As April and National Poetry Month come to an end, I’d like to take a moment to address all of those out there who hate National Poetry Month. They’re the same people who don’t like Black History Month (well, not the same exact people, but for the same reason) because they feel like it shouldn’t need to exist. I don’t think the metaphor is perfect, because the arguments for why Black History Month should/shouldn’t exist and why National Poetry Month should/shouldn’t need to exist are very different, but to these poets, NPM comes with a medicinal connotation. “It’s April everyone! You know what that means: time to take your daily poetry pill!”
I get it. If you love poetry, National Poetry Month might make you feel like some greasy carpetbagger schilling snake oil to the masses. I don’t see why that needs to be the case, though. There is an inherent elitism that comes from being a poet/poetry reader, even amongst the most humble of us. We tend to believe that we understand poetry because we are somehow more intelligent or more sensitive or more intuitive or more something, and a broad strokes national campaign to raise poetical awareness makes many people think that we’re forcing others to imbibe poetry “because it’s good for you.”
Well fuck, it IS good for you. Maybe not this poem or that poem or whatever I like or your old professors liked or whatever, but poetry can be and often is anything we want it to be. Why is that a bad thing? Also, it’s true that many poets push National Poetry Month strictly “because it’s good for you,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a universal motive. I enjoy poetry, and I write and post poems because I want to share my poetry and the poetry of others with the world. I want to have shared experiences with people in my life that involve this great love of mine, and National Poetry Month is a great time to make a concentrated effort to enhance what is already a daily/weekly/monthly habit of mine: introducing friends, family, and acquaintances to poems I love or experiencing new poems along with them.
If you don’t like National Poetry Month, then that’s fine. No one is forcing you. I’d only ask that you really consider why that is. If there’s an aspect of pride, because you feel like it brings the Great Name of Poetry down a few pegs to hawk and holler about it all month when you prefer that it be silently absorbed through the pores, then I think maybe the problem isn’t NPM but your relationship with poetry. Your experience and your read and your emotional translation of a poem are all your own, but poetry is for everyone, and there’s no shame in sharing it with the world. We should honor/appreciate/celebrate veterans/mothers/women every day, but we still have Veterans’ Day/Mother’s Day/Women’s History Month. The same goes for poetry. Oh hey, I think that’s 500 words! Yes!
Anyway, my favorite poem and the one that I’m ending National Poetry Month with has nothing to do with any of that. As I mentioned briefly when I posted “You Who Never Arrived,” I really love the unseen connections that exist in the universe, and Rilke was fantastic at putting that into words. In this poem, there’s a sense of incompleteness, almost as if the narrator is incapable of ever being truly satisfied. His entire world is defined by those things that are not in his world, those things that can’t be defined, which is something that has always resonated with me. I—like many others, I’m sure—have always struggled with really appreciating what I have instead of worrying all the time about the things that I don’t have. That’s no way to live a life, and this romantic ideal of “blank joy,” very subtly subversive and satirical, has taught me a lot about living in and with the moments I’m given and not stressing so much about the things that I don’t yet have.
I hope you’re enjoyed National Poetry Month and have found at least one new favorite poem. I’ve certainly found quite a few, as well as some new favorite poets. If you have any suggestions for the next big project I should tackle on the website, let me know in the comments!
Blank Joy by Rainer Maria Rilke
She who did not come, wasn’t she determined
nonetheless to organize and decorate my heart?
If we had to exist to become the one we love,
what would the heart have to create?
Lovely joy left blank, perhaps you are
the center of all my labors and my loves.
If I’ve wept for you so much, it’s because
I preferred you among so many outlined joys.