year-long series of workshops, interviews, and events through their program Pulitzer Poetry 100 and the North Carolina Humanities Council is conducting an interview with Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, followed by an evening of conversation open to the public. To learn more about council Pulitzer events, please visit the Spotlight on Pulitzer webpage, or check out the recent blog post on upcoming April events.

In addition to Pulitzer programming, many councils are featuring their state Poet Laureate in a number of events, including a series of workshops and evenings hosted by the Arizona Humanities Council, a Speakers Bureau program featuring Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon who will lead participants through a writing exercise using memories of a place they have once lived followed by a reading of her poetry collection, Many-Storied House, which grew out of a similar exercise. The Oklahoma Humanities Council and Humanities Washington are also conducting programs featuring their respective state poet laureates in conversation and in workshops with the public.

Community Events

Several councils are providing opportunities for communities to experience poetry through festivals, performances, book awards, and the Indy 500. In Oklahoma, The Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry (ROMP) has partnered with the council to host its 3rd Annual ROMPfest, a celebration of poetry during National Poetry Month. The festival will coincide with the museum’s exhibit “Your Poetry Autograph,” which brings back the historic tradition of writing poetry in autograph books that started in Germany in the 19th century. South Carolina is hosting the Folger Shakespeare Library’s traveling exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare!, from April 14-30, 2016, which includes poetry readings, a performance, and an interactive exhibit. Colorado Humanities is hosting its annual book awards, where four poetry finalists will recite their poems and where awards in at least ten categories, including poetry, will be given.

Finally, poet motorists… start your engines! Indiana Humanities will soon announce the Official Poet of the 100th Running of the Indy 500 later this month. Writers, poets and racing enthusiasts were asked to submit poems inspired by racing last month with the winner having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to read his/her poem at the track in May.

To view the full list of April’s featured poetry programs, please click here.

To view all council poetry-related programs, please visit the council program database and filter by the “poetry” subject.