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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Poetry by Mail
Right now it is a dark and rainy Portland night. I’ve just returned from attending Lit Quake in San Francisco and I’m sitting here collecting my thoughts about the experience. The feeling that keeps coming, the feeling that keeps washing over me is this: wonder.
Wonder at the hundreds of people walking up and down the Mission to hear other people read, to listen to a story, to lift up in their chairs at the end of a poem. There seemed to be a collective bravery, a collective celebration at being alive. It felt like… well… it felt like a living poem.
So now I’m thinking about poetry! It was one of the earliest inventions of almost every culture known to the planet earth, helping form our earliest civilizations. Poetry is radical for many reasons not the smallest being that it teaches compassion and empathy. Even if you are not a poet, even if you do not read poetry, you are always talking in similes and metaphors, in image-making and lyric moments.
The fact is that poetry has always advocated for us. Beyond the more secular creation of publishing houses and prize money, poetry has only ever wanted us to live, to feel, to be together, to love and grieve, to engage with the dark, to walk through the light. Poetry has lifted us up out of the worst sort of sorrow, as well as illuminating moments of happiness we thought couldn’t get brighter.
I think it’s time for us to advocate for poetry!
I want to ask if you will join me in a small, inexpensive, but possibly life-altering experiment. Over the next thirty days, let’s all buy a favorite book of poems and send it to someone who doesn’t usually read poems. This could be a family member, friend, your local representative, whomever! I believe poetry enriches our lives and our hearts. I believe that by sharing poetry with others we are taking part in humanizing our culture.
So that we may all share in the experience, you can tweet the book title you mail and whom you are sending it to with the #shareapoem hashtag.
For my part, I have picked up two copies of Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light and am sending them to Portland’s mayoral candidates. Whoever becomes my mayor, I want them to do so with a book of poems on their shelf.
It’s raining a little harder outside. I can hear the buses on Burnside driving west toward a soggy downtown. It’s dark. But in living rooms and apartments, in bars and restaurants, in countless bathrooms, there’s someone reading a poem, somewhere…and that makes the world a little less scary, a little more bearable, and exceedingly more interesting.
So let’s raise a book of poems in the air! Let’s preach the good news of poetry and all it does for us! Advocate for poetry and you advocate for a better world.