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April Showers Poetry Across Canada: National Poetry Month 2012

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After a winter cooped up indoors, seeing those first blossoms could make poets of us all. April — which, writes Edna St. Vincent Millay, "comes like an idiot / babbling and strewing flowers" — is National Poetry Month in Canada: 30 glorious, sun-filled (or stormy) days to celebrate and share poetry of all styles.

The theme for National Poetry Month 2012 is Balance: Cultural, Creative, Community, National, Environmental, Economic, Personal and Social. Every writer — and certainly every poet — is trying to figure out how to fit it all in. How to work the day job, raise the kids, walk the dog, take the jog, cook the pasta — and also write the book. And then, if we're asked to do all of these things in some sort of balanced manner, with a proportionate amount of time going to what matters most...that's another story. This year's theme is sure to resonate as it's explored at readings across the country, though you can be sure that each poet will tilt it at a different angle, whether personal or political. One event invites poets to write about "balancing budgets, literally and metaphorically." Other events pair page poets with spoken word artists to offer a balanced sampling of poetry's many voices.

Of course, it isn't just poets who have stories to share about the balance (or imbalance) in our lives. Anyone you stop on the street will be juggling a different set of rubber balls in the air. The aim of National Poetry Month is to reach beyond the typical audiences and bring poetry into the lives of average Canadians. The readings, interviews, awards and contests taking place will bring together poets, poetry-lovers, students — even hapless passers-by. Young Poets Week, which begins April 15th, celebrates the talent of Canada's youngest poets and encourages young writers to take part in a collaborative video project in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada’s Mediatheque in Toronto, among other programs.

The League of Canadian Poets (affectionately known as "The League") is the engine behind National Poetry Month. The League first initiated the month-long poetry blitz in 1999. In the 13 years since, the work of poets has had more opportunities to navigate into our daily lives. One example has been the flourishing of Poets Laureate positions. These outstanding poets, such as Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Fred Wah, or London's inaugural Poet Laureate, Penn Kemp, bring poetry and poetic attention to our communities and — we hope — to governments.

Though many people only hear about the LCP in April, the members of this non-profit arts organization are hard at work year-round. The League provides much-needed services for poets and advocates on issues that affect all Canadians. Recently, they have been instrumental in voicing concerns about proposed amendments to the copyright act.

Perhaps the most important service the League provides is funding for cross-country readings. Poets can be provided with travel funding as well as payment for their readings. My first book of poetry was published with Goose Lane Editions — a small press in Fredericton staffed by dedicated people, but operating on a small budget with limited room for travel expenses. Without the League I wouldn't have had the opportunity to brave a week-long Maritime tour in February (where, without exception, every host saw me off by saying, "come back sometime...in summer") or to travel West to participate in Edmonton's Olive Reading Series. In a country as large as ours — and for a discipline often associated with vows of poverty — these funds go along way to humanizing and vitalizing our national literature. The League is currently at work setting up international exchanges with poetry organizations in Europe and worldwide.

How best to celebrate National Poetry Month? Welcome poetry into your life! And of course, take the opportunity to attend one of the many events taking place across the country. (Check out the Events pages on Open Book: Toronto and Open Book: Ontario for local readings) While you're there, buy a poet's book...and maybe buy that poet a coffee while you're at it.

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Erin Knight is Open Book: Ontario's Contributing Editor. Chaser, a collection of poems on tuberculosis and manic economy, has just been published with House of Anansi Press.

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