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Constance Alexander: Mark Twain might be pleased with this poetry celebration that’s ahead of its times

When Mark Twain declared, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Kentucky, because everything there happens 20 years after it happens anywhere else,” he had no way of knowing that one Kentucky community has taken the lead in observing April as National Poetry Month.

For the second year in a row, the Calloway County Public Library is hosting a public reading of poems by Kentucky writers on Tuesday, April 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Calloway County, in fact, can be counted at least 20 years ahead of all others in creating a community tradition in honor of Poetry Month. Moreover, according to the Academy of American Poets website, Calloway County Public Library is the only organization in a 100-mile radius hosting a poetry event on April 23, at 6:30 p.m., so take that, Mr. Twain.

Not only has the public been invited to share favorite poems by Kentucky writers, but a few poems by Shakespeare — though not a colonel but an honorary Kentuckian for the occasion — will be included, since April 23 is the Bard’s birthday. A reception following the readings will include birthday cake and a lot of candles, but probably not the requisite four-hundred-and-three, as fire regulations would not condone such a conflagration.

Last year’s Poetry Month celebration at the Murray library featured works by some Kentucky favorites, including Robert Penn Warren, Wendell Berry, James Still, and Thomas Merton. This year, at least one reader has chosen Jesse Stuart, a Kentucky writer whose work used to be featured in many high school literature anthologies.

A former Kentucky Poet Laureate, Stuart published over 2000 poems, more than 60 books, and a large number of beloved short stories. A comprehensive collection of Jesse Stuart’s work is housed at the Pogue Library on the Murray State University campus, further testimony to the community’s leadership in terms of poetry.

Work by Kentucky’s newest Poet Laureate, Jeff Worley, is on the April 23 program. Author of five books and three chapbooks, Worley has also edited a poetry anthology. His poems have appeared widely, in magazines and journals in the U.S. and Canada. He is the recipient of an array of grants and awards.

Several volunteers are sharing poems they have always loved. Murray’s Annie Knight, for instance, will be presenting “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, who will also be dubbed an honorary Kentuckian for the evening.

Another highlight will be a reading by Marcie Johnson, also from Murray. Ms. Johnson’s presentation will honor Kentucky writer, Barbara Kingsolver. An excerpt from her work, “Ordinary Miracle,” will be paired with an excerpt from Shakespeare’s “Tempest.”

In 2018, the audience was invited to write memorable lines from the various readings on the paper-covered walls of the meeting room. This year, more lines will be added as listeners are inspired by the poems. The lines may inspire new poems that can be featured in the 2020 poetry fete.

The reading on April 23 is free and open to the public. The Calloway County Public Library is at 710 Main Street in Murray. For more information, or to sign up to be a reader, contact Mrs. Sandy Linn, Calloway County Public Library Program Coordinator, at sandy.linn@callowaycountylibrary.org. The phone number is 270-753-2288.

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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