Poetry Blast includes outdoor exhibition, video readings, prompts


Read a poem. Hear a poem. Write a poem.

To celebrate National Poetry Month — the largest literary celebration in the world — the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities will offer up the opportunity to do at least one, or all three, of the above during the month of April.

As part of its monthlong Poetry Blast celebration, the institute will invite members of the U-M and greater communities to join tens of millions of readers, students, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, families and, of course, poets, in marking poetry’s important place in our lives.

“During the past year many of us have felt stressed, anxious and alone. We’ve had fewer ways to connect with others or even with our own feelings and emotions,” said Peggy McCracken, Institute for the Humanities director. “As we emerge from a long winter of pandemic isolation, we want to highlight the ways in which poetry can help us to speak or listen to others, and give us language for grief, insight, inspiration or hope.”

McCracken said the idea was spurred by the many poetry resources on campus, including active faculty poets, the undergraduate U-M Slam Poetry group, the renowned Helen Zell Writers’ Program and the Michigan Quarterly Review, a literary magazine that regularly features poetry.

“National Poetry Month gave us the opportunity to recognize poetry’s potential to console and inspire us, and also to celebrate poetry at Michigan,” she said.

READ: Pop-up poems

The monthlong celebration will include several elements. Throughout April, visitors to Central Campus will be able to view more than 30 “pop-up poems” through a variety of Diag boards, and vinyl window installations at nine locations on campus and in downtown Ann Arbor, including at the U-M Museum of Art, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Pierpont Commons, Palmer Commons, the Institute for the Humanities, North Quad and the Ann Arbor District Library.  

Photo of a display on the Central Campus Diag that is one of more than 30 “pop-up poems” around campus and downtown Ann Arbor that are part of the monthlong “Poetry Blast” exhibition.
This display on the Central Campus Diag is one of more than 30 “pop-up poems” around campus and downtown Ann Arbor that are part of the monthlong Poetry Blast
exhibition. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

The poems, which are situated as part of an outdoor exhibition and walking tour, include works by faculty poets such as Tung-Hui Hu and Keith Taylor, and alumni such as Rachel Richardson, Denez Smith and others. They were curated in collaboration with Michigan Quarterly Review editor Khaled Mattawa and managing editor Hannah Webster, assistant editors from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, and several undergraduate interns from the English department.

“2021 is the Michigan Quarterly Review’s 60th year in print and we started the year off with an anniversary anthology exploring work from our archives, so when the Institute for the Humanities approached us, we were excited to share some poems from our history that speak to the diversity and vitality of the work we publish,” Webster said.

“It was an exciting challenge to narrow our selection down from the thousands of poems in our archives to ones that we hope that passersby will carry with them throughout their days — works that inspire the community to write, think, feel and explore the vibrant poetic community around them.”

In addition to highlighting work from the U-M and Ann Arbor literary communities, Webster said the selections also include translations from around the world, poems that appeal to readers of all ages, and a selection from their special issue on caregiving as a nod to first responders and others who have engaged in various forms of caregiving during the pandemic.

Although most poems are presented in English, several appear in their original languages, including French, Russian, Mongolian and Arabic.

HEAR: Noon Poems

Starting April 1, the Institute for the Humanities will release a new video at noon every weekday via its YouTube channel featuring U-M faculty members reading an original poem that they wrote.

This poem by A. Van Jordan, Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature, and professor of English language and literature and in the Residential College, is the first in a daily series of poems that will be featured on YouTube throughout April.

Audiences can also receive the daily videos via Twitter, by joining LSA’s Poetry Blast Facebook group, or by signing up to receive daily emails throughout the month.

Participating faculty members, in order of appearance from April 1–30, include: A. Van Jordan, Linda Gregerson, Ruth Behar, Cody Walker, Raymond McDaniel, Laura Kasischke, Lorna Goodison, Keith Taylor, Laurence Goldstein, Hannah Ensor, H.R. Webster, Sumita Chakraborty, Darcy Brandel, Tung-Hui Hu, Suzi Garcia, Scott Beal, Petra Kuppers, Nick Harp, Sarah Messer, Khaled Mattawa, Ben Paloff, Molly Spencer and Christopher Matthews.

WRITE: Prompt a Poem

In addition to daily faculty poems, participants can sign up to receive prompts to write their own poems each weekday. Laura Kasischke, an award-winning poet and professor of English language and literature, collaborated with the institute to create each prompt.

Promotions like this one can be seen in various campus and downtown locations promoting Poetry Blast. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

“The prompts are meant to provide inspiration, which is something poets often have a hard time finding,” Kasischke said. “Your poems, however, can and should go wherever the inspiration takes you. I’ve offered directions and ‘rules’ as part of these prompts, but poems don’t have to follow directions and rules. Once they get started, they often break all their own rules.”

Kasischke says that the prompts were created for participants of all abilities — novices and seasoned poets — and she has outlined a framework to help those who are new to the craft get started.

“Your prompt work might give you something to work on all day, if you have time, and if you don’t have time, you only need about half an hour. Five minutes to read the prompts, 10 minutes to free write and five minutes to look at what you’ve generated and to post it,” she said.

Those who participate in any of the “Prompt a Poem” activities can submit their works for posting on the institute’s website.


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