As spring begins to bloom in New England, some Vermont communities come alive with the sights and sounds of written verse.
“These are the honey makers
maple sap collectors
The elixirs that heal the future
of the spirits of the past,” a woman recited from a poem written by Buffy Aakaash, of Marshfield, Vermont, on Saturday during a poetry parade in Montpelier.
Every April, the country’s smallest capital goes out of its way to celebrate poetry. Shop windows and restaurant windows in Montpelier are adorned with poems written by Vermonters of all ages, poets read their works aloud at events, some with musical accompaniment, and poetry workshops meet to talk about the art form. And this year the Montpelier library hosted a first: a poetry parade.
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“We do National Poetry Month better than anyone as far as we can see,” said PoemCity organizer Michelle Singer, coordinator of adult programs for the Kellogg Hubbard Library in the city of about 8,000 residents.
This year, 350 poems written by residents of 60 Vermont towns are displayed in the center’s windows, and 30 poetry programs are planned.
“It’s a walkable anthology that will run throughout the month of April and people just experience the poetry while going about their daily business in Montpelier,” he said.
Other cities in the country celebrate National Poetry Month in their own way. West Hollywood, California is hosting a poetry “spa day” and selections of poetry from living poets are displayed on pole banners along Santa Monica Boulevard. The New York Public Library has free workshops and winning poems from a contest in Alexandria, Virginia, are displayed on city buses and streetcars in April and May. In Vermont, two other communities, Randolph and St. Johnsbury, have followed Montpelier’s lead with their own poetry readings and displays.
The Academy of American Poets created National Poetry Month in 1996, saying it has become “the world’s largest literary celebration.”
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“We can confirm that PoemCity de Montpelier is one of the largest National Poetry Month celebrations in the entire city,” said academy spokeswoman Michelle Campagna.
On a rainy opening day on April 1, Cynthia and Hugo Liepmann were strolling through Montpelier reading poems.
“I think it’s wonderful, but I’m biased because I love poetry,” said Cynthia Liepmann, who also writes poetry and had a poem in a store. “We were coming home from the farmer’s market, so we thought, ‘Okay, let’s stop and read some poems before we go home.'”
They said they enjoy reading the works of people they know, pointing to a poem by their state representative to the legislature, and commenting on poems written by elementary school students. This year about 100 of the poets are students.
“It’s a great demonstration of community literacy. It’s a great role model for young children,” said poet Rick Agran. “They write on their hearts and post on a window. We’ll see little groups of girls and boys after school going to the candy store and then out into the street, and then they jump around and read poems.”
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Last Saturday morning during the so-called “poetry parade”, about a dozen poets toured the city assimilating poetry as a group experience. At each window, one of them, sometimes the author, reads a poem aloud. They clapped after hearing each one, commenting on the technique and meaning. The subject matter ranged from love and war to elms and salmon on the poet’s plate.
“I’ve always done it uniquely,” Argan, who led the parade, said of reading the poetry in the windows. “But I always thought it would be cool to try to turn that into a group experience.”
Also a first for PoemCity, this year the poems have been published in an anthology. Singer said she’s happy to see PoemCity return to pre-pandemic levels.
“There were a few years where there was literally a show every day, which is why I say we do this in this amazing way,” he said. “We have a community that can support almost an entire poetry show every day. That’s a special community. We’ll get people to perform at all of those shows.”