April is National Poetry Month, and if you're like me, you're getting ready for your big poetry party: Sending out the invitations, figuring out what food and beverages to serve, getting the party favors ready and lining up the house band.
OK, I'm not doing any of that stuff, either.
But it is true that April, T.S. Eliot's "cruellest month," is National Poetry Month, inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.
So I thought this would be a good time to connect with David Biespiel, the Portland poet who last month was named Oregon State University's first poet-in-residence.
Biespiel is the author of 10 books of poetry and prose, including "The Education of a Young Poet," "A Long High Whistle," which won an Oregon Book Award for general nonfiction in 2016, and "The Book of Men and Women," which won the 2011 Oregon Book Award for poetry. "Republic Cafe," a new collection of poetry, is due next year.
OSU didn't have to look too far to find it's first poet-in-residence: He's been an instructor in poetry in OSU's creative writing program since 2001.
In his new role, Biespiel will teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students at the university and will work to promote poetry in the community and beyond.
But, he joked, "They're still making me take out my trash."
More seriously, he said that the designation was a way for OSU brass "to sort of reward my time" at the university and "to allow me to be more available to the campus. ... to encourage students to put poetry into their lives in some substantive way."
And he likes the underlying idea behind that notion: that poetry has something vital to offer all students, even if they're studying biology or civil engineering.
Personally, I'm always admired poetry for its discipline and precision, its insistence on finding exactly the right word at exactly the right time; those are traits that are important regardless of one's line of work.
Biespiel doesn't disagree with that, but he has — as you might imagine — a different take that offers considerably more nuance. He said he wants to emphasize to students across campus that "their own major has a language that is vivid," and that their own language can be a bridge to help creating metaphor. "Then, you've opened the door," he said. "You're taking the words of one experience to dramatize another experience."
That experience need not be limited to students, he said.
"Most people have some special language," he noted — a poem, perhaps, or a song lyric or something else — "some sort of language that cracks the code for them of existence." One of the goals of National Poetry Month, then, is to help participants reconnect (and possibly expand upon) those words.
To that end, Biespiel said, a pair of OSU seniors are working to send out a poem a day on "OSU Today," the campus' internal emailed newsletter, all during April. The students will choose the poems themselves, and the idea is to use this to showcase the work of some of OSU's outstanding poets, including Jennifer Richter and Karen Holmberg. (It isn't quite accurate to call OSU's School of Writing, Literature and Film one of the university's best-kept secrets, because word is starting to get out. Biespiel said it's been exciting to watch the school develop, and noted that its faculty has become younger and more diverse.)
A couple of additional poetry notes for April: Portland-based poet Anis Mojgani, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 6 in the Lab Theatre in Withycombe Hall on the Oregon State University campus. The event is free. Withycombe Hall is located at 2921 SW Campus Way.
And mark your calendar: The annual "Poem-in-Your-Pocket" Day appears to be scheduled for Thursday, April 26 (there is some confusion on this point, but April 26 is the consensus). On that day, you are encouraged to find a poem you like and to share it with others, either in a public setting or on social media, using the hashtag #pocketpoem.
Poetry should be read aloud, so if you can, find an occasion to do that with your pocket poem. If you can't do that, here's an option: On Thursday, April 26, my phone message at 541-758-9502 will include my pick for this year's poem: After the beep, feel free to read me your poem.
I'm still searching for my pocket poem. Biespiel has one in mind already: Richard Hugo's "Shades of Gray in Philipsburg," one of the greatest poems by one of the greatest Northwest poets. Don't know about Hugo? National Poetry Month provides a great opportunity.