Every April, educational groups across the country herald the start of another National Poetry Month (NPM). Since its inception in 1996, NPM has been an occasion to acknowledge the invaluable ways the world’s poets have contributed to our global culture. It’s also a time when poetic creation is inspired and supported through a variety of activities, workshops, and seminars – all of which play a part in ensuring a diverse canon of poems continues to grow.

But really, why does poetry matter? To quote Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, “Poetry is life distilled.” It’s a means by which the struggles, joys, pains, and pleasures of life can be shared from one human being to another with immediacy and longevity. Whether read, spoken, or sung, poems invite us to step into another person’s reality and, through that interaction, we are challenged to empathize and appreciate the experiences of someone else.

In early March, we hosted the McGill/McHale Trio, who performed  Portraits of Langston, an arrangement that features six readings of work by the famed American poet Langston Hughes. Written by Kentucky-born composer Valerie Coleman, Portraits of Langston brilliantly fuses the literary and musical arts by providing vivid, instrumental backdrops to the recitation of Hughes’s evocative words. As a very special part of the trio’s performance of this piece, we were honored to hear Hughes’ selections read by four Centre College students. During each recitation, these students shared their own character and personality with the audience, adding another affecting layer to an already intricate composition. Truly, this performance is a moment we will treasure for years to come.

A Centre College student reads poetry on stage during the McGill/McHale Trio’s performance.

So, without a doubt, poems are powerful. And, while the typical festivities associated with NPM may be upended this year, now is the perfect time to actively welcome poetry into our daily lives. With this thought in mind, we want to invite you to enjoy a special poetic experience with us from home! In celebration of our recent McGill/McHale Trio performance and the amazing contribution from Centre College’s students, join us in watching the 1958 clip of Langston Hughes reciting his poem The Weary Blues along with a jazz accompaniment from the Doug Parker Band. By watching this short clip, we’re given a unique glimpse into a moment brought to life through poetry and music.

Now, how would you like to be a part of writing an ever-growing poem? Artist and designer Es Devlin, (along with Google Arts & Culture and creative technologist Ross Goodwin) has set out to make that possible by creating POEMPORTRAITS. POEMPORTRAITS is a constantly-evolving poetry project that thousands of people are building together through individual contributions. To participate in POEMPORTRAITS, you’re asked to “donate” a word to the project’s online interface, which places it within an original two-line poem. The program then asks you to take a selfie, which blends your image with a section of the collaborative writing, thus truly connecting you and your word to this shared poetic project. (Don’t want to snap a selfie? No worries! You can still take part by giving a word to POEMPORTRAITS without a picture.)

Learn more about the POEMPORTRAITS project in their video below!

Thanks for enjoying some poetry with us! Do you have a favorite poet, or maybe an original poem you’d like to share? Did you take a POEMPORTRAITS selfie? If so, use the buttons below to share! We’d love to keep the conversation going.

Molly Baker is a graduate of Berea College, where she studied Art History and Asian Studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Kentucky. Before joining the Norton Center for the Arts, Molly held the position of Gallery Manager at TAMARACK: The Best of West Virginia. Later, she served as Assistant Curator/Gallery Manager at the Doris Ulmann Galleries (Berea College) as a sabbatical replacement. Molly is especially dedicated to the study and promotion of the arts and arts-based experiences using creative methods. Specifically, her goal is to bridge arts presentations with inclusive opportunities to learn about context, creators, and cultural significance, pointing to our combined human experiences in order to encourage critical thinking and understanding.