Celebrating Poetry during NPM

Celebrating Poetry during NPM

Gwynn Scheltema

I love April. It’s a month of budding trees, long-asleep bulbs poking through the earth, warm sun on my back and the promise of summer to come. And April is National Poetry Month (NPM)—a chance to read, write, share and support poetry on a national scale. I love it!

I also love the story that started it all: Back in 1996, members and staff of the Academy of American Poets headed to the steps of a post office in New York City where individuals waited in line to mail their tax returns. The story goes, that they handed out copies of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, which begins, “April is the cruellest month….”

In 1998 Canada followed their lead and today, NPM brings together schools, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and poets from across the country. This year, 2018 will celebrate the 20th anniversary of NPM in Canada!

Reading poetry

If you don’t have poetry on your bookshelves, there is plenty out there to sample. You might want to start with the Poetry Foundation website where you can search poems by poet or poem title or explore their collections by topic. You can listen to audio clips of poetry read aloud and browse their magazine Poetry, the oldest monthly poetry magazine in the English-speaking world.

Another great website for classic poetry and prose is Project Gutenberg. This volunteer-based site offers over 56,000 free eBooks mostly of older works for which copyright has expired. Here is a great spot to sample poets like Keats, Wordsworth, and Robert Frost.

Or consider having a poem delivered to your inbox each day. Sign up at Academy of American’s Poets.org to receive original new poems during the week and classics on weekends. Poetry Foundation also offers a poem a day by email or via an app on your phone. If you’d rather begin small, try Carol Rumen’s Poem of the Week published in The Guardian.

Writing poetry

Just like the reading version of a poem a day, Writer’s Digest runs a Poem-A-Day challenge each year curated by Robert Lee Brewer, author of the blog Poetic Asides. Each day during April, Robert posts a prompt and invites poets from around the world to write and post their poems and comments on the postings. He also chooses a daily winner and an overall winner for the month. Writescape’s Ruth E. walker won one of the daily challenges with a poem she wrote at our Spring Thaw retreat that year.

If you are new to poetry, perhaps consider taking an online course to get you started and inspired. MOOC (Massive open online courses) offers a wide variety for studying poets or writing poetry like this one from California Institute of the Arts.

Sharing poetry

During poetry month, poets and lovers of poetry encourage activities to celebrate poetry. In my region, Poetry in Cobourg Spaces (PICS), along with convenor James Pickersgill, worked with Ted Amsden, Cobourg’s poet laureate, to create a poetry event on Earth Day.

The public plus local schools were invited to submit to a poetry contest. The poems had to be on topics directly related to Earth Day, like the environment, our planet, ecology, nature, organic gardening and/or farming, evolving human awareness of other living organisms, climate change, greenhouse effect, and pollution. The poems were to be 24 lines or less and the winners read their poems at ceremonies at Cobourg’s Ecology Garden on April 22, Earth Day at dawn!

Also in my area, a group of poets, equipped with vintage typewriters brought people’s stories to life through poetry in a unique public art installation.

At the Shelter Valley Folk Festival five Green Wood poets talked with people and created poetry, non-stop, for over three hours. Beginning with the question “what brought you here to this moment?” the poet and person talked for 15 minutes before leaving the poet to capture the essence of the conversation. It was all pecked out on a typewriter in public view. Identified with a number for anonymity, the poem hung on a clothesline, both as a public art installation and a personal gift for the person to take away.

I love it!

One of the spin-offs that came out of NPM is something called Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day. Also celebrated in April—this year on April 26—Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day encourages people to carry a poem with them, and share it with others throughout the day. This day is celebrated not just in North America, but in Europe and Australia too. Some of the activities that everyone (not just poets) are encouraged to get involved with are:

  • Start a “poems for pockets” giveaway in your school or workplace
  • Urge local businesses to offer discounts for those carrying poems
  • Post pocket-sized verses in public places
  • Start a street team to pass out poems in your community
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite lines of poetry
  • Add a poem to your email footer
  • Post lines from your favorite poem on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr
  • Send a poem to a friend

Supporting Poetry

Of course, like writers, poets struggle to make a living from their art. So I challenge you to buy a book of poetry this April. No idea what to buy?

Visit some of Canada’s poetry publishers: Brick Books; Black Moss Press; Hidden Brook Press and Guernica Editions. Or check out these 16 collections recommended by CBC last fall. Or the 10 best of 2017 recommended by Canadian League of Poets. When in doubt, head to your nearest independent book store.

Poets also appreciate attendance at their poetry readings. A quick Google search of “poetry reading” and “Northumberland” gave me 3 readings in the next three weeks I could attend including this one at the Cobourg Poetry Workshop.  Notice boards in coffee shops often have reading flyers, and if your city boasts a university, there are bound to be readings connected with them too.

Let us know in the comments how you intend to celebrate National Poetry Month. So much poetry to explore. Only 30 days in April. Better get busy!

DID YOU KNOW

A Writescape retreat alumnus, Ingrid Ruthig, recently won the 2017 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for the best first book of poetry, This Being. This national award, sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, places Ingrid firmly in the midst of such well-known poets as George Elliott Clarke, John Newlove, John Barton and Pearl Pirie.

And she spent her Spring Thaw retreat time focusing on her poetry. We think it was time well spent.

Secrets of a Good Radio Interview

Secrets of a Good Radio Interview

Gwynn Scheltema

The other day, this message came up on my Facebook stream:facebook-radio-cropped

northumberland-89-7Well, I may not have a word for that, but I do understand it. I’ve been interviewed as a writer several times on the radio, and I’m a co-host for a weekly radio program, Word on the Hills, that airs on Northumberland Radio 89.7FM. In the three years we have been running, I’ve learned a thing or two, and here’s the tips I have to offer:

Understand why are you doing the interview.

Why did the radio station ask you? Why did you agree?

Our station promotes all things local. We want to showcase people from our region doing interesting things. Word on the Hills narrows that focus to local people connected with the writing world. We love personal stories, relaxed chatter and slice-of-life humour is always welcome. We don’t just want to hear about the book. We want to hear about you. Your writing journey, your struggles, your triumphs. We want the human face on the book.

You are presumably looking at the interview as a promotional opportunity. But are you clear about what it is you want to promote? Yourself as a writer? An upcoming event? Your new book? All these things?

We are happy to be a promotional outlet for you, but you need to give us entertainment in return.

Arrive early

radio-1475055_640Before your program can air, we need to settle you in the studio, get you set up with your mic and test your voice quality. I like to go over the format with my guests and make sure all their questions are answered. Even if you are doing the interview by phone, we still need to prepare you and test the voice quality of the connection. At your end you need to minimize background noise and get comfortable.

 

 Understand the format

Our half-hour show is really 22 minutes. Done in two 11-minute segments. Occasionally we can go over that a bit, but we need to leave 5 minutes  at the start for news and weather updates and ads, and then a 3 minute ad break in the middle. Now consider that during the show, we need a couple of minutes up front to introduce the show and you our guest. At the end we need wrap-up time, and before and after the break we need to reacquaint listeners with what they are listening to. All that takes time too.22-minutes

What this means is that you really only have 8 to 10 minutes per segment devoted to you.Use it wisely.

Use your time wisely

The first step in using your time wisely is being prepared. We always offer our guests the opportunity to supply any questions they want to be asked. It’s a win-win that way. We know that you will be enthusiastic about your answer, and you will feel more in control and we will both be serving our goals.

If the radio station you are dealing with doesn’t make this offer to you, then make it to them.Or ask them what they will be asking you so you can come prepared. At the very least, arrive at the interview with some questions prepared in case.

town-sign-1699957_640Of course, hand in hand with that, make sure you prepare your answers. Don’t rote learn a script or plan to read. That is deadly! Instead know the points you want to make and practise talking about them out loud to yourself in a mirror, or with a friend or family member. Bring your notes with you. Radio is “blind” so no one will know you are using cues.

Most importantly, link whatever you talk about to what you want to promote. Almost any question can be steered to the topic you want to talk about provided you are clear about what that is.

Especially come with factual information written down. Event dates and times. Contact info. Website URLs. Not only will this help you remember during the interview, but it makes it easier for the radio host to echo the information because it’s handy.

Choose appropriate readings

If your interview will include readings, keep to short complete excerpts. Pick the same kind of things that you would for a live reading: funny bits, action and suspense. Not long descriptions or introspective musings. Make sure your piece is in context. If you have to supply a lead in, fine, but count it in the allotted reading time. If you are promoting your book, choose a bit that represents it so we get a flavour of the rest.

Always practise your readings out loud at a slower pace than the speed you talk. And time them. I’ve had to cut people off in mid-reading because the program was out of time. I’ve also edited recorded pieces so they will fit, and the author didn’t get a say in my edits.fel-gwynn

Although people love to hear stories, their listening focus isn’t very long. If you have been allotted more than 5 minutes of reading time, break your reading into two shorter pieces. And make them different. Leave them wanting more.

If you are reading from typed pages, bring them in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle. If you are reading from a book, mark the pages so there is no dead air or mindless mumbling while you find your spot.

It’s all about you

The most important thing to remember is that this is about you—not the radio station, not the presenters—you! Take control. Know and push your agenda. Just do it in a way that pleases listeners, and you’ll have the radio hosts—and listeners—eating out of your hand. And with any luck, buying your book.

Have you ever been interviewed on radio? Any more advice to offer?