National Poetry Month is fast approaching. Wait? You didn’t know that there was a National Poetry Month? C’mon, there’s a National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (which was observed on Jan. 31 this year) and October is National Pizza Month. Of course, there is a National Poetry Month.

April is the month we celebrate reading, writing, and sharing one of the oldest forms of the written and spoken word. The official website says, “Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month reminds the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters.” So I wanted to share with you some of the reasons I celebrate this month and some of the ways you can celebrate too.

Frankly, poetry’s gotten a bad rap. Whether it was “tortur[ing] a confession out of it,” as renowned modern poet Billy Collins puts it, or being forced to memorize lines of Shakespearean iambic pentameter in high school, most people are put off by the ancient form of communication. But for me, it’s been a source of beauty and escape. Poetry has been a part of my life ever since I was an aspiring young writer in kindergarten. In fact, my first poem ever published—ok, one of my only poems published—was in the Salina Journal when I was just 6 years old:

All the trees
have lost their leaves
‘cept for the Christmas trees
(Salina Journal, December 22, 1989)

Profound, I know.

But that’s the beauty of poetry! It meets people where they are. It speaks to different people in different ways. Put simply, poetry is a microscope for the world, examining tiny slivers of life as the poet sees it. The poet artfully manipulates language to reveal the truth of our world. It celebrates and condemns; confesses and connects; consoles and counsels. Poetry can be a balm for the soul all while auditing what it means to be human.

Have I mentioned that I love poetry?

So this coming month, I challenge you to open your poetic soul a little.

Challenge to Get Involved

One way you can get involved is by joining the Salina Arts & Humanities Commission 2022 Spring Poetry Series, which is in its 38th year. It features readings and talks from poets each Tuesday evening through April at 7 p.m. in various locations.

This year’s series is exciting for two reasons. First, they are getting to do both in-person and virtual meetings after canceling for Covid-19 safety in 2020 and doing all online readings last year. Secondly, this year is exciting because Kansas Poet Laureate Huascar Medina has curated the selection of poets.

According to the news release, “Medina selected poets with a broad range of perspectives featuring experiences from working with incarcerated populations to humans’ relationship with soil and the prairie.” You can attend events with poets Bobby LeFebre on April 5; Michael Kleber-Diggs on April 12; Megan Kaminiski on April 19; and Huascar Medina himself on April 26. Three of the readings—LeFebre’s, Kaminiski’s, and Medina’s—will take place in the Homewood Suites courtyard while Kleber-Diggs’ reading will take place at The Temple 1st Floor Atrium.

Challenge to Read

Naturally, a way you can celebrate this month is to read. I challenge you to read 1 poem a day. You can find a poem a day for the month–and more–from the national program Poetry 180, originally collected by U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003) Billy Collins for the Library of Congress.

Read poetry from award-winning local poets Lori Brack (works A Case for the Dead Letter Detective and Museum Made of Breath); Harley Elliot with his multiple publications; and Don Wagner (Waiting for the Rain: Poems from the Prairies).You can also check out Al Ortolani’s Swimming Shelter, an acclaimed collection of poetry from the pandemic.

Our nation’s first Young Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, offered a voice of hope in the midst of turmoil. Or turn to Shel Silverstien, The Poetry of Mr. Rogers, or some classic Dr. Seuss to share with the young ones in your life.

There are so many more I’d like to share, but I’m sure you have other things to read as well. So you can check out my list here to see some of my favorite collections. (By the way, you don’t even want to get me started on Walt Whitman!)

Challenge to Write

Finally, write some poetry. This is probably the best way to celebrate, in my humble opinion. I challenge you to write a poem a day. Write poems that are deep, sweeping the reader off their feet. Write bad poetry. Really! Slogging through the mire helps us find the gems.

You are formally invited to join me for one of two Poetry Write-ins either on Sunday, April 3 or April 24 in the McKenzie Center. Here you can be inspired to write and share poetry with others who love the craft as much as I do. Since I teach high school English full time, I also have some tools to help inspire and get you started. One tool is Metaphor Dice, developed by renowned poet and former teacher Taylor Mali. These are dice the user rolls to come up with random metaphors that can inspire a new poem.

No matter your preference, I hope you take the month of April to recognize the impact poetry has had on our world. Hopefully, your quest into the poetic universe is only just beginning.