Preparing with a Poem in my Pocket

The idea is simple. Find a poem that you love or one that makes you laugh or something that conjures up wistful memories. Write it down. Put it in your pocket and throughout the day, share it with your friends and your coworkers and the people in line at the coffee shop and the students in your class and your family at the dinner table and whoever else you come into contact with. It’s National Poetry Month. Read poetry.

If you’ve been coming here for a while, you know poetry month is something I celebrate. This month, I had the incredible experience of meeting Rita Dove, a former US Poet Laureate and listening to her describe the inspiration and research behind her Sonata Mullatica. It was a magical evening.

Rita began with her recollection of watching Immortal Beloved, a fictionalized tale about Beethoven and led us on a journey from London to Vienna to the halls of Monticello where she conducted the research that became this book of poetry. I spotted the documentary poet, Cynthia Hogue in the crowd.

Beyond her lyrical voice and warm smile, what captured me about Rita Dove was the trajectory of diligence she pursued in order to tell the tale of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a bi-racial violin virtuoso who lived in the late 1700′s. Dove began with a Google search on; Beethoven, violinist, black and from there scoured diaries and performance logs to piece together the story of this man. Where fact wasn’t forthcoming, she filled in with fiction and she tells the entire story through poetry.

From rhyme to rap we learned that Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 was actually written for Bridgetower. The two men performed it publicly in Vienna in 1803, with Beethoven on piano and Bridgetower on violin.Then, in an apparent fit of jealousy regarding a woman, Beethoven removed Bridgetower’s name. When it was published in 1805, it was the Kreutzer Sonata dedicated to the violinist Rudolphe Kreutzer who never performed it.

Sometimes it rhymes, other times not but always with clever turns of phrase. I love knowing that this art can be used for more than a mood or a postcard but can spell out a life. So how might you celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day?

Here are some tips taken from the Academy of American Poets for easy ways to celebrate:

  • Start a “poem for pockets” giveaway in your school or workplace.
  • Post a poem on your blog or social networking page.
  • If you are a local business owner, offer discounts for customers carrying poems.
  • If you are a teacher, reward students “caught” with a poem in their pocket.
  • Start a street team to pass out poems in your community.
  • Handwrite a few lines on the back of your business card.
  • Add a poem to your email footer.
  • Check out the Academy’s Poem in Your Pocket anthology books for adults and kids.
  • Find more fun celebration ideas at www.poets.org/pocket
Leave a comment

70 Comments

  1. I spent yesterday in a poetry writing workshop, celebrating my inner and oft-forgotten poet. I came away resolved to both write more poetry and read more. These are great ideas for shining a brighter light on the beautiful poetry that’s all around us.
    Eleanor

    Reply
    • Thanks Eleanor. I thought so too. Friday night after my son’s baseball game we went out to eat with other ball player families. I pulled out a poem and read and rather than embarrassment was greeted with familiarity and stories that wanted to be told like, “that was the way I wooed my wife” or “my grandfather published a book of poetry”.

      Reply
  2. Thank you, Tammy, for sharing Rita with us. :) I am amazed by poets and writers that hunt down their poems and stories like that. You mentioning Cynthia being there reminded me that you mentioned before about doing more documentary poetry. I love what you write and share!

    Reply
    • I love the notion of documentary poetry. It is so fresh and eloquent. In fact, it would be fun to rewrite a news story in poetry. Should we try?

      Reply
  3. Great post, good idea! I’m going to include a poem in my blog today. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Brian

     /  April 22, 2012

    Tammy,

    My favourite by Rudyard Kipling, IF:

    IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    ‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

    All the best

    Brian

    Reply
    • Very nice and even better that you appear to know it from memory. I think we should all work harder to make poetry part of every day.

      Reply
    • Brian, I memorized this poem in seventh grade English (I’m 34 now) and I still remember every word. We were allowed to pick any poem, and this one struck a chord with my young heart and brain ;) Thank you for sharing and for the journey down memory lane. Tammy… this will probably be the one making it into the pocket of my chef’s pants tomorrow :) Thanks you two!

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  April 23, 2012

        Whenever I feel down I remember the words.I believe kipling wrote this when he learned that his only son had been killed in WW1.

        cheers

        Brian

        Reply
  5. I struggle with poetry. So many times, I read it… and I go… “I don’t get it”. That’s why I recently subscribed to the Academy of American Poets poem a day email list… and every day I look forward to a new poem in my inbox that challenges and inspires me…great idea by the way!

    Reply
    • You know, that might be why this form of non-fiction and documentary poetry appeals to me. I can follow the story. In the end, our own interpretation is all that matters.

      Reply
  6. Poetry, and many other forms of writing, are absolute treasures. One of my favorite recent laureates was Billy Collins. I remember him reading frequently on NPR, and enjoyed that his voice sounded a lot like Kevin Spacey. That gave an interesting twist to his work, the beautiful words being read in the dulcet tones of a sardonic actor made this listener question each piece and look for hidden motives.

    Reply
    • And he has such an amazing sense of humor which flings itself across his words. Last year he came to Phoenix and my 9 year old (then 8) was buckled in two listening to him read “Marco Polo” from his Ballistic series. There is a remarkable child who has memorized Collins Bread and Knife on youtube. That’s another really humorous poem and the child is brilliant. Last year NPR did a story about Billy meeting the child.

      Reply
  7. Thanks for the post, and thanks to Brian for the comment. I love, love, love it!

    Reply
  8. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. I’m participating as well and I just can’t wait. Love sharing poetry with the world.

    Reply
  9. Dawn

     /  April 22, 2012

    Thanks Tammy – I didn’t know about this month but now preparing to share a poem as well. Also, should get back to the ‘Friday poems’ that my husband and I used to write each week (and haven’t since our son was born, years ago!). I looked forward to them every single week…

    Reply
    • What a great thing! We had family reading tonight. Everyone brought a poem and it was really sweet to see what everyone chose.

      Reply
  10. Thanks for steering me to Sonata Mullatica. I’m a violinist and had never heard this story about the Kreutzer. Music, story, poetry–sounds like the perfect book!

    Reply
  11. You know Tammy, I’m more of a Prose fan than Poetry. But one of my all time favorite would be Tintern Abbey by Wordsworth. That deep strain of melancholy fused into romanticism is something I’d die for. I am a major in English Literature- This year I’ll apply for my masters. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to read more again!

    Reply
    • I think I side with prose also and that’s why I’ve been enjoying this poetry that tells a non-fiction tale.

      Reply
  12. I am not a poem girl but I really love the idea :) Spreading beautiful things that makes you happy :) It’s so sweet.

    Reply
  13. Fantastic post Tammy. My mind is now racing thinking of which poem to share on my blog…I love this idea and have always enjoyed reading poetry. It really makes you think! Thank you for bringing this subject some great attention.

    Reply
  14. Lisa H

     /  April 23, 2012

    Great post! I have forwarded it on to teachers that I believe would enjoy your tips to making poetry fun for the kids. As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of Shel Silverstein’s poems. I read his books over and over and always chose one of his poems to memorize for class in elementary school.
    I like your idea of having the kids choose a poem to read at home! And I will be looking for a poem to stick in my pocket to share with others.

    Reply
  15. I still remember a poem a friend sent me in college that perfectly encapsulated some issues I’d been struggling with. Sharing poetry can be very special!

    Reply
  16. The server in my hotel is too grouchy to let me hear the video. I hear half of one word then wait for two minutes to hear the other half. Erg. So it will wait. But Tammy – I love how you nudge, encourage, introduce and stimulate.

    Reply
  17. Writing poetry
    Carefully crafting one’s words
    Is truly an art

    Reply
  18. That’s a great & cool idea, dear Tammy!:) I am so going to do that!

    Reply
  19. Lovely idea Tammy. I’m going to print out Anne Sexton’s poem “Old” and pin it on the noticeboard at work

    I’m afraid of needles.
    I’m tired of rubber sheets and tubes.
    I’m tired of faces that I don’t know
    and now I think that death is starting.
    Death starts like a dream,
    full of objects and my sister’s laughter.
    We are young and we are walking
    and picking wild blueberries.
    all the way to Damariscotta.
    Oh Susan, she cried.
    you’ve stained your new waist.
    Sweet taste –
    my mouth so full
    and the sweet blue running out
    all the way to Damariscotta.
    What are you doing? Leave me alone!
    Can’t you see I’m dreaming?
    In a dream you are never eighty.

    Reply
  20. Sounds like a great way to share our favorite poems.

    Reply
    • Indeed!

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  April 24, 2012

        To all your bloggers!
        With the 100 year anniversary of WW1 coming soon I have been reading poems written by one of the most famous war poets, Rupert Brooke. Read them guys, very poignant.

        Reply
  21. Tammy, this post just made my day! I love the Rita Dove reading–so powerful, poignant, amusing…amazing. Here’s a poem for you, by Frank Steele. Happy National Poetry Month.

    The Weight of the World

    I look at a goat two hundred yards
    deep in a field
    wagging his head and the light
    coming off him in flakes
    of distance. He sees me
    through his stopped day, and behind
    the killing stillness of his beard
    some weight of prophecy—it isn’t
    just me anymore but an added look
    that saw me, as if sky
    examined sky, or grass grass. I think of this
    all day and half the night
    from a room where air breathed over and over
    turns milky with sleep: what happens
    through a single look carried
    between the brass sun
    and the glass stars.

    Reply
  22. “Art can spell out a life…” Tammy, that is truly a beautiful thought. So glad to see your love of poetry.

    Reply
  23. An inspiring idea. Now it’s time to find a poem for my pocket. Have a wonderful day….

    Reply
  24. Wow! What an experience, listening to Rita Dove. I have Sonata Mulattica here next to me, on my bookshelf. Going to watch the video you provided right after I hit ‘post comment.’

    Which poem is in your pocket today?

    Reply
    • I took the poem Fuel by Naomi Shihab Nye. I did have a chance to share it with a couple of people. I was totally disappointed though that no one asked my children for their poems and they were all ready.

      Reply
  25. I love the poetry in the pocket idea, Tammy. Off to spread that one far and wide now.

    Reply
  26. I was reminded yesterday of Little Free Library, though it is outside of the limits of affordability. I like these ideas very much and they have the ability to be used here in housing, where I live. Perhaps some of the children would like the ‘spy’ type features of the activity enough to be more exposed to poetry and to the idea of the Commonplace Book. My ‘pocket-share’ with you today is one by Rumi, that is today’s Morning Trip post. Say I Am You

    Reply
  27. Oh, how lovely, thank you for this inspiration, Tammy! I don’t even know if we have a National Poetry Month in SA, but think I should post a poem again anyway…its been a long while :-)

    Reply
  28. This is such a lovely idea! I have to admit that poetry is something I haven’t gotten into much … We read and learned some poems at school (and I’ve forgotten all of them), and since then I’ve been out of touch with poetry. I somehow don’t have too much access to poetry. Same with art. It’s music that goes straight to my soul, however I like what you can do with words. It’s mostly philosophy or good prose that sticks to my mind, though. I should read more poetry! :D

    Reply
  29. I’ve started sneaking favourite poems of mine onto my blog every now and again, so I absolutely love this initiative :) Slightly more tangible than just whispering my favourite verses to myself during tough moments.

    Reply
    • Please don’t stop whispering to yourself but I do love that you’re putting poems on your blog Hannah.

      Reply
  30. Thanks Dawn!

    Reply
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