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Dead Poets Remembrance Day: Putting America’s Dead Poets Back on the Map

By Annie Finch

It is my great honor and pleasure to announce here on Harriet the founding of a new national holiday, Dead Poets Remembrance day. Unlike my recent “Kegels for Poets” post, this one is completely for real:

Press Release

At the beginning stop of a 22-State “Dead Poets Grand Tour,” thirteen current and former State poets laureate, in cooperation with the Dead Poets Society of America, have chosen Shakespeare’s birthday to announce a new national literary holiday.

The holiday will be called the Dead Poets Remembrance Day, and will be held in locations around the nation next October 7th.

Fittingly, October 7th is the day that Edgar Allan Poe died.

“We are launching this tour in order to encourage groups of people in every state to get together on October 7th to honor our dead poets by reading at their graves,” said Walter Skold, the founder of the Dead Poets Society of America.

Along the way the Poemobile is going to visit the graves of some of the most and least-well known poets in the US, including Robert Lowell, Donald Justice, James Whitcomb Riley, Lydia Sigourney, John Trumball, Henry Timrod, Abram Ryan, and Sarah Whitman.

DPRD-example

“As Poet Laureate of South Carolina, the place with the oldest state poetry society in the country, Dead Poets Remembrance Day is particularly meaningful to me,” said Marjory Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina.

“The lives of many of our greatest poets are inherently fascinating, and learning about them and their work is a great way to get people excited about traditions in American poetry,” she added. “Poets bring a unique perspective to history and often illuminate the untold human dimension to events that are generally not told in history books.”

Stops along the 34-day poetry pilgrimage also include Lincoln’s Tomb, in Springfield, IL., the Poe Museum, in Richmond, VA., and Swan Point cemetery, in Providence, Rhode Island, where Poe courted the poetess Sarah Whitman.

In each city visited there is going to be a poetry party called a Dead Poets Bash, and the public will be invited sign-up to read a poem from one of their State’s dead poets. Locations and dates are at: http://deadpoets.typepad.com/dpsablog/

“Something like this has never been done before,” said Skold, “So this 22-State graveyard gig is the “rock concert” tour of the poetry world.”

The opening reading today in Portland Maine’s Eastern Cemetery was chosen because a British and an American sea captain that are mentioned in Longfellow’s famous poem, “My Lost Youth,” are buried next to each other there.

The idea for the new holiday for bards developed after Skold, himself a poet, learned of a dozen communities that have annual readings at the graves of famous poets, like Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, and Anne Sexton.

It is also a sort-of combination of All-Saints Day, the Day of the Dead, and Halloween, when graveyards are filled with both saints and revelers.

“As we compiled a list of over 600 poets to place on our online maps,” said Skold, “I thought “Why is it that there are few visitors at the majority of our dead poets?”

“The Dead Poets Remembrance Day will be an opportunity for people to learn about the amazing history and diversity of American poets, as well as a way to remember them for their contributions to American literature,” he said.

According to Skold, over 400 American poets’ graves have yet to be well-documented, so the group is also sponsoring a $4,000 photo and video contest to help locate the graves.

“The purpose of the contest is so that people can enrich our historical and cultural commons by helping to find and put America’s dead poets back on the map,” said Skold.

The group is hoping that high school students, graveyard aficionados, and poetry-lovers will consult librarians, biographies, and historical societies in order to find and photograph the tombs of America’s forgotten poets.

To help people track down the location of unknown graves, the DPSA website has links to maps from 48 States and Europe. There are also rules and guidelines for the contest. See: www.deadpoes.org.

“By October 7th we are hoping that a few hundred poets’ graves will have been be re-discovered, and that the day of remembrance will develop into an enriching annual tradition,” said Skold.

In 2009 Skold drove the “Poemobile” to 150 poets’ graves in 90 days, but this year the focus is on community readings. The 22-State tour will begin in Portland, Maine, on April 23rd, and end in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 24th.

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I will add here that one of my more noteworthy encounters at AWP was with Walter Skold, the force behind the “Dead Poets Society.” Walter came up to me after my panel on the libretto and, without wasting any time, we started right in on the good stuff: I told him all about my shifting plans for my own remains, and sought his advice on various alternatives. As a dedicated pilgrim to poets’ final resting places, I really valued the input of someone else who appreciates their significance.

And he does! This whole campaign is a wonderfully orchestrated launch, one that does our country’s poets proud. We are lucky to have someone like Walter Skold devoted to such a cause. I, for one, will be excited to participate in all the events associated with the Dead Poets Society that I can–while I can.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Annie Finch.