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A Month in Verse


According to W.H. Auden, "Poetry makes nothing happen." Please keep this in mind as you walk through the sheepish parade of days known as National Poetry Month. Let's make it another precious, non-event year by forgetting our bards before we get introduced. Let's not even raise a glass of bad wine to Pulitzer Prize-winning William Meredith (1988), or activist poet Grace Paley, or to sweet, irreplaceable Jon Anderson, whose "Looking for Jonathan" I cannot imagine living without. We lost all three last year. Let's vow not to visit the library again or the used-book stores where poetry lives. Let's not avail ourselves of the transformative power of the perfect combination of word, image, metaphor and cadence.

Let's not browse among the many recent book releases by emerging and prominent poets: newcomer

Nihilist's Guide to Poetry

Kevin Young ("For the Confederate Dead"), Nobel laureate Derek Walcott ('Selected Poems"), new formalist X.J. Kennedy ("In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems 1955-2007"), Mary Oliver ("Thirst") and Li-Young Lee ("Behind My Eyes"), along with freshly edited selections of the works of Elizabeth Bishop ("Poems, Prose and Letters") and Frank O'Hara ("Selected Poems"). Robert Hass' "Time and Materials" won the National Book Prize and Pulitzer this year. It is filled with the bread of regular American speech, captured as it sits in our mouths and in our minds.

Maybe poetry doesn't matter. So why even try? Particles will still collide. The universe will continue to breathe without our reading a single page. Let's face it, most poems don't do a thing and get away with it. Then there's that one that becomes a little bird in your hands. -- Darren Morris

Mouths of Babes

Whether you're into ancient Sanskrit, rap, dirty limericks or the universal language of love, it's pretty hard to escape the stranglehold poetry has on society at large. Why does it glimmer with both mystery and pomposity? Why is it so hard to find at the mall? Why are there so many poets packed into Starbucks, yet only one meager shelf of poetry at most large chain bookstores? Local poets Cheryl Pallant, a University of Richmond professor of poetry, and David Wojahn, director of the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, wax poetic about the kiss of death for poetry and why, after all these millennia, we can't seem to live without it. — Valley Haggard

What is the kiss of death for a poem?

The quick answer is a cliché. "Her skin was white as snow, your love is like a rose" — there are so many, I don't even want to say them because they'll get stuck in my head. If I hear about another big fluffy cloud, I'll… — Cheryl Pallant

I want poems to be emotionally and sonically intense — and memorable. I want the form and the content to be so intertwined that the two things can't be unraveled. If a poem is more interested in its content than its form, I find it pretty dull; if it's just an arid display of craft, I find it similarly dull. — David Wojahn

Why is it so hard to find poetry at the mall?

You can't eat it, wear it or give it any real element of glitz. So you're not going to find it in the mall, and in most cases you won't find anything but drek in the so-called poetry sections of chain bookstores. Poetry makes its inroads subversively, often because its readers recognize how acutely it speaks against consumer culture and the political status quo. — D.W.

Why do we tend to hate the poetry we are forced to read in school?

When kids are introduced to poetry, it's in school and they are told this is what it means and they are not taught any of the joy of poetry. I tell my students to gift a poem.

Here's what they say: "I didn't know that poetry was so powerful." It really needs to be in your bones and on your breath and this thing that rolls off your own tongue. — C.P.

Cheryl Pallant will read from her new series of chapbooks Thursday, April 17, at the Fountain Bookstore at 6:30 p.m. 1312 E. Cary St. 788-1594.

Local Dialects

A proven seller of poetry does about as much business as books on embalming. But the unpopularity of poetry is what enriches its allure; the very act of acquiring it is divisive. The following is a list of locally edited and/or published poetry 'zines, both paper and electronic. — Darren Morris

Blackbird (, a joint venture of the Department of English at VCU and New Virginia Review, bills itself as an online journal of literature and the arts that features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, a gallery of visual artists and audio segments.

Failbetter ( is a widely read (60,000 readers per issue) and respected online literary publication featuring original works of fiction, poetry and art. Started by Thom Didato, coordinator of VCU's English graduate program, Failbetter was one of the first online publications to be recognized by the Pushcart Prize and The Best American Poetry series.

Handsome is an attractive oversized print poetry journal co-edited locally and looking to grow. Between its covers is a bevy of emerging poets.

The Indelible Kitchen, sponsored by Popular Ink (, gets high traffic and has worldwide contributors but loves to get stuff from Richmonders.

Makeout Creek ( is a recently launched, independently financed 'zine that features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, visual arts and cultural reviews. Published biannually, it also emphasizes local talent.

New Zoo Poetry Review, a paper journal published in the first quarter of each year, was founded in 1997. Edited locally, NZPR features the best poetry it receives and doesn't play favorites.

Poictesme ( is the undergraduate student literary journal of VCU, distributed free in the spring. It's funded entirely by student activity fees.

Verse ( is a poetry journal edited by Brian Henry an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Richmond.

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