(Inter)National Poetry Month
"When you know a people by their poetry,
you cannot hate them."
- Gary Steven Corseri
Like Women's and Black History, Poetry has been given a month to be honored nationally. "30 days hath September..." No, that's not it. "April..." that's the one!
While poets across this land are glad to garner some extra attention, the label National Poetry Month smacks of Nationalism in an oxymoronic way. Oh, I know that countries are deservedly proud of their arts, like Finland with their national epic the Kalevala, or Greece with the Iliad and Odyssey... yet the real mystery of poetry is its universal voice.
Like music, poetry transcends boundaries and is as likely to well-up in the heart of an American professor as it is in a tribal chief on some South Sea island, or a child riding the pumpkin-orange bus to school.
While poetry is truly international or perhaps super-national, yes, it is also grounded in the language, history and mythology of particular cultures and nations; we can learn about "them over there" by reading their poetry.
Poets and the art of poetry are part of "the song-making soul of our species" to quote Gary Steven Corseri.
During the post 9-11 bombing of Afghanistan a few years ago, I thought of Rumi (one of the most widely read poets in America today) who was born in Balkh in 1207, in what is now Afghanistan. While images and sound-bites of cave-dwelling primitives flooded the amnesiatic media screens, I remembered the culturally and mystically rich world he had introduced me to, and if not for him, I too might have considered Afghanistan nothing more than a dusty land of disgruntled ne'er-do-wells.
Of course, a poet can speak for the opposite of what his country is doing or has done. In the preface to his Leaves of Grass 'Uncle' Whitman wrote: "The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots." (to which I update, liberate slaves...) In any case, the poet remains a voice of a culture or sub-culture, a voice from which we may pick up the unreported news. Or as William Carlos Williams wrote in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower":
It is difficult / to get the news from poems /
yet men die miserably every day / for lack /
of what is found there.
The film Il Postino tells, in part, the tale of Pablo Neruda and his poetry's affect on the Chilean people and the world. Whether through film, music, poetry or various other arts, our species can get to know each other better and some might actually learn, if not to fully love, to at least stop hating.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III), a poet and essayist, is the author of Singing an Epic of Peace; author/edited Haiku One Breaths; Mankh also edited an anthology of essays and poems entitled MODERN MUSES: How Artists Become Inspired. You can contact Mankh here: firstname.lastname@example.org.