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Depending on what country you live in, there’s a Poetry Week, a Poetry Day, a or even, as in the US (which does everything big) an entire National Poetry Month. The latter has come in for some ribbing from American poets, e.g., Charles Bernstein, who called April “the cruelest month for poetry.” Then, too, there’s an official Bad Poetry Day, which is in August for some reason. Well, I always tell people that every day is poetry day where I work, and I’m not really kidding… Nevertheless, today marks an alignment of events on the calendar that do strikingly make this a true poetry day.
First of all, it actually is National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom; all day, as they say where I come from. And in Chicago, it’s also Poetry Day. Our P.D. here first began in November 1955. Back then, Poetry magazine was teetering on the brink of financial ruin; it was what editor Henry Rago called “the leanest and meanest time in the history of the magazine.” To make adjustments, a cheaper printer was found – along with a few beneficent and very well-heeled angels. As everyone knows, such angels have visited Poetry not only from time to time, but right in the nick thereof. Among the efforts undertaken to raise money the old-fashioned way were things like bringing Oliver St. John Gogarty and Dame Edith Sitwell to Chicago for benefit programs – raising $120 and $1,298 respectively. A bit more was needed, however, and the idea came up of having a kind of big event complete with charity auction to be called… Poetry Day. And so one of Poetry‘s earliest contributors and, at the time, America’s most famous poet, Robert Frost, was invited to be the guest of honor. When it was all over, the magazine was solvent again. The auctions and fund-raising have been dropped, but Poetry Day has become a tradition for us – it’s apparently the longest-running poetry series in the country. A list of the legendary poets who’ve appeared includes T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Anne Sexton, John Ashbery, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and Robert Hass. This year, our guest is former U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin.
Well, we all woke up this morning to the news of the awarding of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, which has gone to the famed and much-loved poet Tomas Tranströmer. When most of us dropped off to sleep last night, poetry books slumping in our hands, we were under the impression that Adonis – or Bob Dylan – was going to win, but poetry brings surprises… every day, just as I say. He’s a terrific writer, blessed with brilliant translators like Robert Bly and Robin Fulton, and I think poetry readers around the world have long expected him to receive this high honor.
I imagine some folks (it can’t just be me!) try to imagine, or occasionally fantasize about, the shock of getting that big phone call from Stockholm; or about perhaps, totally out of the blue receiving one of those famous “genius” awards from the MacArthur Foundation. Well, imagine our surprise when two longtime contributors to Poetry, Kay Ryan and A. E. Stallings, both received one in this year’s round just a few weeks ago! I’m guessing that we’ve published more of their poems than anybody else; click on the links to sample their work. Kay, as it happens, has two poems in our current (October) issue, and Alicia was just featured in our July/August issue.
So – even if you’re among those who read and celebrate poetry every day, or feel that April can be cruel, you have to admit this feels like a very special October day!
Pictured: One of Lorine Niedecker‘s lovely “calendar” poems. Her entry for Sept. 22-Oct. 5 reads:
“To reach the port/of heaven, we must/sometimes sail with/the wind and some-/times against it-but/we must sail and not/drift, nor lie at anchor.”