Every April, in honor of National Poetry Month, we call on our audience (yes, you!) to help us celebrate the art of the verse.
We asked for your original poems: haiku, couplets, free form, you name it. This year we added TikTok to the mix.
National Poetry Month is over for this year, but the poems shall live on. Here are the submissions that caught the eyes of professional poets over the last month, who joined All Things Considered to talk about them.
"We're All Poets"
TikTok isn't just for dancing. Ayanna Albertson (@untouchableyann) has found success on the video-sharing platform through her spoken-word poetry. She helps us kick off National Poetry Month with an original poem and shares her wisdom for budding poets.
"We're all poets," she says. "I don't mean that to minimize the art of poetry, but there is always someone who needs to hear what you have to say."
Franny Choi, co-host of the VS podcast from the Poetry Foundation and author of the poetry collection Soft Science, shares a few of her favorite listener-submitted poems. Check them out below, and click the audio link to hear what struck her about her picks.
Choi's advice for amateur poets?
"Stay grounded in the concrete things," she said. "Stay grounded in your five senses and the things that you can taste and smell and touch. I think there's a tendency to go really big and philosophical and feel like you need to have this great big answer to enormous questions. But actually, I think our job as poets is just to create a little bit of language that encapsulates just the small thing about our lives that might fly into the heart of somebody else through words."
"Lower Your Standards"
Poet and memoirist Mark Doty, winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry, contemplates love, loss and mortality in his work.
Doty, who chronicled the AIDS epidemic in his books, says our current health crisis offers poets a new realm for meditation.
"Poetry is a way of knowing more fully where you are and who you are," Doty said. In these pandemic times, he said, "You need to look at your sense of isolation or disconnection: What does it mean to stay home? What does it mean to be deprived of things that are usually a part of your daily life and that help you to feel you are yourself?"
You can view his favorite listener-submitted poems below.
Asked for tips he would share with other poets, Doty borrowed frank wisdom from American poet William Stafford to help writers who hit a wall: "Lower your standards."
"That's actually very good advice," Doty said. "First you have to say it however you can, get it on the page, and then start making the language better — make it more interesting, make it more surprising."
No Rules Needed
Samuel Getachew's love of poetry sprung from his avid reading habit during lunchtime in grade school.
"My teachers, in my first classroom writing assignments, would always tell me, 'This is good but it's not academic writing — this sounds like poetry,' " he said. "So there was kind of a moment in middle school where I started writing poetry super intentionally. And then I just never looked back."
Getachew served as the 2019 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and was a finalist in last year's National Youth Poet Laureate program.
Asked for advice he has for others hoping to write poetry, he said, "Writing doesn't have to have rules if you don't want it to."
As for inspiration, he shares an exercise favored by many poets — both new and experienced — as a way to get started writing: Find a line that resonates with you in a favorite book, poem or song. "Use that as the first line of whatever you want to write."
Scroll down to check out the listener-submitted poems that resonated with him.
"Language Is Physical"
To close out the month, poet Natalie Diaz picked listener-submitted poems that touch on generosity and survival with just a few short verses.
Diaz's poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
A member of the Mojave tribal nation, she also directed the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program in Arizona to work to preserve the native language. A word lost for a long time was kavanaam, she said, until one of her elders remembered it.
"It's a way that we heal and press and touch the body," she said. "That small, tiny word — kavanaam — bringing it back into our lexicon and into our spoken conversations, it also led us toward touching one another differently. That's something that the language work has given me is the understanding that poetry is physical, that language is physical, and it has a power of touch as we carry ourselves to one another."
For Diaz, it's not about the amount of time spent crafting poetry but the quality of that time.
"I don't need an entire day to write a poem. Like, I can't afford an entire day, to be honest. Really, what a poem is, is an attention and an intention of language," she said.
And that doesn't always happen in written form.
"I think it's nice to pool from poetry into my day, to say that, 'Oh, you know, my partner just called my name from across the room, and I'm going to let myself resound in the way that sounded,' " she said.
"Sometimes it's not simply what I can make of my life that becomes a poem, but it's what I can take from a poem that will make my life a little bit better."