Poetry in motion

Celebrating the art of verse during April

Celebrating the art of verse during April

April 10, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Poet T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month, but in case you didn't know it, April is National Poetry month.

Sure, April is a lot of other months, too - Math Awareness Month, National Humor, Garden, Food, Soyfoods and Financial Literacy for Youth Month, according to an Internet search, for William Shakespeare's sake.

The Academy of American Poets started National Poetry Month in April 1996 to "celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture," according to the organization's Web site at

It seems poetry does have a place in the culture of this region. Several poetry activities are planned in the Tri-State. And we are not alone.


Robert Pinsky, the 39th poet laureate of the United States, founded the Favorite Poem Project shortly after he was named to the post in 1997. Since it began, the project has been dedicated to "celebrating, documenting and promoting poetry's role in Americans' lives," according to the Web site at

During the project's one-year open call for submissions, 18,000 Americans - from 50 states, different occupations, educations and backgrounds, ages 5 to 97 - wrote and volunteered to share their favorite poems. Several collections came out of the project - printed anthologies as well as videos. Favorite poem submissions continue to be accepted online.

"Kids are into poetry these days," says Joan Selby, an English teacher at North Hagerstown High School.

Although Selby prefers admiring poems rather than discussing them as if they were prose broken into lines, she has to spend a little time breaking poetry down for her students. She helps them to learn about different poetic forms and devices - metaphors, similes, imagery. But she also talks to her students about the nontechnical aspects of poetry.

"Poetry is a way to find out what matters most," she says.

Some of Selby's 10th-grade students are reluctant to read aloud a favorite poem or one they have written. Selby asks anyway.

"You have nothing to lose, right?" she says.

Several of Selby's students read and write poetry - outside the classroom. She describes student B.J. Soto as "a rhyming kind of guy."

B.J., 15, explains that he really doesn't like to write free verse, but he does like to write poetry, and knowing "the rules" has helped him to create.

"I write down my feelings," he says. His poems have helped him to deal with the deaths of a friend and his grandfather.

Poetry also helps Lauren Sullivan, 15, share her feelings. Writing poetry makes her feel better, she says.

Sixteen-year-old Chris Grove says writing poetry relieves pain and stress. But he also enjoys poetry. He read aloud Shel Silverstein's funny "Pancake," a poem in "Where the Sidewalk Ends." His grandparents gave him the book several years ago.

People of different ages like poetry.

Ruby Diffendal, 85, was the winner of the adult division of the 2002 poetry contest sponsored by Washington County Free Library and Antietam Review, the literary magazine of the Washington County Arts Council.

Her poem "My Home," printed at left, a tribute to her childhood home in Culpepper, Va., has earned other honors. In 1991, she received an International Poet of Merit award at the annual International Society of Poets convention in Washington, D.C. The poem was published in the Poetry Guild's 1998 anthology.

Diffendal already was a grandmother when she wrote her first poem. It came about after her mother died.

"I felt like something was missing," she says. "I reckon it was my mother."

So she wrote down what her mother had said at the end of her life. "It was my feelings," she says.

Diffendal didn't enter the local contest this year, but she still writes poetry. "I think of poems while I'm lying in bed." She says she's written some "real, real wild" poems.

Winners of this year's contest, the sixth annual event, will be announced Wednesday, April 23, Shakespeare's birthday. The winning poems will be on display through May at Washington County Free Library, 100 S. Potomac St., in Hagerstown.

Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library does not have a poetry contest - on purpose. Some people are shy about sharing their poems, says Jane Levitan, young-adult librarian. She doesn't want people to be intimidated by a contest in which there are "losers" as well as winners.

It's the self-expression that is important, she says.

In the guise of Emily Dickinson, Debra Conner recited the early 19th-century poet's words and discussed her life and work at the library earlier during Poetry Month.

Other activities are planned, including Poetry Day on Wednesday, April 30. Poetry will be written, discussed and read aloud.

"There is real music in it," Levitan says.

"Good Poems Out Loud," will happen Friday, April 11, at Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg, Pa. It makes so much difference when you hear a poem, says Pat Reuse, library director.

Robert Frost's "Birches" is among the poems attorney and community-theater thespian Dick Shoap will read. A wide variety of poetic moods will be shared. Categories include "Time and Memory," "Nature," "Food for Thought," "Celebration," "Melancholy Reflections," "Humor in Verse" and "Nonsense."

"It's fun," Shoap says.

John Astegher, retired Hagers-town Community College professor of communications, says poetry is so much more.

"I think poetry gives you heart."

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