Last night, I attended the live broadcast of the 20th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind gala of the Academy of American Poets. This celebration o f National Poetry Month doubles as a fundraiser to help underwrite the Academy’s education programs, which provide 60,000 K-12 classroom teachers each year with free resources—including online lesson plans—to inspire students to read and write poetry.
I count myself as both a teacher and student who has benefited from the many wonderful resources at the Academy’s website. In fact, it was Donna Baier Stein, who teaches Tiferet Journal’s Spiritual Poetry Writing workshops, who sent us students the registration link for the event.
Because I was in my car, I couldn’t watch most of the livestream, as poets, actors & activists read poems of great poets, dead and alive, that inspire their own work. Some read their own poems, as well. Since the program was not being recorded, I knew I had no choice but to listen attentively or miss out entirely.
Despite tuning in while driving, or perhaps because I was driving along a familiar route, I found my body relaxing as it released the stress of the day. My concentration on the road was not diverted for one moment, even as my soul was entranced by the beautiful, healing cadences of the spoken word.
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Emcees Richard Blanco & Kimiko Hahn set the most wonderful tone for the program, a more than hour-long ode to the art of poetry with only one formal ask for donations. The line-up of readers included actors Alan Cumming, Ethan Hawke, John Lithgow, Liam Neeson and Molly Shannon, who was at once hilarious and inspirational. We also heard from Malala Yousafzai, who spoke movingly about the Pashto poetry of her childhood before reading a poem by the American slam poet Beau Sia.
The program concluded with US Poet Laureate Ada Limón reading two poems dedicated to the trees. By then I was sitting at my kitchen counter, and could focus on both her gorgeous rendition and her facial expressions as she read. The whole journey was uplifting.
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If you’ve never visited Poets.org, which not only provides teaching resources but also makes poems freely accessible to more than 20 million visitors, I encourage you to sign up for their Poem-a-Day newsletter and begin or end your day with poetry.
You can also listen to poems read aloud at their YouTube channel by browsing videos from their Dear Poet 2022 series. Here are links to two of my favorites:
If You Knew, read by Ellen Bass
Give Yourself Some Flowers, read by Marcus Amaker