National Poetry Month

Today is April 30 and the last day of National Poetry Month. I’ve been excited to celebrate this monthlong event for many reasons: First, I love poetry! In all its manifestations. Second, it healed me. Third, I met my personal goal to self-publish two illustrated poetry books. And for so many other reasons—especially that poetry helps us to understand each other and gives us a sense of all the beauty in the world.

We’re all colorful mosaics. Each and every one of us made up of pieces of life experiences—the places we’ve been, the people we meet, the things we love; feelings of happiness and sadness, tops of Rocky Mountains and rock bottoms, moments of spontaneous elation and unexpected surprises; smiles, hugs, kisses; the walks we take, the poems we read, Sunrays and Sundays—that when combined, are what make us unique individuals.

Why should we care about poetry? Because poetry is a deep breath, a warm heart, and the tingly goosebumps on your skin. It’s a bag dancing in the wintry air, lovely fingers strumming guitar strings, or words sung from the top of a mountain top—or whispered softly in your ear.

Poetry is a brisk morning walk on a back trail that opens up in front of you to reveal a vast field with sunbeams and jet streams and a tree-lined wall in the distance.

Like a delicious fragrance or cup of morning coffee, it hits your senses and gently awakens you.

I discovered my love of poetry—and the book A Rocket In My Pocket—in elementary school among the pages of Scholastic Magazine. I couldn’t get enough of this humorous book of silly rhymes when I was young!

And poetry has always been around me ever since.

I never considered myself an artist growing up, and I’m not a musician, but I loved to write song lyrics and make my own greeting cards for friends and loved ones. I was also really into my parent’s and older siblings record albums and reading the lyrics on the liner notes. I’d put on those big ol’ headphones and get lost for hours while listening to the words and curiously thinking about the meaning behind them. It was Carole King’s Tapestry album, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Doobie Brothers, Billy Preston… they’re all poets to me.

Then I went off to college and ended up becoming a nurse (because it was the practical thing to do). Poetry took a backseat to day-to-day life responsibilities—and Celiac disease.

I had little time for creativity, and even less energy.

Even though I wasn’t writing during this time, my son John—who’s an exquisite writer—won a poetry contest in the 8th grade. And my son Doug has been entertaining others with his music and rhymes for years. He’s a founding member of hip-hop improv team North Coast NYC, and I love their humor, freestyle rhymes and on-the-spot magic!

I believe energy begets energy; that you become your environment and your environment becomes you. We respond much more powerfully to our surroundings than we realize, and I needed my inspiration back. Thankfully the influence of poetry was still around me and so I began making up toasts at parties and family gatherings. I took long hikes in nature. I upped my diet and exercise game, and the poems came back. They returned to me as I lay down at night to fall asleep—inspired by the beautiful people in my life—and it felt amazing.

We, as poets, are building an environment for someone else to inhabit and respond to.

Language and the words we choose to express ourselves shape environment as strongly as smell, taste, touch and sight. So does the tone of our voices. This was important to me when choosing voice talent to recite the poems from Sage Words and Sage Spirit for my animated Poetry In Motion series. I wanted someone who could put their ‘life experiences’ into their voice and bring the poetry to life!

When BJ Alden of NorthCoast Post and I first talked about setting the poems to motion using Kimberly Taylor-Pestell’s artwork from the books, Kristen Alden’s creative direction, and his editing and sound design, BJ said he knew the perfect talent for the project and brought Elsie Swann on board. Elsie is a also a poet, as well as an emcee, artist and publisher.

I love Elsie’s intriguing, velvety voice and how she interprets each poem. She’s a great listener, as well as a talented performer, and understands the overall vision and direction that make each composition unique. The nuance and emotive quality of her voice paired with BJ’s music and sound really expressed my central idea around the poems, sometimes in ways that were a complete surprise and delight to me, but totally worked!

April 27 was Poem in Your Pocket Day, a day designated by the Academy of American Poets to encourage everyone around the country to read, write, enjoy, learn from, and respond to poetry.

National Poetry Month has inspired me to make playful connections with everyday things and experiences—from wine bottle labels and essential oils, to white indigo, hikes in nature and surprise visits from dear friends.

Poetry is The Thing with Feathers that perches in my soul! It lifts me up like a cardinal, or a seaplane floating amongst the clouds overlooking the Arctic Circle, when in reality… I’m on my back patio. It takes me on dreamy hikes through the winding road of my mind. It is both my passion, and my escape. When I crave the wide open spaces where there are few distractions and no crowds, poetry helps me find meaning in a chaotic world, and sustains me.

Simplification Illustration by Kimberly K. Taylor-Pestell

The simplicity of a poem can be like a sweet hug. Its impact is significant, as it is an expression of emotion which comes from the heart.
Whatever form a poem may be, I love thee… unconditionally!
Featured illustration is the National Poetry Month 2017 poster design by Maira Kalman for the Academy of American Poets.