Every April since 1996, readings and workshops are held throughout the United States to celebrate National Poetry month. Begun by the Academy of American Poets, this month-long festival brings writers, students, businesses and a host of nonprofit agencies together for events exploring poetry and its place in American culture. For some, poetry is a new literary form, while for others, it is a year-round commitment.
Carol Muske-Dukes, an English professor at the University of Southern California, is the author of seven books of poetry. She says that in a society focused on self-expression, reading poetry can open new vistas.
"A lot in our culture wants us to express ourselves, or asks us to express ourselves. But, what we lose with that is reading. And if national poetry month can do a great service, one single service it's this: People who have never picked up a book of poems before, will pick up something and read it," she said.
Muske-Dukes says her mother would recite poetry to her as a child and has loved reading and writing it ever since. In 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Muske-Dukes as the state's Poet Laureate, a two-year position meant to promote the genre, especially among children.
She leads workshops at the University of Southern California, where students discuss both their own writing and the poetry of well-known authors. She says that without reading, aspiring writers do not participate in the great conversation with literature which can improve their own work. Her students echo the sentiment.
Muske-Dukes partners with the organization Get-Lit, which encourages teenagers to read poetry and write and perform their own. Dario Serrano is a 19-year-old poet who says he started writing poems after the group's artistic director shared verse by Edgar Allen Poe with his high school poetry club.
"'From childhood's hour, I have not been as others were, I have not seen as others saw and I was like, awww, I feel that! And I started to write little lines off of that," he said.
Serrano says that, since then, he's read many other poets whose work has influenced his writing. During National Poetry Month, he and other members of the Get Lit Players performed at Los Angeles
Muske-Dukes says National Poetry Month can encourage this kind of back-and-forth dialogue between readers and writers. "Keep filling up the well, in other words: read someone's work that you admire, then you write about it and you answer that person in a way and then the conversation goes on," she said.
During National Poetry Month, she, too, took part in the conversation by reading selections from her work in front of an audience at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. As a poet however, Muske-Dukes says she embraces the art form every day, writing, reading and sharing poetry year-round.