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New York Celebrates National Poetry Month


The month of April was first designated National Poetry Month in 1996, with the goal of increasing awareness of poetry through a wide range of public performances, events and celebrations. The choices seem endless. Among them: a reading of Homer's classic The Odyssey aboard a ship at Lower Manhattan's South Street Seaport, a performance of Ukrainian epic ballads at the Bowery Poetry Club, or a panel discussion on Greek-American poetry at Cooper Union University

All this and more is available at the 3rd annual People's Poetry Gathering which brings the world's poetry to stages, libraries, bookstores and even bars in New York City.

At an event called "Head to Head Haiku" at CBGBs, one of the city's most famous alternative rock music venues, poets read their haikus in a contest. The winners get $17, one for each syllable in the traditional Japanese poem.

Poet 1: Snowflakes gently brush. On Bowery cars rush and slush. Winter in spring time.

Poet 2: At the Battery two rivers like Babylon. I sit down and weep.

Poet 3: I'm a poet who slices some fish in a deli counter, Brooklyn.

Poet 4: Sometimes I like to put club soda in my socks to make my feet fizz.

The citywide celebration features many forms of poetry, from ancient songs to modern ballads, from sonnets, elegies, and epics, to folk music, raps, and even lullabies.

Louis Mofsie, a Native American from the Hopi and Winnebago tribes, hosts a Writers' Circle at the American Indian Community House. He says that in the Native American tradition, the poetry is in the music.

Lee Briccetti, the director of Poets House, a Manhattan-based poetry resource center said this annual gathering makes it possible for the public to really participate in poetry.

"It's amazing to me to be in this moment when we're gathering the history of our poetries and to also have this reading spontaneously so that we continue to focus on the news that stays news," she said. "What an amazing experience to hear all these poets from all over the world, sharing their lives and their words with us."

A special program at Poets House features Iraqi poetry, with original and translated readings. Novelist Elias Khoury from Lebanon reads a well-known 1953 Arabic poem by the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir As-Sayyab called Stranger in the Gulf.

"A voice thunders in the abyss of my bereaved soul, Iraq. Like the crest rising, like a cloud, like tears to the eyes. The wind cries to me, Iraq, the wave howls at me, Iraq, Iraq, nothing but Iraq."

From Iraq to Brazil, the celebration brings together poets from all over the globe. Some choose to read their own works, while others prefer to share the works of poets they admire. One young man from Argentina recites a poem by the famous American beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

But whatever your poetic preference, the People's Poetry Gathering in New York City is sure to have something for everyone, much like the city itself.