Intentional Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month (That Aren’t Reading Poetry) - Verily

For almost 25 years, April has been designated National Poetry Month. Those of us who write poetry may participate in challenges like writing a poem a day or dedicating time to read a poem each day. But non-poets can celebrate this month as well! Though many of us may be reminded of confusing high school English classes when it comes to poetry, it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve found that reading poetry inspires me to be more attuned to the poetic in everyday life. It also elevates ordinary life. It asks me to truly listen in to what’s being read or said on the page. It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand every word—what matters is my openness to being moved by a word, a line, a single thought.

And yet, poetry books are not the only place to find poetry. Below are a few ways the poetic has been touching me lately. You’ll notice that none of them require picking up a book of poems (which I also highly recommend!)

01. Through Music: “Seed” by Lizzy Shell

I met singer/songwriter Lizzy Shell at a wedding a few years back. On my way home from that wedding, I listened to her album, “Seed,” and was moved by the soundscapes she created in her work. In the first song on the album, “I’m Letting Go,” she lyrically speaks of the release that accompanies the decision to surrender the sometimes-tight control we try to cling to: “I’m letting go, letting go of the life inside my fist / I’m holding out for the light at the end of all of this / And I believe, I believe there’s no meant to be that’s ever really missed.” The repetition of the “is” sound is lovely, as is the sentiment of not missing what’s truly important in our lives, especially in a culture where FOMO is an ever-present reality. In another song, “Armoured Heart,” Shell encourages her heart to become more vulnerable, in spite of past hurts: “Staring down the barrel of a straight black line / I’d fall in love but who has the time? / And I never met a heart quite like mine / Satin, tobacco, and turpentine / Break apart, armoured heart.” Her honesty is piercing, and the striking words she uses to describe her heart add freshness to what could easily have been a clichéd topic.

What moves me most about Shell is the way she weaves language into stunning tapestries of sound and image. The poetry of her work shines through in the ideas she relates throughout the album. In “Hymn to Wisdom,” she says, “If every loss is harbinger of deeper, greater gain, / Then everything’s redemption and nothing is in vain.” In the midst of a season of life that has been tinged by anxiety, I love not only that Shell doesn’t shy away from what is hard—failed relationships, regret, fear—but also faces these difficulties with a hope that sails over it all. Shell’s work is worth a listen, but something you might also consider for National Poetry Month is to pick a song a day and to really listen through intentionally. What do the lyrics stir up inside of you?

02. Through Film: This Beautiful Fantastic and The Bookshop

I think what is specifically poetic about both of these films is the intentionality of the details. I’d never realized until I saw them how important color can be to a film. Both Bella and Florence, the female protagonists of This Beautiful Fantastic (which I’ve written about before) and The Bookshop respectively, sport clothing that is visually appealing. Florence’s style is slightly fantastical and composed of mismatched vintage patterns, while Bella’s style features long, flowy compositions of mostly block primary colors. The landscapes—a backyard garden and provincial countryside—add to the visual aesthetic of both films. 

The fact that both characters are working toward noble ends—Bella to restore an overgrown backyard and develop her writing career and Florence to rebuild her life after the death of her husband and to share her love of books with a small town—is another aspect of these films that inspires me. Bella and Florence encourage me to be myself even if myself strikes others as whimsical and even strange. Both films explore how these characters grow through the trials they face, and the impact they have on the people around them.

After watching films like these, I leave feeling better able to notice the aesthetics of the everyday: the colors and patterns of sunlight playing through leaves, the delicate eyelets in a sweater at a thrift store, the deep dimples of a contestant in one of my favorite baking shows. Perhaps the end of National Poetry Month can be a time of more deeply noticing what brings you joy. I know I’d love to see an Instagram photo series like this—a picture of something that brings a person joy for every day.

03. Through Podcasts: The Slowdown

Though I’m newish to the world of podcasts, I appreciate their portability and the vast variety of topics they cover. From word origins to relationship advice, there’s a wealth of information to be sampled. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ve recently looked into poet Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, The Slowdown. Every weekday, Smith shares another poet’s poem after offering a brief introduction. The podcast is incredibly compact—just five minutes long. It’s a bite-sized intro to many modern poets’ work. Smith also does a lovely job of establishing a personal connection to the poems she’s sharing, which helps establish their importance in her own life. When I listen, I feel a bit like I’m walking through a room of precious objects, picking up each piece and learning a little bit about them. Because Smith has done the work of picking a particular poem from the millions out there, I’m better able to focus on and appreciate the poetic treasures she’s found.

I believe that there is a poetry to anything that deeply interests us. So go ahead—listen to an episode of a favorite or new podcast each day until the end of April, and you’ll be celebrating one of the many ways people communicate about what inspires them. And you might just pick up a new interest yourself.

Poetry can be many things—art, painting, music, pottery, baking, writing, the list goes on. My hope is that this National Poetry Month inspires each of us to do one thing more intentionally. In a world that can sometimes feel anxious and uncertain, the poetic is a way to breathe a bit more freely. It allows us to better see the beauty which, even among the most unpleasant of circumstances, is always present.