Poetry's demise is greatly exaggerated
Winchester Thurston's Tori Hirata competes in the National Endowment for the Arts & Poetry Foundation's 2010 Regional Competition Poetry Out Loud last month.
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The land of modern poetry is in a perplexing state these days, dissed in some quarters as increasingly irrelevant and dismissed in others for its explosive growth, fed by university creative-writing programs and online journals.
"Modern poetry seems all too often to be associated with coy, small-minded ironists: teasing, finicky word players who often write in disappointingly short lines and seem to lack the ambition, the emotional force, the rhetorical reach and even the range of subject matter of the great poets of the past," sniffed a reviewer in The Economist last month.
"It appears that (today) poetry is dispensable," observed philosophy professor Paul Woodruff in "The Necessity of Theater" (Oxford University Press, $17.95), "and indeed poetry survives now mainly in the precious sphere of art poetry -- poets writing for poets. ..."
And that writing of poetry is skyrocketing, writes poet David Alpaugh in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Discovering that there are "more than 2,000 current markets that accept poetry" on the Internet, he estimates that "more than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010."
Added to that total are Mr. Alpaugh's calculations that "50,000 prize-winning volumes will have been published by the end of this century," stemming from the more than 300 poetry contests now running.
Welcome to National Poetry Month 2010.
The Academy of American Poets started the observation in 1996, inspired by the opening lines of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland." Its website, www.poets.org, displays a variety of programs it sponsors to emphasize poetry's role in our culture. Otherwise the month's activities are localized or at random.
For instance, the National Endowment for the Arts promotes the art through its Poetry Out Loud in high schools in every state plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Co-directed by the Poetry Foundation, it's a $1.2 million outreach effort that organizes poetry-reading competitions among students with about $50,000 in prizes.
Leslie Liberato, NEA coordinator, said 9,000 high schoolers participated in this year's Poetry Out Loud.
In Pennsylvania, more than 80 schools in 12 district competitions participated to select contestants for the state final in Harrisburg last month. That winner will go on to the national contest in Washington, D.C., April 27.
This year, four Western Pennsylvania high schools -- Winchester Thurston, South Fayette, Freedom Area and Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts -- sent competitors to battle with poetry Feb. 27 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland. Each student was required to recite two poems of 25 lines or longer, chosen from a collection compiled by the NEA.
A three-judge panel named Tori Hirata of Winchester the winner. Runners-up were Arbil Lopez, CAPA; Shannon Powers, South Fayette; and Evan Stiger, Freedom Area.
Tori went on to the Governor's Mansion, where Angela Goldberg of Pleasant Valley High School in Brodheadsville, Monroe County, was crowned the state poem recitation champ.
She won $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington for the nationals.
Also nationally, U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan organized Community College Poetry Day April 1 with the Community College Humanities Association as part of her Poetry for the Mind's Joy project.
Ms. Ryan, who taught remedial English at a community college in California, presented a live video poetry workshop with Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa.; Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis; and Tarrant County College, Fort Worth, Texas.
While there is no Poetry Month program on the calendar for the Pittsburgh region, here's a list of poetry readings in April:
Sunday: Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes, author of "Lighthead," "Wind in a Box" and "Hip Logic," will read as part of the Collective Voices Series at 7 p.m. at the Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., in McKees Rocks. For tickets, $10, call 412-298-7373.
April 15: University of Pittsburgh Press poets Lynn Emanuel ("Noose and Hook") and Bob Hicok ("Words for Empty, Words for Full") read at 7 p.m. in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium on the University of Pittsburgh's Oakland campus. 412-383-2493.
April 17: Jennifer Chang, author of "The History of Anonymity," joins Soham Patel, Sally Wen Mao, Jenny Johnson and Brenda Battad at 7 p.m. at Modern Formations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. A $4 cover goes to the Asian-American poetry collective Kundiman's scholarship fund.
First Published April 7, 2010 12:00 am