April Is the Coolest Month (for Poetry)
By Naomi Serviss / New York City
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
-Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse”
In 1971, British poet Philip Larkin
tickled the poetry universe
with his cynical worldview.
His salty humor
shaded a preoccupation with death,
a favorite topic.
Poetry is having a moment
despite T.S. Eliot having decreed it
Not so, according to
the Academy of American Poets
a national, nonprofit,
founded in New York in 1934.
The group launched National Poetry Month
in April 1966.
The rationale for all the hoopla?
To remind humanity
that poets deserve respect
as essential chroniclers
of history and heart.
This literary celebration
has drawn millions,
from K-12 teachers
to families eager to share
You can locate
poetry readings and events
in your nabe on the
Poetry Near You calendar
on the website
If you sign up for
in April’s selections,
they’ll have been curated
by award-winning poet Naomi Shibab Nye.
ready to socialize again
might get a charge
reciting poetry to strangers for
Poem in Your Pocket Day
on April 29th.
Keep an original or favorite poem
in your pocket and share it
with random or familiar people you encounter
in bookstores (ask politely),
parks (outside voices acceptable),
neighborly encounters (mask-muffled)
and social media (# PocketPoem).
Poetry has been trending-plus this past year.
It’s not just a thing.
Subway verses above masked riders.
bleed on a Brooklyn moving van.
When I was a Shoemaker Elementary school kid,
my family of origin
moved from one decrepit apartment to another.
I attended two elementary schools
and three high schools.
The schools and neighborhood libraries
were my sanctuaries.
I lost myself in stories and poetry.
Reading then writing them.
Emily Dickinson sparked me so hard
I resolved to name my daughter after her.
A few years after moving
to the Upper West Side
I noticed a flyer
advertising a poetry reading
organized by the Riverside Poets.
It was being held
in a small, nondescript community building
across from the subway
on W. 96th and Broadway.
I wandered in,
charmed by the run-down structure
and by Caroline,
painfully shy as she jotted down names
of poets who wanted to read their work.
That serendipitous encounter
led to me becoming
a Riverside Poet.
The group has been run
Anthony Moscini and Norma Levy
and continues to this day,
despite the Covid-restrictions.
Weekly meetings were held, pre-pandemic,
in the Riverside Library
near Lincoln Center.
We’d each meet with a new poem,
bringing copies to share.
Then we’d take turns reading our work.
Gentle critiques followed,
along with complaints
about being short-shrifted timewise.
The best poets (imho)
were Saul and Peter,
whose writings were muscular and sobering.
One heavily made-up woman
would get dolled up
in flamboyant outfits
that crossed the border of gawdy.
Her poetry was provocative.
The median age was about 70.
A former Rockette in her 70s
wrote witty verses
about bar toadies
and their flirtations.
Anthony played ringmaster,
oiling the momentum for two hours.
A former actor
who wrote soul-bearing verse,
Anthony’s remarks were attention-getting
and often eyebrow-raising.
He got a kick from
blurting out “masturbation”
and singing its praises.
He knew that was a no-no, but it amused him.
After one time too many,
I took him aside and let him have it
in no uncertain terms:
he’d have to knock it off or I’d quit.
Anthony was also amusing.
And morbidly death-obsessed.
His quips were memorable:
“It’s very hard to write a good Holocaust poem.”
“It’s arch—you need a raised eyebrow when you say that.”
“You convey pain very well.”
“I think you’re talking about sex as a confection.”
“It’s like blatant subtlety.”
“I feel dread.”
Since leaving the group in 2018,
I miss my poet buddies
and worry about Peter’s health.
And I miss the camaraderie
at Old John’s after workshops.
Maybe I’ll write a poem
for “Poetry in Your Pocket” day
and swing by
the Riverside Library
with my offering.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com