“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in his epic poem “Wasteland.” Even so, for Eliot, this harsh stint might be said to have one redeeming quality: It’s also poetry month. To celebrate this art form, The Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month in 1996. National Poetry Month seeks to make people more receptive to the poetry around them.
Every month, The Academy of American Poets reasserts the value of poetry in popular culture so that people become inspired to celebrate poetry year-round.
“The reason why the Academy of American Poets began National Poetry Month was to raise awareness and appreciation for poetry in America. I think their original goal is an important one because poetry is a wonderful art form that many people perceive as easy to do,” wrote Library Research Intern Molly James in an emailed statement.
To celebrate National Poetry Month, the library research services will host two study break events focusing on poetry in the Corona Room of the library. The first will feature a haiku-writing contest and raffle, while the second will provide students with the opportunity to continue writing haikus for the contest, or they can create their own zines. In addition, the English department will bring in a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Natasha Tretheway, to deliver the annual Elizabeth Bishop lecture on April 10. Tretheway is the country’s nineteenth Poet Laureate, and her poetry focuses mainly on her mixed-race heritage and her upbringing in the South. The lecture series itself honors Bishop, a Vassar alumna whose work is housed in Special Collections of the library. Previous poets invited to read their works for the lecture include Robert Pinsky and Seamus Heaney.
The library research services elected to have a haiku-writing contest because it is generally a short writing activity that can be relaxing to do and interesting to read. “Having something which can be done fast as well as help the students relax was the goal,” wrote James. Efficiency is essential because most students come to study breaks for five or ten minutes and then resume studying.
Gretchen Lieb, a research librarian, explained the reasons for choosing to focus on the poetry form. “One of the practices of haiku is to include an allusion to nature or the seasons, an awareness that is on our collective mind this year due to the long anticipation of spring after our long winter,” wrote Lieb.
According to some, celebrating Poetry Month at a liberal arts college like Vassar is particularly special. “I believe that since Vassar is a liberal arts college, understanding and experiencing poetry is just another facet to the learning environment,” wrote James.
The Library Research Services celebrate Poetry Month in order to spread the joy of writing and reading poetry. “The research staff at the library hope that at some point during the month, students will pick up a book of poems, read some poetry online, write a down a few lines, or come to the study break. The most important take away is to enter May having experienced poetry in April and maybe even continue experiencing poetry,” wrote James.
“Poetry has always been an important part of the curriculum and lives of the Vassar community, and our [library] collection reflects that,” wrote Lieb. For some, the importance of poetry extends beyond the realm of the classroom and is more than a leisurely activity. “People write poetry to survive,” wrote Leonel Torres, co-president of Wordsmiths, a campus group that promotes both written and spoken word poetry through hosting open mics, writer’s workshops, guest speakers and poets.
According to The Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is meant to both raise awareness of current writers as well as celebrate those from the past. “The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern,” The Academy wrote on their website. “We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”