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Poems in pockets, Hass on Whitman & Simic's "Confessions of a Poet Laureate"

As April and National Poetry Month draw to a close, there are no shortage of eleventh-hour efforts to showcase American poetry in public events and media coverage. Some of them are more noteworthy than others.

While we realize that the late Mae West would have a risque rejoinder ready, The Academy of American Poets designated Thursday (April 29) as Poem In Your Pocket Day.  Hundreds of literary and arts organizations around the around the country participated in a project to circulate pocket-sized samples of favorite poems in public spaces and other places where it is not usually found, like (too many) schools, government offices, workplaces and public transportation stations. One of the Academy's local partners in the Buffalo area this year was Buffalo State College's Rooftop Poetry Club, which undertook the "What Poem is in Your Pocket?" project on April 7, and circulated the "pockets" on campus yesterday.  

On yesterday's edition of the National Public Radio program Fresh Air, host Terry Gross interviewed former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass on the new, annotated collection Song of Myself and Other Poems by Walt Whitman he recently co-edited (with Paul Ebenkamp) and wrote the introduction to for Counterpoint Books.  "When I began reading [Whitman], without a sense of how terrific the best of the poems were, I thought he was kind of a gasbag," Hass admits to Gross, when prompted by her quoting Emerson's assessment of Leaves of Grass ("I thought he was going to write the great poems of America and he wrote the catalog...")  You can stream the interview, read a transcript of it and even an excerpt of Hass's introduction to the volume at the program's website.

Speaking of former poet laureates, Charles Simic reflects back on his 2007-2008 term as "Poet Laureate Consultant to the Librarian of the United States Congress" (the official job title) in "Confessions of a Poet Laureate," an essay at The New York Review of Books website. (Yes, even the eminent NYRB now features a writers' blog.) "America may be going to hell in every other way, but fine poems continue to be written now and then," Simic writes in an essay that is as irreverent as it is encouraging. "If I were asked to sum up my experience as the poet laureate, I would say, there‚Äôs nothing more interesting or more hopeful about America than its poetry."

 --R.D. Pohl

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