One of my favorite poetry presses recently printed out bookmarks that said: "Who needs poetry?" This question was a little tongue in cheek, but I think, in earnest, a valid question.
"Need" is a curious word. If we need poetry, then we need language not just to be functional but also to do something more than communicate or convey meaning. Many people need poetry, myself included. The real question to me is, "Why do we need it, what is the point of poetry?"
I need it as a form of grace, as a communicative possibility that does something that 'ordinary language' cannot. I have poems that I need to read seasonally. I need poetry like a character that has requested I call him Ishmael needs to go to sea when he has the impulse to knock the hats off strangers in the street.
This is why I’m looking forward to an impressive array of upcoming poetry events at The Free Library. Mark your calendar, as these ought not to be missed!
There is a slew of poetry readings throughout November as part of the Becoming Philadelphia series, which in turn is part of the more extensive First Person Arts Festival. This series centers on stories of migration, displacement, and what it means to ‘become' a Gritty enthusiast Philadelphian. I am deeply interested in the various ways in which a person comes to belong in a place or to feel that place belongs to them. I look forward to hearing how upcoming authors, including Jericho Brown, Landan Osman, Geffrey Davis, and Tina Chang, as well as others animate this question. View our online calendar to find out when and where authors are reading.
And stay close for the announcement of who will be reading at the Free Library for our 2020 Monday Poets Series, which may include names like Octavia McBride-Ahebee, David Ebenbach, and Elizabeth Scanlon.
I am also eagerly anticipating the upcoming visit from U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, who, as a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, is the first Native American named to this honor. In addition to writing poetry, she also has authored plays, children's books, and a memoir. Her newest book of poems, An American Sunrise, is an elegiac meditation on loss, survival, enduring, and celebration. The book draws on not only Harjo's personal history but also the history of the Mvskoke people. In addition to being the Poet Laureate, Harjo is the recipient of several accolades including the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, a PEN USA Literary Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She will be reading at Parkway Central Library on Wednesday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Speaking of Poet Laureates, high school senior Mia Concepcion is the new 2019-2020 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate. Concepcion hails from South Philly and is an active participant in Philadelphia's thriving slam poetry scene. You can read all about her and read some of her work in our 2019-2020 Youth Poet Laureate announcement from September.
Events like these add nuance to answering the question, "Who needs poetry?" I have lines of poetry that eventually make their way into everything I write because nobody else has said it just so. But mostly, I need to hear poetry read aloud in a room with other people. It is pleasant to read poetry on the trolley, at home, or in a waiting room. For me, there is no substitution for hearing the author with all the subtleties of their intonation speak their poems into a room for others.