Founded in 1934 and now celebrating its 80th anniversary in a big way, the Academy of American Poets aims to support American poets and foster an appreciation of contemporary poetry through readings and events, an extensive awards program, a three-day forum each fall, the biannual American Poet magazine, a jam-packed website, a Poetry Audio archive that includes more than 800 items, and more. Perhaps the academy’s greatest and certainly its most visible success is National Poetry Month, launched in 1996 as an annual April event and designed to bring poetry closer to the public and the media. This month’s celebrations come with some especially big news.
First, starting this week, the academy’s Poem-a-Day program will be syndicated by King Features Syndicate, a member of the Hearst Entertainment and Syndication Group and a leading distributor of syndicated features to newspapers, magazines, web portals, mobile outlets, and news organizations worldwide. Begun in 2006, Poem-a-Day features each weekday a previously unpublished piece written by a contemporary U.S.-based poet, solicited by the academy, and accompanied by a brief biography and poet’s statement for context. Weekends see the publication of a classic from the public domain, and all the poems are posted and archived on the academy’s website.
With the program nearing 100,000 email subscribers (and totaling some 300,000 readers, with distribution also via social media feeds), Executive Director Jennifer Benka recognized a key growth area and sought to expand distribution by approaching Glenn Mott, King’s managing editor and publishing director and a poet himself. King saw the value of reintegrating poetry into the news flow’s cultural content, from which it has been absent, and now Poem-a-Day will extend its reach with offerings made available free of charge to any news editors. (Those not not currently syndication clients can set up an account.) Says Benka, “We’re excited to renew the long tradition of poems being published in news publications.”
In another significant outreach, the academy is introducing Poet-to-Poet, a multimedia educational project that encourages youngsters in grades three to 12 to write poems of their own after seeing videos of some of the academy’s award-winning poet chancellors sharing their work. Available on the website and on YouTube, the videos offer approachable choices (“Once I knew a man who gave his wife/ two skunks for a valentine./ He couldn’t understand why she was crying,” reads Naomi Shihab Nye) and include scarf-bedecked Naropa Institute cofounder Anne Waldman vigorously performing “Manatee/Humanity.” Poet-to-Poet comes with lesson plans designed by curriculum expert Dr. Madeline Holzer to meet Common Core Standards, and aspiring young poets can email their work (together with their name and the name of the poet who inspired them) to email@example.com by April 30. A selection of these poems will be published on the website in May.
Celebratory events will last the entire month, but April 24, figures prominently. That’s National Poem in Your Pocket Day, initiated in 2002 by the New York City Office of the Mayor, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education, and taken over by the academy in 2008 and expanded nationwide to schools, communities, and the workplace. Suggestions include writing verse on the back of one’s business cards and distributing bookmarks with favorite lines, and participants are encouraged to submit their own ideas. Also on April 24, the academy will hold its annual Poetry & the Creative Mind event at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. This year’s event, featuring Meryl Streep, Patrick Stewart, and National Student Poet Michaela Coplen, among others, will honor the academy’s 80th anniversary by presenting American poems written during the past 80 years. And one more bit of anniversary partying: a totally redesigned academy website, coming sometime this month.
National Poetry Month aims for broad-based participation, with no permission needed to join in and any school, library, bookstore, or nonprofit organization allowed to use the NPM logo. Librarians are offered tip sheets with suggestions ranging from display to outreach, together with library success stories (submit yours to firstname.lastname@example.org). Workshops, poetry walls, and poetry readings by patrons or local poets have proved especially popular; the Northwestern Michigan College library’s tying poetry books to computer workstations so that students can read while sitting out slow downloads is inspired. Librarians can also request copies of the National Poetry Month poster, this year’s by acclaimed designer Chip Kidd. But hurry: Requests can be made through an online order form until April 15 only; after that, librarians can email for a copy while supplies last.
From New York City’s Twitter poetry contest (use #NYCPoetweet) to Miami’s monthlong O, Miami poetry festival (which this year includes its first-ever Lit Crawl and a music- and refreshments-laden Poetry in the Park event featuring former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and National Book Award winner Nikki Finney), National Poetry Month truly has become a major national event. Everyone is encouraged to follow along on Twitter using #NPM14. Library Journal has always done its part with a feature in the April 15 book review. This year’s feature, “Thirty Amazing Poetry Titles for Spring 2014,” includes stellar works by poets like Julie Carr, Keetje Kuipers, and Willie Perdomo that go beyond the obvious. Start your reading now.