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janae

Photo: Poetry Out Loud
Janae Claxton of South Carolina is the 2018 Poetry Out Loud National Champion. A new survey suggests interest in poetry is growing in the United States.

I’ve been thinking about poetry lately. The team of family and friends keeping my sister company before her surgery was made up of people who enjoy poetry — reading, listening, memorizing, or reciting poetry. My sister herself knows a lot of poems by heart, and we all had fun quoting what we knew and looking up favorites on the web. Some of the poems were so moving, we had to stop and recover ourselves.

Poetry is the right thing in difficult times. And it seems my sister’s hospital team is not alone in feeling a need for it. A new survey shows that poetry reading is up nationwide.

Sunil Iyengar, National Endowment for the Arts director of research and analysis, writes at the NEA Art Works Blog, “Poetry reading in the United States has increased since five years previously. Nearly 12 percent (11.7 percent) of adults read poetry in the last year, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). That’s 28 million adults. As a share of the total U.S. adult population, this poetry readership is the highest on record over a 15-year period of conducting the SPPA, a research partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. …

“Growth in poetry reading is seen across most demographic sub-groups (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education level), but here are highlights:

• Young adults have increased their lead, among all age groups, as poetry readers. Among 18-24-year-olds, the poetry-reading rate more than doubled, to 17.5 percent in 2017, up from 8.2 percent in 2012. Among all age groups, 25-34-year-olds had the next highest rate of poetry-reading: 12.3 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 2012.

• Women also showed notable gains (14.5 percent in 2017, up from 8.0 percent in 2012). As in prior years, women accounted for more than 60 percent of all poetry-readers. Men’s poetry-reading rate grew from 5.2 percent in 2012 to 8.7 percent in 2017.

• Among racial/ethnic subgroups, African Americans (15.3 percent in 2017 up from 6.9 percent in 2012), Asian Americans (12.6 percent, up from 4.8 percent), and other non-white, non-Hispanic groups (13.5 percent, up from 4.7 percent) now read poetry at the highest rates. Furthermore, poetry-reading increased among Hispanics (9.7 percent, up from 4.9 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (11.4 percent, up from 7.2 percent).

• Adults with only some college education showed sharp increases in their poetry-reading rates.  Of those who attended but did not graduate from college, 13.0 percent read poetry in 2017, up from 6.6 percent in 2012. College graduates (15.2 percent, up from 8.7 percent) and adults with graduate or professional degrees (19.7 percent, up from 12.5 percent) also saw sizeable increases.

• Urban and rural residents read poetry at a comparable rate (11.8 percent of urban/metro and 11.2 percent of rural/non-metro residents). …

“More than 300,000 students from more than 2,300 high schools around the country participate in [the Poetry Out Loud] recitation competition. Last April, champions from 53 states and territories competed in the National Finals here in D.C. This year’s winner was high school senior Janae Claxton from the First Baptist School of Charleston, South Carolina. …

“Each year, the NEA Big Read supports community reading programs in approximately 75 communities nationwide, and includes poetry books such as [Muscogee (Creek) member] Joy Harjo’s How We Became Human and Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke in the available titles.”

Iyengar speculates that use of social media to promote poetry may explain part of the expanded interest. As for me, I think the obliqueness and beauty of good poetry help people to get their heads around big, impossible things.

More.

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Art: Josie Merck
Mansion Beach, New Shoreham, Rhode Island

Oh, my poetry-loving readers, you are in for a treat! Praised by poets Lisa Starr and Naomi Shihab Nye and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, among others, a book of paintings and poems that captures a powerful love of a place just became available. It’s Present on Block Island, by poet Nancy Greenaway and painter Josie Merck.

I have written about Nancy Greenaway in several posts, including the time she asked for feedback on her owl poem. Her collaborator Josie Merck is both a fine painter and an extraordinary benefactor of environmental causes. Her love of nature, especially in Rhode Island, is palpable in the art illustrating the collection.

I welcomed like an old friend Nancy’s owl poem, but the other poems were new to me. They cover a variety of themes, especially the joy that the beauty of nature can inspire. But there are also poems about friendships; a poem about a big-shot visitor who failed to engage school children; a moving contribution about a brush with death (the plane’s fuel line froze; “we all now know/ just how we’d handle/ a situation like that”); a funny one about being trapped in brambles near home and calling out for help before deciding to crawl on her belly to safety; and a very touching poem about island great Fred Benson, who lived to 101 and hoped that the afterlife would be something like Block Island.

I enjoyed Nancy’s many intriguing turns of phrase, too — like a new meaning for “weather underground” and the reference to ice cream as George Washington’s “revolutionary dessert.”

You can find the book at http://www.lulu.com. Or you can call the Island Bound Bookstore at 1 401 466 8878, as I did to buy my copy with a credit card. It arrived in the mail soon after.

From “Astonished,” by Nancy Greenaway

“Each morning that I wake
“to sun painting black sky blue
“and inhale ocean-chilled air,
“I am astonished.

“First glance out my window
“grants me cloud migrations
“over Great Salt Pond,
“sails on Long Island Sound.

“I drive to work with crows,
“gulls, hawks, terns, herons
“following overhead,
“pass waddling ducks, walkers,

“check ocean choppiness
“in scene-slots between dunes,
“wave to fellow drivers
“who wave to me in turn. …

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Ronnie Hess

Two people I know got attention for their writing this week.

Ronnie Hess, a friend from childhood summers on Fire island, won a 2015 Hal Prize from Write On, Door County, Wisconsin, for a story about Tina Hess, her mother. “Judge Michael Perry awarded the prize to ‘The Red Shoes,’ ” says the nonprofit’s website.

The mission of Write On, by the way, “is to facilitate and promote writing in Door County by nurturing the work of writers, supporting readers and audiences, and developing opportunities that encourage broad participation. …

“Write On received our nonprofit status in January, 2014. Since then, over 100 programs have been offered, reaching over 1,000 people in every portion of the county and beyond.” More here. And you can read Ronnie’s essay here, starting on p. 48.

In other news, poet Kate Colby, a friend of Suzanne and Erik, got a Publishers Weekly (PW) star for her latest collection, I Mean.

Says PW, “The book’s parts function in tandem as tools via which the author, in various degrees of obsession, contextualizes and re-contextualizes her life, her experiences, and her work: ‘I mean the walls/ are braced/ against themselves// I mean brace yourself// I mean to take the house down/ with its own components.’ ” More from Publishers Weekly.

Although I can’t use everything, I am interested in posting excerpts from your poems or your other writing. Feel free to send something small to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

Kate Colby

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