If you haven’t heard, April is National Poetry Month.
Let the celebration begin.
Let your inbox fill with unread poem-a-day emails. Let national magazines feature a token article about the relevancy of poetry. Let teachers assign haikus and limericks to display in cinder block hallways. Let the New York Times hand over the op-ed page to poets for one day of the year.
I’ll break from my sourpuss act for a moment to admit that as far as secular celebrations go, National Poetry Month is as good as any. Just as well to celebrate poetry as to celebrate amateur radio and soft pretzels (also on the national calendar for April). But the designation smells of resignation. It’s as if poets and poetry publishers have given up on anyone reading poetry during the rest of the year and are trying to shove a whole bunch of poems down the national throat in one month, like a hostess pushing leftovers on guests who didn’t like the dinner in the first place. Need it be said that no one finds it necessary to have a National Pornography Month or National Young Adult Dystopia Novel Month?
Maybe I just don’t like excessive scheduling. Pull out the iphones, folks, time to schedule a love for poetry! As much as I wish it weren’t true, an enjoyment of poetry can’t be forced and a need for it can’t be penciled in the calendar. Poet Jane Hirshfield, in an interview in The Atlantic, speaks to this point:
People talk about poetry’s having a diminished life in the current culture, or else they talk about its current renaissance, but I think that in good times or bad times for poetry as a whole, people will always have periods in their lives when they turn to poetry. Dealing with grief or falling in love, people will look for a poem or perhaps write one in the attempt to sort through and understand their most powerful experiences. Or, for the occasions of large transition — a marriage or a funeral — they will ask someone to read a poem that marks and holds the feeling. One of the jobs of poets is to keep making those holding words available, so that when other people need them they will be there.
My search stats confirm the truth of her words. For those of you who don’t blog, let me explain. Host sites provide statistics on how many views a blog gets, how many clicks to links in a post, how many referrals, how many subscribers, and most entertainingly, what search terms lead readers to the blog. Sometimes these searches are funny, sometimes creepy, sometimes sweet, and sometimes—many times actually—affirming of the need for poetry in everyday life.
Not a day goes by when at least one person isn’t looking for a mother of the groom poem. During the past seven days at least fifty people have searched for a mother of the groom poem. From June of 2010 when I first posted Seamus Heaney’s “Mother of the Groom,” over 1,000 people have searched the words in the title. That’s a significant number for a blog with a small readership like mine.
Other common searches are poems for a daughter, children, or kids leaving home (thank you, Linda Pastan); good poems for teenagers; grief poems; poems for a funeral; and even what someone called pissed off poems.
Lots and lots of people want funny Valentine poems, but only in February. Readers want elf poems year round. Students always need poems, or at least an analysis of one when a search on enotes turns up nothing. I can often tell when a teacher or professor has assigned a certain poem: I’m flooded (okay, to the extent that I can be flooded—maybe dripped on is more accurate) with searches for one particular poem along with the words explanation, what does it mean, what kind of poem is it. Lately it’s been Louise Gluck’s “Gretel in Darkness,” a poem I love and posted but did not, sorry kiddos, analyze.
Some of the searches touch me right to my very poem-elfing soul as I consider the specific ways people need poetry: poem for a nephew going into the navy, poem today’s pain will pass, tumor poems, great poem for a great mom, will you go to prom with me poems.
Some searches leave me wondering how quickly a reader realized that what was being sought would not be found on Poem Elf and how quickly the search terms were erased from the user’s computer:
Hungarian girl on toilet
deep panty line
women and underwear in sexy situations
mistress flush slave head in toilet
which poems of Christina Rossetti are graphic
(Have no fear, at least from me, if you’re an oversexed lover of poetry with a secret interest in Hungarian girls and their underwear. I have no way of knowing who searched on what.)
Other searches make me laugh or at least smile, as if I were hearing, like Whitman himself, America singing:
my first baby poem
poems that will make my grandma cry
poems for spring cleaning
poems about body odor (this search has come up more than once)
poems I love my husband’s smell
And so, on with the celebrations! Turn on the transmitter, eat your soft pretzel, and read Yeats! NOW! I mean it!