University of Michigan launches monthlong celebration of National Poetry Month

Events include daily readings, outdoor exhibition, poetry prompts

Signage for U-M's 2021 Poetry Blast is posted at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Signage for U-M's 2021 Poetry Blast is posted at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. (Scott C. Soderberg | University of Michigan)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities is marking National Poetry Month with its interactive Poetry Blast.

The monthlong celebration invites members of the U-M community and the general public to write, read and hear poetry in a variety of ways.

“During the past year many of us have felt stressed, anxious and alone; we’ve had fewer ways to connect with others or even with our own feelings and emotions,” Peggy McCracken, director of the U-M Institute for the Humanities said in a statement.

“As we emerge from a long winter of pandemic isolation, we want to highlight the ways in which poetry can help us to speak or listen to others and give us language for grief, insight, inspiration or hope.”

McCracken said the many poetry resources on campus spurred the idea of hosting an expansive event, including the undergraduate U-M Slam Poetry group, active faculty poets, the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and the campus literary magazine Michigan Quarterly Review.

Pop-up poems

Throughout the month of April, more than 30 pop-up poems will be posted on U-M’s central campus, including on the Diag via a variety of boards and vinyl window installations.

Sites that will feature the pop-up poems inlclude the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the U-M Museum of Art, Palmer Commons, Pierpont Commons, North Quad, Institute for the Humanities and Ann Arbor District Library.

Part of an outdoor exhibition and walking tour, the poems include works by faculty, alumni and more.

“We hope that passersby will carry [the poems] with them throughout their days -- works that inspire the community to write, think, feel and explore the vibrant poetic community around them,” Michigan Quarterly Review managing editor H.R. Webster said in a statement.

In addition to the local poems, the pop-up selections will include translations from poets around the world, poems for readers of all ages and a selection focusing on first responders and others who have been at the forefront of pandemic response from the Michigan Quarterly’s special Caregiving issue.

Noon poems

Throughout the month, the Institute for the Humanities is releasing daily videos at noon on workdays featuring a U-M faculty member. To see the noon poems, visit their YouTube channel.

In order of appearance, participating faculty members include: A. Van Jordan, Linda Gregerson, Ruth Behar, Cody Walker, Raymond McDaniel, Laura Kasischke, Lorna Goodison, Keith Taylor, Laurence Goldstein, Hannah Ensor, H.R. Webster, Sumita Chakraborty, Darcy Brandel, Tung-Hui Hu, Suzi Garcia, Scott Beal, Petra Kuppers, Nick Harp, Sarah Messer, Khaled Mattawa, Ben Paloff, Molly Spencer and Christopher Matthews.

Prompt a poem

In order to help participants get those creative juices flowing, anyone can sign up to receive daily weekday prompts to write their own poems.

Award-winning poet and U-M professor of English language and literature, Laura Kasischke created each prompt in collaboration with the Institute for the Humanities.

“The prompts are meant to provide inspiration, which is something poets often have a hard time finding,” Kasischke said in a statement. “Your poems, however, can and should go wherever the inspiration takes you.

“I’ve offered directions and ‘rules’ as part of these prompts, but poems don’t have to follow directions and rules. Once they get started, they often break all their own rules.”

Kasischke said the prompts are intended for participants of all abilities. For first-time poets, she offered advice on how to get started.

“Your prompt work might give you something to work on all day, if you have time,” she said in a statement. “And if you don’t have time, you only need about half an hour. Five minutes to read the prompts, 10 minutes to free write and five minutes to look at what you’ve generated and to post it.”

The institute will publish “Prompt a Poem” works submitted by participants on its website. To submit your work, click here.

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