April, come she will. When streams are ripe and swelled with rain.
So begins Paul Simon’s deceptively simple examination of a love affair released on the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel album, Sounds of Silence. As summer fades into autumn, the affair dies – exhausted, broken, but beautiful, too – waiting to be resurrected with the promise that the next spring brings.
I think of this song every April as we exchange snow boots for rain boots, as warmer temperatures bring with them a certain magic, the expectation of longer days and warm summer evenings, the end of school and the beginning of new adventures. The first lines of the song evoke a certain longing, a certain anticipation, a certain yearning of what can be, before disappointment and disillusionment set in.
I thought of Simon’s verse – a poem, really – modeled on a traditional English nursery rhyme, with the arrival of National Poetry Month this April. National Poetry Month is a set of events and materials sponsored and promoted by the Academy of American Poets every April since 1996. Many publishers and community organizations like the Cuyahoga County Public Library partner to recognize National Poetry Month through events and resources encouraging reading and writing of poetry.
The festivities surrounding National Poetry Month reminds us that poems can speak to us in ways that few other things can, capturing fleeting moments or complicated emotions on their own terms. The way the light hits a window. The sting of humiliation and the tears that follow. The meaning of a glance between strangers. To be sure, poems can tackle big sweeping ideas and complicated histories, too, but always they are compact pieces where each word matters, each sentiment essential.
We often think about poems as those verses we had to memorize and recite in front of unreceptive middle school classmates, chores rather than illuminations. Becoming comfortable with a poetic narrative can be difficult, and a first encounter with a poem can be unsatisfying for readers of novels. But like so much in reading, peeling back the layers of the text to see new things reveals new meanings and new ways of seeing the world. Tight and taut, the poem invites scrutiny, gives space for reading and re-reading, encourages self-examination alongside reading, urges engagement – also the hallmark of the Books@Work learning experience.
It makes perfect sense that National Poetry Month comes in April, the month that we urge out of slumber, the month of which we dream throughout the winter, the month that signals new possibilities and fresh starts, but that is both reassuringly familiar and exasperatingly slow in delivering on its promise. Poems are a little like that for most of us – a new and different form, but with contours that we recognize. They are awkward in the beginning and demand settling-in, getting comfortable, unpacking.
This April, let each one of us give a poem or two the chance to emerge slowly, haltingly, just as the spring itself does.
Is there a poem that particularly moves you?
Image: Vincent van Gogh, De roze boomgaard, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam [Creative Commons], via Wikimedia Commons.