by Susan Thornton Hobby and Rohini Gupta
Have lunch with the poets during National Poetry Month.
“I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me: they are about questions.” — Lucille Clifton
Lots of people think they need to know what a poem means. Sometimes professors and experts dissect a poem so much that a poem dies before we allow it to live. But what if a poem was written not to answer questions, but to ask them?
Lucille Clifton, a National Book Award-winning poet, wrote from her home office in a townhouse in Columbia for decades until her death in 2010. And she never stopped asking questions with her poetry.
Sometimes, when we talk about poetry, people’s eyes glaze over. Occasionally (or more often) poetry just seems impenetrable. But it doesn’t have to be. Clifton’s poetry is accessible, understood at a first reading, with meaning that grows deeper with a second or third reading, prompting those questions that bring readers to her poetry over and over again.
Once we’ve hooked you with Clifton’s work, we have plenty of other ideas of where to start with poetry. Perhaps with Amanda Gorman’s performances at President Joe Biden’s inauguration and at the Super Bowl, more people are intrigued about poetry, but don’t really know where to go for good poetry beyond inspirational quotes on Instagram. We’ve got your poetry questions covered.
Soon after the Howard County Library’s Central Branch opened in 1981, Clifton read her poetry with three other amazing poets, William Stafford, Roland Flint, and current Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri. HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society) brought those poets and library customers together forty years ago, and we’re still collaborating today. Across those decades, we have together sponsored movies about Gwendolyn Brooks and Seamus Heaney, organized readings by poets such as Josephine Jacobsen and Stanley Kunitz, judged student poetry contests, and even staged a play about poet Emily Dickinson, “The Belle of Amherst.”
Since National Library Week (April 4-10) coincides with National Poetry Month in April, HoCoPoLitSo and Howard County Library System thought it would be the perfect time to launch a new program. Every Tuesday in April, HoCoPoLitSo and the library collaborate to bring you a lunchtime buffet of poetry, virtually.
Join HoCoPoLitSo and Howard County Library System for their newest program, a lunch break of poetry every Tuesday in April. At Noon: Poetry Moments. Register here.
When the pandemic closed everyone’s doors, HoCoPoLitSo created a new video series, both to reach out to people at home who were hungry for the arts, and to amplify the voices of Black poets who have visited HoCoPoLitSo audiences since 1974. With the help of Howard Community College’s Arts Collective, and director Sue Kramer, we produced the Poetry Moment series. Local actors Chania Hudson, Shawn Sebastian Naar, and Sarah Luckadoo offer introductions, then famous poets like Clifton and Kunitz and Heaney and Brooks read their work, with selections extracted from archival video. Ellen Conroy Kennedy, the late founding director and heart and soul of HoCoPoLitSo, started this archive in 1986 when she began documenting the poetry and literature programs she was producing. The Writing Life resulted, with more than 100 full interviews with authors carried on HoCoPoLitSo’s YouTube page.
In April, every Tuesday at noon, we’ll gather virtually to talk poetry. We’ve grouped the poems by theme for each week, and will talk a little about poetry, then watch the videos together and discuss.
Here’s our poetry hit parade:
April 6: We’ll talk about grief, something many people are dealing with this year. Poems we’ll be discussing include “Elegy” by Linda Pastan, “My Deepest Condiments” by Taylor Mali, and “The Long Boat” by Stanley Kunitz.
April 13: History is this week’s theme, and we’ll talk about Sterling Allen Brown’s “Southern Road,” read by poet Toi Derricotte, “In the Tradition” by Amiri Baraka, and “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova, read by poet Carolyn Forché.
April 20: Many contemporary poets turn to their families as sources for poetry. The poems we’ll read this week are “good times” by Lucille Clifton, “The Pomegranate” by Eavan Boland, and “A Final Thing” by Li-Young Lee.
April 27: Our last week is centered on pep talks in poetry, verse to lift us up and give us strength. We’ll discuss “The Solstice” by W. S. Merwin, “For Every One” by Jason Reynolds, and “I Give You Back” by Joy Harjo.
HoCoPoLitSo and the HCLS are happy to collaborate in bringing poetry to all who ask questions, to any who believe, like we do, that words can change the world.
If we hook you on poetry, consider tuning in to the April 29 Blackbird Poetry Festival, featuring Ilya Kaminsky and sponsored by Howard Community College and HoCoPoLitSo.
Register for the HCLS lunch poetry programs At Noon: Poetry Moments.
Susan Thornton Hobby is a proud library volunteer and HoCoPoLitSo board member and consultant, and with the library’s support, she coordinated this April poetry feast. Rohini Gupta is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS.