‘I’m going to push some poetry on you’ during National Poetry Month

Approaching my first April as Bethel’s Poet Laureate is a little bit like a new dad approaching his first Father’s Day. It is a big deal in my mind, but I have no idea what it is going to be like, and no one else really seems to notice my confusion. So, because I have no preconceived ideas about what a Poet Laureate should do in a newspaper column, I’m going to push some poetry on you.

When I was named Poet Laureate of Bethel, I heard three types of responses. The first was “Congratulations.” This was often followed by “Bethel has a Poet Laureate?” while the third response was, “What’s a Poet Laureate?”


Let this serve, then, as my introduction to the Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo. As I write this on a rainy day, I’m drawn to her poem by her, “Praise the Rain.” One of the lines reads, “Praise crazy. Praise sad.” I love this line because it points to the beautifully expansive vision she urges in so many of her poems by her. A couple of lines later she says, “Praise beginnings; praise the end,” which, again, allows us the space to see the entirety of the world. You can check her out of her on the Poetry Foundation website.

Let’s get a bit more local, and talk about Margaret Gibson, the Laureate of our own state. On her website de ella (Margaretgibsonpoetry.com) you can find her de ella poem “Irrevocable,” which meditates on loss and memory. She hopes that “a human voice//might widen its reach, floating off among the stars like the ringing-through/of a great bronze bell.” Like Harjo, Gibson urges us to step outside ourselves and see things larger than us, to break free of the small vision that clouds our minds. This, to me, is the great strength of poetry: it offers a pathway for empathy and a new way of looking at things that can lead to an awareness of the world beyond the tips of our noses.

Poetry Month will also be filled with events, so check out your local listings to find something near you. If you’re in Bethel, you can (and should) join me with several of my fellow poets at Byrd’s Book on Friday, April 22: Laurel Peterson, Van Hartman, Barbara Jennes, Catherine D’Andrea, and Suzanne Frischkorn. All of these poets are more than worth reading, so look for them the next time you’re searching for poems.

I will be working with the poetry squad from Sacred Heart University to bring poetry to Bethel. Several of the students will help me give a presentation to all three grades at Johnson Elementary School, where we will explore poetry and play around with writing our own works. Soon we will descend upon town and place poems in various businesses (with the business owners’ permission of course) to create a sort of “Where’s Waldo” but with poems instead of that guy in the stripey shirt. If you find a poem, take a picture of yourself with it and post it on social media with the hashtag #BethelPoetry.

Finally, as a laureate, I urge you to read more poetry. If you’re stuck in line at the post office, check out the Poetry Foundation website I mentioned above. While you’re waiting for your oil change, head over to the American Academy of Poets. Once those sites have whetted your appetite for poetry, go to your local bookstore or library and browse the stacks. Poetry books are usually small and compact, so there’s no reason you can’t carry a couple with you at all times. After all, it’s National Poetry Month, so it’s your patriotic duty.

Rick Magee is a Bethel resident and an English professor at a Connecticut university. Contact him at rmmagee.writer@gmail.com.

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