It’s April…poetry month. This is one of the few times I actually miss my former teaching job as an English teacher of young immigrant students. I loved teaching them to read and write poetry. They gravitated to the genre like bees to honey.
I was delighted to learn that my local poetry venue, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Site (shown above), was offering a special event this month: a gathering of the Poets Laureate of Nassau and Suffolk counties to celebrate and launch a collection of their poetry entitled Laurels: Poems by Long Island’s Poets Laureate (ed. James P. Wagnerfirstname.lastname@example.org).
I always feel as though I am on hallowed ground when I visit this site, as I have more recently since I retired two years ago. Apart from being lovingly restored in beautiful surroundings, the site has welcomed many famous and not-as-famous poets over the decades and continues to be a source of inspiration for students, writers, poets-in-residence, visiting poets, and all those who love poetry. I know I’ll be in good company whenever I visit this venerable place.
This event was no exception. The group of participants included the poets themselves and the usual assortment of Long Island poetry fans. This is not a place that goes in for a lot of fanfare, so it was at first impossible to distinguish the poets from the audience members amongst whom they mingled and sat. I especially enjoyed meeting each of the poets as I asked each of them to sign my copy of their book.
The event was introduced by the first designated LI Poet Laureate, George Wallace, who spoke about the history of the position which was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature in 2003. The position of Poet Laureate is held by the chosen poet for a two-year period. Mr. Wallace emphasized how supportive the Suffolk County Legislature has been and continues to be, particularly Vivian Viloria Fisher who was Suffolk County Legislator from 1999-2011 and who was present at this event.
James P. Wagner, who published Laurels spoke next about the creation of the book. He heads a small local publishing house, Local Gems Poetry Press, “dedicated to spreading poetry through performance and the written word. Local Gems believes that poetry is the voice of the people….” He gave a special nod to poet George Wallace for serving as editorial advisor on the anthology.
Then the real magic of the evening began. Most of the poets included in the collection were present and each read three or four poems from the collection. They refer to themselves as a “tribe” of poets on Long Island, a place richly endowed with poets and their works. As could be expected, their poetry covered a range of topics and styles; each poet spoke in his/her unique voice and each poem read reflected the author’s authentic experience and emotions.
Apart from the power of their individual voices, what impressed me was how most of the poets came from ordinary backgrounds. Thus, much of their poetry spoke to everyday lives, ordinary events, and universally shared emotions. When introduced, each poet spoke of how he/she felt honored to have been a Poet Laureate and to be celebrated in the anthology.
When the readings ended, I felt suffused with the imagery and emotions of their poems. I was reminded, once again, how important it is to make time for poetry in my life…in all our lives. And sadly, I was reminded of how much we could lose if funding for the arts in America is rescinded by the current Republican administration. This cannot be allowed to happen, and I’m sure the poets at this event and others throughout the nation will make sure their voices are heard in protest. The least we can do to support them is to join our own voices with theirs.
Viva la poesia!