April is National Poetry Month. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak causing schools to shut down and alter graduation ceremony plans, an Illinois college is celebrating the poets of past and present — and a new book of poetry — a little differently this year.
In collaboration with Hewes Library, Monmouth College English Professor David Wright is hosting a virtual celebration of poetry. The festivities kicked off today and will continue the rest of the month with daily poetry readings by students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni.
“Poetry is like wrestling — it’s best done hand-to-hand,” said Wright regarding the importance of hearing poetry as opposed to simply reading it.
Public Services Librarian Anne Giffey says she and other Hewes Library employees miss the opportunity to share their love of reading and poetry with students. They see this virtual celebration as a way to connect with them from afar.
“Hewes Library staff are a bit in mourning without the celebrations of daily successes with our students,” said Giffey. “To that end, we can find solace in sharing the things we love, including the words we love. While our library is a physical space, the library’s staff is pleased to be a part of sharing words of poetry in a digital space. It really has been a pleasure to participate and learn from each other.”
Wright says he is looking forward to the joint celebration.
“I think the library does social media as well as any department on campus, so I’m excited Anne and Library Director Sarah Henderson suggested partnering with us,” said Wright.
Giffey was the first member of the Monmouth College campus community to share poetry through social media and on the library’s portal she helped create.
“Anne’s going to read a couple of silly Ogden Nash poems that she does a great job of reading,” said Wright prior to the celebration kick-off. “We have a good range and mix of staff and faculty, women and men, varied disciplines and other important areas of campus life. And the poems they offer should also be a diverse representation.”
Dean of Faculty Mark Willhardt, a former English professor, also contributed to the first day of the college’s virtual celebration of poetry with a reading of “Hope” by Czeslaw Milosz. Up next will be Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt and students in Wright’s Advanced Creative Writing course.
“We plan to have a couple new videos each day through the end of the month. My students will either be reading poems they’ve written or some of their favorite poems,” said Wright. “One of the things I stress in my class is a responsibility for literary citizenship, and a way to promote that is to highlight the work of other people.”
The series of videos will conclude with snippets of Willhardt interviewing Wright about his third collection of poetry, which was published last fall. Wright originally planned to promote his book this spring at several public venues, but with the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in the state of Illinois, those events had to be canceled, and posting an interview video was “the next best thing.” Wright says Willhardt “has seen me work my way through at least eight or nine different forms of Local Talent over the past few years,” which is why he was chosen for the interview.
According to Monmouth College, Wright “deepens his poetic engagement with the physical and spiritual terrain of the Midwest” in Local Talent.
One reviewer wrote, “Whether we grieve and mourn our losses, or celebrate fleeting moments of connection to others, this collection offers an honest and imperfect vision of discerning how our varied talents root and sustain us in whatever landscape we inhabit if we can, how Wright phrases it, ‘stand, bare-eyed and loving this place’ as we struggle to embrace ‘a nearly open-ended sky.'”
Wright says the book’s title stems from a phrase that can be traced back to his youth, when he and his father would take evening drives around the town square in Washington, Illinois.
“We’d drive around the public square and see the same crowd sitting around. He’d say, ‘Oh, look, the local talent’s out tonight,” said Wright. “He meant it as a negative comment, but I’ve turned it on its head to kind of embrace the Midwest — that’s what we have, that’s who we are.”
More information about Professor David Wright is available here.