This month is a time to honour the world’s oldest literary art — and the institutions that support it. National Poetry Month is designed to share the appreciation of this art with Americans of all classes and backgrounds.
It’s one of the things I love about it. Most of the National Poetry Month events I’ve attended over the years have been held at state and university libraries, or independent and locally owned bookshops. Those events have ranged from dramatic recitations of the works by that skillful sonneteer (you may have heard of him) William Shakespeare to readings by a newly published teacher to group presentations by a hip-hop troupe.
The democratization of this art is something to celebrate. So, too, are the bookstores and libraries that maintain the treasure chest of the beautiful. They safeguard the future of language, rhythm and verse. And they are valuable community hubs.
But today, they’re in jeopardy. The humble community bookstores have been threatened by speedy Internet technology and the conveniences provided by Amazon, which has brought high-stakes economics into the book business.
Amazon is a huge corporation that can sell low-priced e-books, while using slick marketing tools to identify readers’ preferences.
But Amazon can’t provide a gathering place where children can learn or local authors can teach writing classes. It can’t duplicate the experience of browsing shelf titles for oneself. And it certainly can’t duplicate the educational experience of a poet’s live reading to a small and attentive audience.
Another threat to the poets’ corner is the cutback in the budgets for public libraries.
It’s become too common an experience to arrive at the local public library and find that the hours have been reduced yet again. We’ll never know how many potential readers and writers of poetry will suffer from these cutbacks.
Poetry is a tree that has to have roots. Let’s use this month to support the bookstores and libraries that serve as those roots.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet in Santa Fe, N.M. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.
—McClatchy Tribune Services