National Whatever Month

I’ve never been a devotee of days of observation. I watch National Months and World Days go by, see them hashtagged on Twitter and earnestly posted on Facebook with inspiring quotes or worrisome statistics. Mostly I wonder why I can’t muster much excitement about these concerted celebrations of (often underrepresented) arts, cultures, identities, etc.

Some of it’s probably overload. There’s so much information, on demand or in your face, and it’s more than a human can sanely accept and process, let alone enjoy. I can’t even keep up with all the books I want to read; no wonder I missed National Haiku Day and forgot to celebrate Asexual Awareness Week. And no wonder I’m not too fussed about that, even though both of those foci matter to me.

It might also be complacency: reasonable comfort with a status quo that I may not entirely value or even like, but benefit from constantly all the same. I don’t have to raise awareness for my race, religion, sexuality, or cultural arts. With the exception of my gender, I occupy (or at least I look like I occupy) our mainstream culture’s current “default” setting. I can coast.

Erasure outside that default is a real thing. So Limitation 2 is an opportunity — complicated by Limitation 1. The conflicting needs and desires of any given day or life or nation are a complex dance.

All of this spooled out from the realization that National Poetry Month, which wrapped up yesterday with the end of April, actually engaged and excited me all month. I was discovering new contemporary poets, sharing their work on Twitter, memorizing new poems,* carrying poems around with me and slipping them into my returning library books.**

How I memorize poetry

Sure, I do those things anyway, but I don’t think about them every day. I don’t seek within myself, or give to this thing I value, that kind of concentrated attention. It was like a daily prayer to the poetry gods, like a slantwise version of my current contemplative practice. It focused me. It was fun. It was expanding. It was worth the fuss.

Some favorite discoveries from the month:

Orion Magazine’s poetry editor, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, selected 7 poems that have appeared in Orion, for National Poetry Month with an eye toward Earth Day. She’s a good curator. I especially loved Brian Doyle’s Tyee.

Joanna Streetly, poet laureate of beautiful Tofino, BC, ran a poem a day, by various authors, highlighting each selection with lovely photography.

Out-of-season, but wonderful, and concerning my own favorite season: First Chanterelle, from Stephen Siperstein in The Hopper.

If you’re in the Seattle/Bellingham area, there’s a free poetry reading series at Mount Baker Theater, and this Friday, May 3rd at 7pm, they’re featuring contributors from For Love of Orcas, a beautiful anthology of prose and poetry dedicated to (and raising money to benefit) Pacific Northwest orcas and salmon. I don’t know who’s reading, but PNW poets in the book include Kim Stafford, Kelli Russell Agodon, Maya Jewell Zeller, and Jessica Gigot, all of whom write wonderfully. And me.

Anne Haven McDonnell. I didn’t remember seeing her name, but happening on a piece of her work, I went searching for others and realized I’d loved them already in several favorite publications. McDonnell doesn’t appear to have a book out yet, but I hope it won’t be long.

Brilliant white trilliums, freshly emerged from the forest floor.
Something else I celebrate in April

*This month I added Norman MacCaig’s Interruption to a Journey and Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Early to my mental catalogue.

**April 18th was Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day. Which has me singing the closing line from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder every time I think about it.

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