Smile Politely

How to still love our local literary scene from home

April is National Poetry Month and there’s still much in our local literary scene to celebrate. And while it may still be a while before we can enjoy a live poetry reading, we’re fortunate that there are still so many ways to experience locally-grown poems and prose remotely.

Poetry may already be a constant in your life. Or maybe not. But here’s why I think now is the time to explore it. When done well, poetry has the capacity to both take us deep within ourselves and allow us to reach far beyond ourselves into a place of shared understanding, empathy, and compassion. It is interactive. It requires openness, vulnerability, and a longing to find meaning. To engage in a meaningful relationship with poetry, we need to slow down, shut out some of the noise, and listen. For many of us the quiet of quarantine has felt anywhere from eerie to oppressive. Llike it or not, we have been forced to slow down. And now more than ever we need of connection, understanding, and meaning. So why not give it a try? It won’t fix everything, but it may help.

I hope you will find something on this list that feeds your mind and your senses and that the time is well-spent. Enjoy.
 

Poet Janice N. Harrington’s website

Image: Black and white photo close up of poet Janice N. Harrington. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Image: Black and white photo close up of poet Janice N. Harrington. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

As a University of Illinois creative writing professor, poet, children’s book author, and recipient of a 2020 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Janice N. Harrington’s web presence is as multi-dimensional as she is. You can explore links to her poems here and here. But for this reader, the hidden treasure was her blog. “A Space for Image,” is a master class in interpretation. Created as a “space for discussions of poetic imagery using any of the five senses,” it hones in on particular lines “where the poet pulls off a magic trick and uses imagery to surprise or delight.” Representing a wide range of canonical and contemporary poets at various stages of their careers, you are sure to find something that speaks to you and helps you re-engage your socially distant senses.

Poets at the Post’s virtual open mic night

Image: Close-up photo of microphone in a dark room. Photo from Poets at the Post Facebook page.

Image: Close-up photo of microphone in a dark room. Photo from Poets at the Post Facebook page.

Poets at the Post nights a pillar of our local poetry scene. And though there’s no way to replicate the vibe of a live reading, I’m so glad that the most recent open mic night was streamed live and recorded.  So get a good seat, pour yourself a beverage of your choice, and enjoy the magic of poet and emcee Jim O’Brien and a number of local readers as they bring live reading straight into your living room. Stay tuned to the Facebook page for updates on future events.

The Haiku from Home virtual share on Facebook

Top image: Close-up photo of hand writing in journal on desk with event information overlaid and event sponsors along the bottom. Image from Facebook event page

Top image: Close-up photo of hand writing in journal on desk with event information overlaid and event sponsors along the bottom. Image from Facebook event page

Haiku from Home, the virtual poetry write and share program, is the perfect blend of art and technology. Though the contribution cycle of the program ended on April 16th, you can still enjoy all of the entries via Facebook. The range of voices, subjects, and locations will remind you of everything that our town does right. The photos of haikus sparkling up from the street in brightly colored sidewalk chalk did my heart so much good, as did the poems thoughtfully paired with images. There are messages of hope, dark humor about the challenges we face, and a whole of lot of people reaching out to connect with others. 

Urbana Poet Laureate Will Reger on Art Now! 

Image: Close-up photo of Urbana Poet Laureate Will Reger in front of leafy green trees. Photo from Urbana Arts & Culture Program website

Will Reger has made his mark as the Inagural Urbana Poet Laureate. From the progress of his various initiatives to the recent publication of his own poetry collection, there is much to celebrate during National Poetry Month. Most of all, we can celebrate the fact we can enjoy watching Reger read poetry and talk about his work on Art Now!’s YouTube channel. You can also watch his recent reading at Krannert Uncorked. FYI, Reger, who is also a musician, and his recording of this musical meditation just might help us all relax a bit. 

Ninth Letter’s latest website features

Image: Photo of a banquet steam tray below a pair of red boxing gloves with the title

Image: Photo of a banquet steam tray below a pair of red boxing gloves with the title “Dinner and a Fight,” overlaid in brown text. Photo from Ninth Letter website.

And now for something completely different. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the amazing amount of free literary content availble online at the Ninth Letter website. This site is truly a gift that keeps on giving, especially during these stay-at-home days. While the new features section includes four wonderful new poems by Isabel Ribe, I wanted to end with a recommendation for those who may prefer prose.

In the introduction to Katherine Scott Nelson’s “Dinner and a Fight,” faculty editor Philip Graham highlights the added significance Nelson’s essay carries during the coronavirus pandemic. “The lives of the people you will read about here have become even more precarious, as our country’s shameful economic and healthcare inequality worsens in the crisis.” This essay, which recounts Nelson’s “past experience in the gig economy,” and in “an insecure life of low pay, no insurance, and no future,” all of which is compounded by the many challenges the author faced as a nonbinary trans person pursuing gender transition while existing in a work culture that bolsters male and female boundaries. 

This is a voice we need to hear right now. This is an author who can teach us a lot about understanding and empathy, and whose vibrant prose pushes us to question our assumptions, and our privilege. Kudos to Ninth Letter for featuring such an important work. 

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