April is the loveliest month for hopeless romantics with a penchant for all things spring. Add National Poetry Month to the calendar, and it’s enough to make this former literature teacher’s heart skip a beat.
A perfect spring day allowed me to take my classes outside to teach a poem among the birds and the bees and eighth grade hormones in full bloom. There’s nothing quite like reading poetry with young hearts inspired by dreamy talk of love and life. My teaching days are behind me now, but I will forever celebrate two of my favorite things in April – springtime and poetry.
Launched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is a reminder of the integral role poetry plays in our culture. National Poetry Month has grown to become the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of participants of all ages marking poetry’s importance in our lives.
There’s an extensive website at poets.org that offers activities and resources so anyone can join in the celebration. Discover dozens of ways to participate in National Poetry Month and sign-up for a free Poem-a-Day. Follow thousands of events through social media with the official hashtag #NationalPoetryMonth and follow the Academy of American Poets on Twitter and Instagram @POETSorg.
The arrival of spring, along with National Poetry Month, may be just the one-two punch we all need to get through a time of unrelenting shared worries and sorrows. Poetry can help us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”
As birds sing their springtime song and faithful flowers pop up to say hello again, poetry can remind us of the peaceful rhythm of nature and that nothing we experience is unique to the human condition.
Let words like these from William Wordsworth’s 1804 poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud soothe your soul and breathe elegance into your day, “For oft when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils!” §
“If you cannot be the poet, be the poem.” ~ David Carradine
War Ugly, Inhumane Hating, Destroying, Dying Explosions, Fear…Silence, Hope Loving, Creating, Living Beautiful, Compassionate Peace
Like most Americans, I’m frightened and saddened by the inhumanity of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In my effort to find something positive I can do to to help, I’m writing poetry in support of the brave people of Ukraine which I will share on Wednesdays in my Just Between Friends post.
The form of poetry I’ve written this week is called a diamanté. It’s made up of just 16 words in seven unrhymed lines which form a diamond shape. Diamanté is the Italian word for diamond. The first and last lines are nouns, usually of opposite meaning. The rest of the lines are made up of nouns and adjectives related to the beginning and ending words. (I chose to divide my poem with ellipses.)
This relatively new form of poetry was created in 1969 by American poet Iris McClellan Tiedt. Studying and writing this simple form of poetry was always a favorite of my middle school literature students.
Writing poetry is, if nothing else, an elegant way to process and express our feelings. It won’t end a war, but it might offer a little comfort. If you’d like to try your hand at a diamanté poem, here’s the format:
Adjective, Adjective (related to first word)
Verb, Verb, Verb (related to first word)
Noun, Noun (related to first word)… Noun, Noun (related to last word)
Verb, Verb, Verb (related to last word)
Adjective, Adjective (related to last word)
While we were preoccupied with our collective concerns during this difficult year, spring and summer came and went and autumn faithfully arrived in all its golden glory. Immersing ourselves in a seasonal poem and simple art project can bring calm, creativity, and celebration of a new season.
For some reason, many classic poems about autumn are a bit depressing. Shakespeare referred to this time of year “As the deathbed when it must expire.” Robert Frost penned, “Then leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief.” Emily Bronte wrote of fall, “I shall sing when night’s decay ushers in a drearier day.”
As beautiful as those poems may be, they don’t exactly inspire cheer. Thankfully, Paul Lawrence Dunbar favors a merry autumn over a solemn one. I especially love the lines, “The earth is just so full of fun, it really can’t contain it.”
Merry Autumn by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
It’s a farce, – these tales they tell About the breezes sighing. And moans astir o’er field and dell, Because the year is dying.
Such principles are most absurd – I care not who first taught ’em; There’s nothing known to beast or bird To make a solemn autumn.
In times, when grief holds sway With countenance distressing, You’ll note the more of black and gray Will then be used in dressing.
Now purple tints are all around; The sky is blue and mellow: And e’ven the grasses turn the ground From modest green to yellow.
The seed burrs all with laughter crack On featherweed and jimson; And leaves that should be dressed in black Are all decked out in crimson.
A butterfly goes winging by A singing bird comes after; And Nature, all from earth to sky, Is bubbling o’er with laughter.
The ripples wimple on the rills, Like sparkling little lasses; The sunlight runs along the hills And laughs among the grasses.
The earth is just so full of fun It really can’t contain it; And streams of mirth so freely run The heavens seem to rain it.
Don’t talk to me of solemn days In autumn’s time of splendor, Because the sun shows fewer rays, And these grow slant and slender.
Why, it’s the climax of the year, – The highest time of living! – Till naturally its bursting cheer Just melts into thanksgiving.
Reading and thinking about Dunbar’s Merry Autumn, may put you in the mood to do this art project. No matter how grown-up we get, throwing ourselves into something fun and creative can do wonders for our mental health.
Fall Art Project – Wax Paper Leaf Collage:
Supplies: wax paper, leaves, crayons, dull knife, piece of cloth, iron Basic Instructions: 1. Go outside and collect a few colorful leaves. 2. Arrange leaves on a piece of wax paper. 3. Using a dull knife, cut a few crayons into small pieces. (I made mine about the size of peppercorns.) 4. Scatter crayon pieces around leaves on wax paper. 5. Lay another piece of wax paper on top of leaves and crayon pieces. 6. Place a piece of cloth over wax paper. (A cloth napkin works well.) 7. Press heated iron onto cloth until crayons melt and wax paper is fused together. Do not let iron directly touch wax paper. Lift and press iron to keep colors from running together too much. 7. Display your fall art project in a window or wherever makes you happy.
Question of the Week: What is your favorite thing about autumn? Leave your answer and any other reaction to today’s post in the comment section. I’d love to see a photo of your fall art project! Please email it to me at Alicia@thesimpleswan.com. Wishing you a week spent enjoying “autumn’s time of splendor.”
Choosing a poem for February to celebrate the beauty of both love and nature seemed a simple task. Poetry books are filled with such poems, but I couldn’t find one that was just right. Most seemed too heavy, fluffy, melodramatic, insincere, tragic or callow.
Unaware of my search for the perfect poem, my husband wrote me one for Valentine’s Day. Now that’s the kind of poem I was looking for! I’m keeping such a personal gift to myself, but it inspired me to find a poem so gentle yet sturdy.
Then I came across a poem by Daniel G. Hoffman called Yours. Hoffman was a poet, critic and educator. From 1973 to 1974, he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an appointment now called Poet Laureate. His poems were often set outdoors and explored man’s connection to the natural world.
In describing Hoffman’s poems, a scholar wrote, “In them is a lifetime of careful observance, the voice rarely raised yet passionate in its precision, the man behind it enough a lover of life to have been properly critical of the way we live it.” (I must say I’m struck by how easily these words could be said of my husband.)
Hoffman wrote this poem for his wife, Elizabeth McFarland, to whom he was married for 57 years. McFarland was also a poet and poetry editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1948 until 1961 when the magazine stopped publishing verse.
The poem has four unrhymed couplets and creates strong images of relationships found in nature ~ flower scented air, mountains in the moonlight, a tree in spring, and an island in the sea.
Anyone who has loved another can surely relate to this beautiful line found in the last stanza ~ your love is the weather of my being. §
Yours by Daniel Hoffman
I am yours as the summer air at evening is Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,
As the snowcap gleams with light Lent it by the brimming moon.
Without you I’d be an unleafed tree Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.
Your love is the weather of my being. What is an island without the sea? ❤
Winter is the king of showmen, Turning tree stumps into snow men And houses into birthday cakes And spreading sugar over lakes. Smooth and clean and frosty white, The world looks good enough to bite. That’s the season to be young, Catching snowflakes on your tongue! Snow is snowy when it’s snowing. I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.
About the Poet ~ Frederic Ogden Nash was one of America’s most successful poets of the twentieth century. He became well-known through his work at The New Yorker and as host of a radio quiz show called Information Please.
Nash was famous for his light-hearted verse, unconventional rhymes, puns and humor. He died in 1971 at the age of 68. The US Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Nash on the centennial of his birth in 2002.
About this Poem ~Winter Morning Poem is about the simple joy of snow. Nash uses an end rhyme scheme that makes the poem fun to read aloud. Other poetic devices in this little poem include alliteration, sensory language and a touch of irony.
While acknowledging snow can be a mess, Nash helps us regain our childlike wonder of waking up to a winter snow. Maybe this poem can remind us not to let our grown-up practicality keep us from seeing the innocent beauty in the world.
I must admit I enjoy poetry that isn’t heavy and dark or loaded with obscure vocabulary and symbolism. I hope you agree this poem is perfect for celebrating nature on a cold January day. Though it’s slushy when it’s going, don’t you love the snowy snow when it’s snowing? §