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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


this April


despite T.S. Eliot having decreed it


“the cruelest month.”


Not so, according to


the Academy of American Poets


a national, nonprofit,


member-supported organization


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


poetry’s magic.


You can locate


poetry readings and events


in your nabe on the


Poetry Near You calendar


on the website


If you sign up for


Poem-a-Day emails,


in April’s selections,


they’ll have been curated


by award-winning poet Naomi Shibab Nye.


Budding poets


ready to socialize again


(baby steps)


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),


libraries (quietly),

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.


It’s cool.


Ubiquitous.


Subway verses above masked riders.


Spray-painted hieroglyphics


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


in Manhattan,


I noticed a flyer


advertising a poetry reading


organized by the Riverside Poets.


This is where the author happened upon the Riverside Poets 96th & Broadway
This is where the author happened upon the Riverside Poets in Manhattan

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


by husband-and-wife


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.


He stopped.


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,


pre-hip surgery,


I miss my poet buddies


and worry about Peter’s health.


And I miss the camaraderie


and dinners


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

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