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Constance Alexander: Immerse yourself in poems this April in celebration of National Poetry Month

In Murray, poems are popping up like daffodils: free, wild, and suffused with hope after a winter that swallowed a whole year. Now that it is April, National Poetry Month, and the shroud of COVID seems to be lifting, it is time to mix a few metaphors and raise a toast to poetry.

L’Chaim! It is good for what ails us.

WKMS-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate, has invited listeners to pen their own poems on the theme of hope, and record them for broadcast every weekday in April. And students in Dr. Carrie Jerrell’s poetry classes at Murray State University are digging in to celebrate poetry by planting poems in public spaces.

(Photograph by Ruth Hinz Plucinski)

“Their poems run the gamut,” Jerrell remarked. “Everything from Lord Bryon to Ruip Kaur.”

Abigail Moore, of Jackson, Tenn., signed up as soon as her professor challenged the class to choose a poem they loved and wanted to share with others. Plucking a perennial favorite from the garden of low-hanging fruit, Abigail snagged William Carolos Williams’ “This is just to say.”

Taking the first two lines of the famous gastronomic apology — “I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox/and which/you were probably/saving/for breakfast…” – Ms. Moore tucked a copy in an envelope, decorated it, and planted it.

“I left my poem next to a plum tree at Walmart,” she reported. “And it’s already been picked up.”

A student from Clarksville, Tenn., Emma Schwartz, could not resist sharing Mary Oliver’s “Morning in a New Land.” The last stanza is guaranteed to catapult the reader into paradise:

I stood like Adam in his lonely garden
On that first morning, shaken out of sleep,
Rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves,
Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift.

Poems have found hiding places on and off-campus. Benches, in the library stacks, by the napkins at Einstein’s bagels were some popular sites at MSU. Others chose spots in Murray like the little library at the arboretum, the one-room schoolhouse at the city park, and in various aisles of Kroger.

“A few students planted theirs in their hometown if they went home for the weekend, or at their workplace. My favorite is among the toilet paper stacks at Menards in Paducah,” Jerrell admitted.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

The professor created an Instagram account for the project (@murraystatenapomo2021) and posted each of the poems along with the student’s explication.

In the meantime, home-grown poets were creating and recording short poems for WKMS’s celebration of National Poetry Month. This is the sixteenth year of Poetry Minutes, broadcast on WKMS every weekday at 8:43 a.m., 12:19 and 3:48 p.m. This year, in the wake of COVID-19, the theme was hope.

Justine Riley, Graves County, wrote “Miles and Millimeters,” describing a journey that weaves a “cosmic cloth puzzle.”

Sarah Brechwald, Hopkinsville, found hope in the same small faces, apparently in a classroom, gazing out the “same window, same room, every day.” While some might glimpse boredom, she spots a profound change, observing “such love and growth in a year.”

Murray’s John Secor recorded “Hope” and discovered that virtue in “new bags of potting soil.” He contrasts his inner and outer world and envies the call of adventure in the songs of young birds, prompting him to “hope TSA believes the COVID-hair poet and photo ID are both me.”

Those interested in getting involved in poetry month might start looking for poems in all the wrong places. The Academy of American Poets shares lots of ways to join the poetic party at poets.org.

WKMS is also broadcasting poetry specials Mondays in April at 11 a.m. The first installment was “The Poetry of Emily Dickinson.” The second was the poetry of Walt Whitman. Coming up on April 26 is Sylvia Plath and a collection of readings featuring “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and other selections.

NPR is a partner in another process that invites listeners to submit mini-poems on Twitter and Tik-Tok, with a 15-second time limit. More information is available at www.npr.org

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