By Bliss Bowen
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
“Poetry leaves room for silence. And poetry makes room for questions that are unanswerable and for them to sit there.” —Richard Blanco
April is National Poetry Month — an annual event created 25 years ago by the Academy of American Poets that has grown into an annual celebration for poets, poetry lovers, schools, libraries and their communities.
To celebrate poetry is to foster discovery and engagement in that form, with its simultaneous compression and expansion of language. It’s a form uniquely suited to moments of contemplation as well as crisis. LA-raised poet Amanda Gorman, the former National Youth Poet Laureate who electrified the world with her presidential inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb,” recently tweeted, “Poetry is the language of power & the language of the people … creatives bring vision to change not yet accomplished and words to dreams not yet named.”
South Pasadena Poet Laureate Ron Koertge (ronkoertge.com) was inspired by Gorman’s poem as well as National Public Radio’s Poet-in-Residence Kwame Alexander’s crowd-sourced “This Is Our Dream” to compose a similarly community-themed poem with input from local residents.
The South Pasadena Public Library plans to publish “Beginnings” this month. One of the goals of National Poetry Month is to motivate poetry lovers to write a poem a day throughout April. Descanso Gardens is encouraging people to slow down, tune into their natural surroundings, and create their own haiku — the ancient three-line form of Japanese poetry (descansogardens.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Haiku-instructions.pdf).
Da Poetry Lounge has taken its open mic nights online during the pandemic; consult its calendar (dapoetrylounge.com) for details.
Alternatively, listen to or read poetry. Scroll through Da Poetry Lounge’s ample library of soul-gripping poetry performances (youtube.com/c/DaPoetryLounge/videos) as well as Poetry.LA’s video gallery of Southern California poets (poetry.la). Hear readings of selections from “Altadena Literary Review 2020” (and also stop by last year’s Poetry & Cookies virtual gathering) at Altadena Library’s YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/3deMMuV).
Consider signing up for Poem-a-Day (poets.org/poem-a-day), or seek out anthologies of local and regional poets. Pasadena Rose Poets’ “Poetry Collection 2019” (subtitled “Reflection. Resistance. Reckoning. Resurrection.”) gathers pieces from local artists Teresa Mei Chuc, Mel Donalson, Kate Gale, Damian Gonzalez, Hazel Clayton Harrison, Gerda Govine Ituarte, Shahé Mankerian, Toni Mosley, Carla Sameth and Annette Wong (shabdapress.com).
The Altadena Poetry Review publishes poets from Altadena, Pasadena and LA County with a mission to “encourage and uplift submissions from historically underrepresented voices;” find information about past print anthologies and read new works by Altadena Poets Laureate Jessica Abughattas and Khadija Anderson, among others, at altadenapoetryreview.com.
Also check out “When the Virus Came Calling: COVID-19 Strikes America,” edited by Pasadena poet Thelma T. Reyna, which bears witness to the pandemic through essays, fiction and poetry. It features local poets such as Khadija Anderson, Don Kingfisher Campbell, and members of the Pasadena Rose Poets (goldenfoothillspress.com).
Explore the masterful cross-section of classic and contemporary, regional and national poets (including Octavia E. Butler, Wanda Coleman, Classic Slam Alumna Amanda Gorman, Kendrick Lamar, and newly appointed L.A. Poet Laureate Lynne Thompson) in the Get Lit Anthology (getlitanthology.org). The 2015 collection “Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond,” edited by LA literary doyenne Suzanne Lummis, is a generous sampler of work by area poets, including Dorothy Barresi, Luís Campos, Alexis Rhone Fancher, former L.A. Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, and Mike Sonksen (beyondbaroque.org).
Follow poetry releases from small Southland publishers; there are too many to mention here, but a good starting place would be Pasadena’s Red Hen Press (redhenpress.org), Sylmar’s Luis Rodriguez-launched Tia Chucha Press (tiachucha.org/tia_chucha_press), and the Venice-based Beyond Baroque’s Pacific Coast Poetry Series (beyondbaroque.org/bbbooks_pcps.html).
Save the dates for LitFest Pasadena’s May 15 and May 16 festival, which will include poetry readings from “unusual” locations (litfestpasadena.org).
Krista Tippett’s “On Being” radio show and podcast calls poetry “a necessary art.” U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, in a 2019 interview with American Poets, said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.” While we await the return of live poetry readings and literary, take part in National Poetry Month with these virtual events:
• Pasadena Central Library hosts a reading on Zoom by Thelma T. Reyna, former poet laureate of Altadena, from “Dearest Papa: A Memoir in Poems,” inspired by the unexpected death of her husband of 50 years. Discussion of grief and poetry and a Q&A will follow, from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 8; register at cityofpasadena.net/library.
• The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens hosts a Zoom event with author Kathryn Aalto discussing her book “Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World,” 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 10. Said poets include Camille T. Dungy, Kathleen Jamie, Mary Oliver, and Leslie Marmon Silko. Cost is $10 for nonmembers; details at arboretum.org/events/kathryn-aalto/2021-04-10.
• Local musician/writer Bobby Johnston talks about his jazzy collection “The Saint I Ain’t: Stories from Sycamore Street” with Prospect Park Books founder Colleen Dunn Bates for a Vroman’s Live event streaming at 6 p.m. Monday, April 12. Register for free at crowdcast.io/e/043l4zb4.
• Vroman’s Live hosts a group poetry event featuring four prolific, well-regarded writers — Peter Filkins, Major Jackson, Didi Jackson and Rowan Ricardo Phillips — at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20. For details and to register for free, go to crowdcast.io/e/2f8gqs5j/register.
• Highland Park’s Avenue 50 Studio presents this month’s La Palabra Poetry Reading, with host Angelina Saenz and guests Vanessa Chica, Brian Sonia-Wallace and Jessica M. Wilson at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 25; Zoom 881 0616 8718.
• Get Lit’s 10th annual Classic Slam, a three-day poetry palooza with hundreds of youth poets, presents its quarter and semi-finals online from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 29, to Friday, April 30, and the Grand Slam finals 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 1. Details: getlit.org/event/classic-slam.
• 18th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind Virtual Gala: The Academy of American Poets’ free virtual gala will celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month with readings by Meryl Streep, Orlando Bloom, Hasan Minhaj, Samin Nosrat, Sandra Oh and more TBA, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29. Register at https://bit.ly/3w7X9tc. To learn more about National Poetry Month, visit poets.org/national-poetry-month.