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Constance Alexander: ‘Poetry Minutes’ look to inspire all would-be poets during National Poetry Month

Although we are not even half-way in, it already feels as if the month of March has been sitting on top us too long. Like a big, wet dog — sloppy, drooling, and shedding fleas – it just won’t go away. But April, National Poetry Month, is just around the corner and WKMS-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate in Murray, is gearing up to celebrate.

The Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month in 1996 to celebrate poetry and poets, and to encourage support for them. Inspired by efforts at the national level, WKMS launched Poetry Minutes in 2005, broadcasting original, short poems by kids from the region, mostly elementary and middle school, twice a day in April.

This year, WKMS is inviting people ages 13 on up to write a short (60 words or less) poem, record it, and submit it to WKMS no later than March 20. Approximately 30 will be chosen for broadcast in April.

The theme for this year’s Poetry Minutes is “Gratitude,” a recommendation that emerged from brainstorming at the February meeting of the WKMS Advisory Board. Several ideas were discussed that night, but when “Gratitude” was offered, the group embraced it. The consensus was that there is a need for positive thoughts at a time when so much of the news is negative.

For those who swear they cannot write a poem, WKMS has a solution. The station’s website features helpful hints and also provides links to websites that showcase some of the world’s most famous short poems.

My personal contribution to Poetry Minutes will be to conduct random, “pop-up” poetry workshops, offering assistance to would-be poets. The first of these sessions was on air at WKMS last week. Tracy Ross, host of Sounds Good, a midday music and community news program, was the lone participant.

Reluctant at first, he warmed up with a pep talk about what I like about poetry, including the way a poet can set her own rules and break the rules if it feels right. Brevity is another element of poetry that presents a creative challenge. Finding the right word or image is fun and exciting, as long as the writer doesn’t take herself too seriously.

A quick example of a famous short poem is William Carlos Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow.” Just 16 words in four stanzas, it is easily summarized: A red wheel barrow glazed with rain water sits beside some white chickens.

People often react to the poem by questioning if it is “really” a poem. For kids, the white chickens often get a laugh, while adults are wont to claim they can do better.

Of course, this is where everyone is encouraged to give it a try.

Rising to the occasion, Tracy Ross started by remembering an aroma that brought him back to a pleasant time when he was about nine years old. Asked to comment on what feelings the scent inspired, he continued and I took notes, stopping him at 15 words.

“One more word to sum it up,” I said, and he replied, “Freedom.”

Here is the result:

Gratitude by Tracy Ross

fresh cut grass

summer day nowhere

be no restrictions

This is the same format as the Wm. Carlos Williams “red wheelbarrow” poem, no capital letters, no punctuation. It creates a sensory experience individual to the poet but also universal in appeal.

For more information about writing and submitting a poem on the theme of “Gratitude,” go to the WKMS website. The Academy of American Poets site is www.poets.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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