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Wednesday, April 6,2011

30 days of verse

April is the time to cherish; Poetry — let it never perish!

by Bill Castanier
Allen Ginsberg would be howling over poetry’s evolution from coffee houses and the dank corridors of ivy-covered halls to highway billboards proclaiming “I geek poetry.” He would also be pleased that poetry is still being used to extort social causes.

National Poetry Month is in full swing (albeit in competition with National Occupational Therapy Month, Jazz Appreciation Month and International Guitar Month) and a significant number of events are being held in the Lansing area.


The most significant series is the Spring Poetry Festival at Michigan State University, sponsored jointly by the Residential Center for Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry and the MSU Press.


On Tuesday, poet Todd Davis, who teaches creative writing at Penn State University’s Altoona College, will read at 7 p.m.; Davis has written three books of poems, won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.


At 4:30 p.m. April 18, Nicaraguan poet and Roman Catholic priest Ernest Cardinal reads and discusses his poetry. Cardinal is the author of 35 books and studied with Thomas Merton. He is noted for writing poetry charged with political activism, much of it linked to his involvement with the Sandinista movement.


At 7 p.m. April 19, Anita Skeen, an MSU professor and director of the Center for Poetry, reads from her new collection, “Never the Whole Story,” published by the MSU Press and currently on the list of poetry best sellers. All these events are held in the RCAH Theater in the basement of Snyder-Phillips Hall.


Skeen, who has directed the Poetry Center since its inception four years ago, said she senses a resurgence of poetry.


“The slam poets have definitely helped put poetry back into public perception,” she said, adding that poetry thrives during tough times and people are so busy “twitter-tweeting” that they won’t read a novel.


For those who like to tweet a poem, you can do that by using the hashtag #LONpoem. The tweet will automatically appear on www.lansingonlinenews.com, which is also running a Poem/a/Day during Poetry Month to recognize Lansing and Michigan poets.


Skeen also cites the power of social media to spread the word about good poetry. She points to online poetry sites, such as Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac" and poets.org, which post daily poems and deliver them to your e-mail. There are also apps to deliver a poem a day to your mobile device.


But in spite of social media success, Skeen still likes the old-fashioned way of memorizing poems for recital: “Memorize a poem and you can carry it around in your head and pull it out anytime.”


Skeen said she sees poetry being read for a variety of reasons.


“Poetry is wonderful for the music and the pure beauty of its sound. It puts you in a reflective state and should be read for the pure joy it brings.”


Stephanie Glazier, assistant director of the Poetry Center who is working on a master’s degree in poetry, said she began reading poetry for a variety of reasons — including coping with a short attention span.


“You can sit with a poem and read a complete work in five minutes," she said. "It’s a distilled version of the world I can take in one succinct breath.”


Glazier, who has been writing poetry for five years, said it has only been in the past few months that she has become comfortable with her voice.


“I can look at the page and can see that’s my voice, and I like that. I’m comfortable with my own voice and how it sounds on the page.”


Why write poetry? Glazier says she has no choice.


“I don’t want to — I have to. I don’t think that any time in history anyone has gone into the profession to make money. It’s part of who I am and writing poetry is how I process information about myself and the world.”


Local poet Melissa Dey Hasbrook organizes poetry events in conjunction with social causes. She has a similar outlook on why she writes poetry.


“It’s like breathing and something very natural for me. It’s intuitive and instinctual, and it’s hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t writing poetry."


Through HerStories Project, the writing organization she founded, Hasbrook is sponsoring a fund-raising and awareness event focused on sexual assault and survivors.


The event, "Light in the Dark: Words of Life, Love & Loss," will be at 7 p.m. April 21 at the Mid-Michigan Family Theatre in Frandor. Donations go to the Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center, which is founding a new Capital Area Sexual Assault Response Center.


At the event, Dey Hasbrook will read poems from her second book, joining local poet and Delta College Professor Chey Davis and Claire Vallotton, an MSU graduate who is making her literary debut.


At 7 p.m. April 26, student poets from MSU will read from their work and — in the tradition of Allen Ginsberg and performance poetry — everyone is invited to pick up a piece of chalk for the Spring Poetry Chalking outside of Snyder Phillips Hall, which takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. April 28. Original poems and classics can be chalked on the sidewalk.





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