April is National Poetry Month. This year, five poets have been chosen to be honored. I’m Mary Tillotson.
And I’m Steve Ember. Great poetry is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
National Poetry Month begins April first. The American Academy of Poets started this yearly observance in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. The goal is to show the importance of poetry in American culture. One of the main events will be a reading by the world’s largest poetry-reading group. On April second, people all over the world will read the works of poet Langston Hughes.
Other major poets being honored this month are Gertrude Stein, W-H Auden, Marie Ponsot (pahn-SOH) and Shel Silverstein (SIL-ver-steen).
Many people helped organize National Poetry Month across the country. They include poets, booksellers, members of reading groups, teachers and librarians. They organized readings, book shows, special meetings and other events.
This year is the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Langston Hughes. To celebrate this, the American Academy of Poets has opened a special exhibit on the Internet’s World Wide Web. It tells about his life and work. This exhibit can be found at w-w-w-dot-poets-dot-o-r-g.
Other groups joined the Academy to organize special events to honor Langston Hughes. During the April Second event, people around the world will read his poems. They will read his poems in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community and religious centers. His work also will be honored at a celebration April Thirtieth at Town Hall in New York City.
People called Langston Hughes “the poet voice of African Americans.” He was one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. This was a period of great artistic creativity among blacks who lived in the Harlem area of New York City.
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in Nineteen-Oh-Two. His parents separated, and he spent most of his childhood with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. He began to write poetry when he was a child.
As a young man, Langston Hughes studied engineering for a short time at Columbia University in New York. But soon he began to travel, something he did all his life. In Nineteen-Twenty-Five, Hughes settled in the Harlem area of New York. During his life he lived many places. But he always returned to Harlem.
Hughes became established as a writer in Nineteen-Twenty-Six. That year, he published a collection of jazz poems called “The Weary Blues.”
Hughes gained fame for his descriptions of black American life. He used his work to praise his people and voice his concerns about race and social injustice. Besides poetry, he wrote dramas, short stories and novels. He died in Nineteen-Sixty-Seven.
Listen now to Hughes’ poem, “Minstrel Man.” Performers in minstrel shows sang and danced and made people laugh.
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
Poet Gertrude Stein was born in Eighteen-Seventy-Four in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Three years later her family moved to Europe. Later they settled in Oakland, California. Gertrude attended college and medical school in the United States. But she did not become a doctor.
In Nineteen-Oh-Three, she moved to Paris. There she met writers like Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. Some critics say Gertrude Stein was as important for her influence on writers and artists as for her poetry.
Her first book was published in Nineteen-Oh-Nine. “Three Lives” told about women who work to support themselves. Critics praised the book. It established Gertrude Stein as a popular new writer.
Gertrude Stein often repeated words to help express the messages of her work. She believed this repetition helped explain her meaning. Her line, “Rose is a rose is a rose” because famous.
Sometimes people found her work hard to understand. Still, critics consider her a major poet. Listen for the repeated words in these lines from “Stanzas in Meditation” by Gertrude Stein.
Which I wish to say is this
There is no beginning to an end
But there is a beginning and an end
Why yes of course.
Any one can learn that north of course
Is not only north but north as north
Why were they worried
What I wish to say is this.
Yes of course
The American Academy of Poets also will honor W-H Auden. Many critics consider him the finest English poet of the Twentieth Century.
Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, in Nineteen-Oh-Seven. He was educated at Christ’s Church College at Oxford University in England. Auden published his first book of poetry in Nineteen-Twenty-Eight. Another collection of his poems was simply called “Poems”. It was published in Nineteen-Thirty. This book helped his work become widely known.
In Nineteen-Forty-Eight, he wrote “The Age of Anxiety.” This long poem was published as a book.
Listen to this beautiful poem by W-H Auden. It is called “Funeral Blues.”
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Poet Marie Ponsot (pahn-SOH) was born in Nineteen-Twenty-One in New York City, where she lives today. In her long lifetime, she has published only a few books of poems. But many critics say she is one of America’s finest poets. Her collection, “The Bird Catcher” won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Marie Ponsot began publishing poems as a child. She attended universities in the United States. After the end of World War Two, she went to Paris. There she met French artist Claude Ponsot, whom she married.
Many years later, the marriage ended. She raised seven children, mainly by herself. Marie Ponsot writes about home life, marriage and friendship. Listen now to Marie Ponsot’s poem, “Old Mama Saturday.”
“I’m moving from Grief Street.
Taxes are high here
though the mortgage’s cheap.
The house is well built.
With stuff to protect, that
mattered to me,
These things that I mind, you know, aren’t mine.
I mind minding them.
They weigh on my mind.
I don’t mind them well.
I haven’t got the knack
of kindly minding.
I say Take them back
but you never do.
When I throw them out
it may frighten you
and maybe me too.
it will empty me
and keep me here
asleep, at sea
under the guilt quilt,
under the you tree.”
The Academy of American Poets also is honoring Shel Silverstein (SIL-ver-steen). He was an artist and songwriter as well as a poet. His poetry and drawings please both children and adults. Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born in Chicago, Illinois, in Nineteen-Thirty-Two. He began writing poems as a young boy. During the Nineteen-Fifties, he served in the military in Japan and Korea. In the service, he drew cartoon art for the newspaper “Stars and Stripes.”
One of his earliest and most successful books of poetry is called “The Giving Tree.” Later he wrote poetry books including “Falling Up”, “A Light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” He once said he hoped that people of all ages would find something to identify with in his poems. He died almost three years ago at age sixty-six. Here is “Examination”, Shel Silverstein’s funny poem about going to the doctor.
I went to the doctor –
He reached down my throat,
He pulled out a shoe
And a little toy boat,
He pulled out a skate
And a bicycle seat
And said, “Be more careful
About what you eat.”
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our poetry readers were Shep O’Neal and Sarah Long. I’m Mary Tillotson.
And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.