Library Columns Mary Beth Isaacson

April Is National Poetry Month

Mary Beth Isaacson
by Mary Beth Isaacson

Did you know that National Poetry Month is about to begin? It’s one of the largest literary events in the world, celebrated by millions of readers. National Poetry Month was created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, a month-long festival to highlight the importance of poetry in our culture. Poetry is one of the oldest forms of literature in existence. We still read many ancient works, including the Epic of Gilgamesh (Sumer, 2100 B.C.), the Mahabharata (India, 8th or 9th century B.C.), the Iliad and the Odyssey (Greece, 8th century B.C.), and the Aeneid (Rome, 1st century B.C.). These texts are all epic poetry, recounting heroic deeds and events such as the Trojan War or the founding of Rome. The verse format aids memorization and recollection, facilitating the performance of these works.

Epic poetry may be one of the oldest types of poetry, but there are many other forms from all over the world. Poetry types are often distinguished by the number of lines and the number of syllables per line. One of the most famous types of poem is the haiku, which dates back to medieval Japan. A haiku is three lines long and consists of seventeen syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second, and three in the last. Traditional Japanese haiku are about nature or the seasons, but can be on any subject so long as they follow the prescribed format. Want to try writing some haiku? Haiku Poetry Day is on April 17. If you’re looking for inspiration, your Highlands County Libraries have several books of haiku, including translated Japanese poems and fun modern works like Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka, or Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum.

We couldn’t talk about poetry without mentioning William Shakespeare, England’s national poets and one of the greatest writers in the English language. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, in addition to 38 plays, all composed in verse, and many of which contain additional poems and songs. A sonnet is a form of Renaissance poetry, originating in Italy, consisting of fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter. This latter term refers to the syllables that are stressed in each line, and the number of syllables per line, in this case five. 2016 is an especially important one for Shakespeare fans, who mark the four hundredth anniversary of his death on April 23.

Writers of all kinds may want to give the National Poetry Writing Month Challenge a try. It’s simple: write a poem a day for 30 days, one for each day in April. The official website,, will have a different prompt every day for inspiration, and will spotlight poets from around the world. Be sure to check out their list of participants’ websites—it’s a great way to discover new poets! Ultimately, poetry is about playing with words; it doesn’t need to follow a particular format or pattern. And if you don’t succeed in writing 30 poems in 30 days, that’s okay too.

You can participate in National Poetry Month by visiting your Highlands County Libraries and checking out our poetry collections. Poetry can generally be found in the 800 section: 811 for American poetry, 821 for English poetry. We also have poetry translated from German, Japanese, Chinese, Persian, and many other languages. On Thursday, April 21, we’ll be celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day. It’s just what it sounds like: select a favorite poem and carry it around with you, sharing with others throughout the day. Bring your own poem if you like, or get one from us. One of my favorite poems comes from Barbara A. Huff’s book Once Inside the Library. Here’s an excerpt:

Everything that books can bring

You’ll find inside those walls.

A world is there for you to share

When adventure calls.

You cannot tell its magic

By the way the building looks,

But there’s wonderment within it—

The wonderment of books.