‘April is the Cruellest Month’
The Beauty of Poetry
Twenty-five years ago, the American Academy of Poets launched National Poetry month. Since 1996, April has been a time to celebrate and explore the wonder of words that is the poem. Poetry is often perceived as difficult, by writers and readers alike, but we’ve subconsciously adopted bits of poetry as a part of our cultural zeitgeist. Just read through these lines of literary touchstones:
“I took the road less traveled by…” The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
“Do I dare to eat a peach?” The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot
“‘Tis better to have loved and lost…” In Memoriam A.H.H., by Lord Alfred Tennyson
“I wandered lonely as a cloud…” Poem, by William Wordsworth
“I have spread my dreams under your feet…” He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, by W.B. Yeats
“Because I could not stop for Death…” Poem, by Emily Dickinson
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose…” Sacred Emily, by Gertrude Stein
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” An Essay on Criticism, by Alexander Pope
From the very beginning of our lives, nursery rhymes are quoted to calm and amuse us. Truly, I was enamored by the poetry in the books I read as a small child. I can still quote by heart most of the sing-song-y lines from my favorite, The Big Tidy-Up, about a girl with a particularly messy bedroom, by Norah Smaridge:
“…Her shoe was askew on the window sill,
Her scarf was under the bed,
Her beautiful box to keep ribbons in was full of old junk instead…”
I remember hearing that word – askew – and being fascinated by it. My 4-year-old vocabulary hadn’t yet catalogued its definition, but I loved what it did to my mouth when spoken aloud, especially paired with shoe. “Her shoe was askew.” Go ahead, say it out loud.
Her shooooe was askeeeew…
Doesn’t it feel and sound luxurious? That’s poetry!
As an art form, I have always found great freedom in poetry. As a child, I used rhyme to create silly songs I sang to box turtles in the pond. As a teenager, I poured out pages and pages of angst. As an adult, I use poetry to express emotions or share stories that might otherwise go unspoken. Poems can be inspired by a feeling, an event, a place, or even a sky-blue buffalo.
During the 2020 quarantine, I spent some time on our closed grounds, making sure Conner Prairie was being looked after until our guests could return. It was amazing to experience the wild edge of nature seeping in on what is normally and carefully ‘curated’. One April morning, as I stopped by the buffalo statue that lives at the bottom end of our Nature Trail and looked out across the prairie. I was genuinely moved by the emotion of all that was happening in the world, and I wrote a poem on the spot that I’d like to share with you:
looks out across a barren land;
once remembered, here,
in a time erased by man
And then Mother Nature
lifts her fists and brows
to remind us of our
Once remembered here, you and me…
Drawn in now by birds and squirrels
in a time erased of man.
Notable Hoosier Poets
A poem can ask a question, express grief or elation, make us laugh, paint a picture, or take us on a journey. This literary form is perhaps the most accessible means of expression. Anyone – and I mean ANYONE – can enjoy or write a poem. Hoosiers are no exception.
Did you know that Indiana has a Poet Laureate? Officially, since 2005, and unofficially since 1929, the state has appointed a poet to interact, educate, and engage the public through poetry. And, while Indiana may be known for growing corn, it’s also produced a bumper crop of poets. Conner Prairie’s own Sarah E. Morin is the state’s current Premier Poet (or unofficial Poet Laureate). While James Whitcomb Riley is probably the most recognized luminary in the Hoosier poetry sphere, there are so many others!
Rose Hartwick Thorpe, born in Mishawaka in 1850, penned the narrative poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, which was translated into multiple languages and became a favorite of Queen Victoria’s.
Kendalville’s Arthur Franklin Mapes wrote Indiana, expressing his love for the natural beauty abundant around him. His verse was adopted as the official state poem in 1982. Yes! We have an official state poem!
Mari Evans, who first made her home in Indianapolis in 1947, was a writer, teacher, cultural and social activist, and a key figure in the Black Arts Movement. Her 1970 poem I Am a Black Woman, brought national acclaim. Her image graces the building at 448 Massachusetts Ave. in our capitol, Indianapolis.
George Kalamaras grew up in Cedar Lake, Indiana and was the state Poet Laureate from 2014-2016. Kalamaras writes almost surrealist poems that give birth to vivid mental images and invite appreciation of things usually left unconsidered – like how many hunting dogs is an appropriate number of hunting dogs.
That’s just a tiny sampling of the hundreds of poets from Indiana, writing across a wide range of topics, in a number of different styles, and speaking from a timeline of generations.
In 2019, then Poet Laureate Adrian Matejka, in partnership with The Indiana Arts Commission and the Indiana State Library, launched the INverse Poetry Archive, an online collection of work by Hoosier poets. The data base, fully accessible to the public, was created to preserve a diverse array of poetry for future generations of Hoosier writers and readers. It houses poems by former Poet Laureates, as well as work from a wide range of professional and non-professional Indiana poets. Hoosier poets can submit to the archive every year between February 1 and April 30.
Whether it’s a sonnet, a haiku, or sestina, an ABAB rhyme scheme or freeform, the poem is an unconstrained expression of emotion. It has existed in recorded history since the fourth millennium B.C., and it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.
Before the month of April ends, consider writing a poem – whether you’re currently a poet or not. U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins offers some advice on getting started here but, you can certainly just follow your heart. That’s what poetry is all about, anyway.
About the Author
As a Program Developer at Conner Prairie, Kim McCann creates programming content and helps to implement special events. She is an award-winning storyteller, hobby mixologist, and a lover of poetry. Her favorite poet is e.e. cummings.