The title of the day pretty much explains how it works: Participants choose a poem they like, print it out, place it in their pockets and read it aloud at every opportunity that won’t get you arrested.
The problem this year, of course, is the same problem we had last year: Even though we’re making slow (agonizingly slow) progress at getting over the pandemic hump, we’re not anywhere near there yet. So 2021 is not the time for us to gather in close quarters (even masked) and to yell poems at each other. Once again, we need to get creative about this.
Fortunately, the Academy of American Poets, which organizes the event, has a number of suggestions for how you can participate in the day without running the risk that you might join the fourth wave of U.S, coronavirus cases. I especially like the suggestion in which you can email a poem to a local government leader — which, now that I think about it, actually could get you arrested, depending on the poem.
I also like the suggestion in which you stand on your porch and read your poem out loud. So many poems take on different colors when you read them aloud, and this also gives your neighbors something to talk about.
But if you’re shy, let me offer you two other outlets: Feel free to post your poem in the comments section below. Or, if you really want to read it aloud to someone, you can call me at 541-905-4282. If I don’t answer, just wait for the beep and leave me a poetic voicemail. To honor the day, I plan to swap out my voice message on Thursday with the poem I’ve selected this year. (I haven’t picked my poem yet, but I’m leaning toward something short — it won’t do to have a potential caller waiting to leave a message while I’m plowing through “The Iliad.”)
If you need some ideas for a poem you can use, check out this selection, curated for you by the Academy of American Poets. And let’s plan to give the neighbors something (poetic) to talk about on Thursday.
And, somehow, I nearly forgot to add my selected poem. Here it is, from Carl Dennis’ collection “Callings.”
Don’t be ashamed that your parents
Didn’t happen to meet at an art exhibit
Or at a protest against a foreign policy
Based on fear of negotiation,
But in an aisle of a discount drugstore,
Near the antihistamine section,
Seeking relief from the common cold.
You ought to be proud that even there,
Amid coughs and sneezes,
They were able to peer beneath
The veil of pointless happenstance.
Here is someone, each thought,
Able to laugh at the indignities
That flesh is heir to. Here
Is a person one might care about.
Not love at first sight, but the will
To be ready to endorse the feeling
Should it arise. Had they waited
For settings more promising,
You wouldn’t be here,
Wishing things were different.
Why not delight at how young they were
When they made the most of their chances,
How young still, a little later,
When they bought a double plot
At the cemetery. Look at you,
Twice as old as they were
When they made arrangements.
And still you’re thinking of moving on,
Of finding a town with a climate
Friendlier to your many talents.
Don’t be ashamed of the homely thought
That whatever you might do elsewhere
In the time remaining you might do here
If you can resolve, at last, to pay attention.