Monday, May 01, 2006

National Poetry Month in Jacksonville, Florida

What’s in your hometown for National Poetry Month?

I was in the middle of telling someone how much I liked Jacksonville. I told him I’d moved here about 3 years ago, and fell in love with the place.

“I don’t like it anymore,” he said. “I used to.”

We started talking about why. After all, this is the biggest land blob in the contiguous United States, as various Net sites like to tout. We’ve got a river next to none, a generous coastline, and temperate weather. Hurricanes more often than not avoid us. We’ve hosted the Super Bowl, for cryin’ out loud.

He started telling me how Jacksonville had changed the downtown area, how the jetty even changed—the popular pier was destroyed, how things used to be different when the downtown area was a place for people to congregate and entertain themselves. He believes those in charge completely miss the boat on our potential.

I’d have to agree with that. Go to St. Augustine on the weekend and you’re lucky to find a place to park. The historic downtown section is packed. Merchants have a field day. Go to downtown Jax on the weekend, and unless there’s a football game, you can have a parking field day.

But it’s not all about entertainment. Jacksonville has—dare I say it? A poetry issue. Let me give an example.

We get a Pulitzer winner here. His father won the Pulitzer for poetry too. Nary an official attended his reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve been to dozens of poetry events and I have never met any type of official (both political parties included herein) at a single event.

My publisher reissued an anthology of poetry by Jax writers. Nary a mite of support from anyone anywhere connected with the structural leaders herein. And there was actually some good poetry in that anthology—not all of it was brilliant, but some of it was written by leading magazine editors and university professors. I can whine about it because none of my work was in the anthology. So at least my criticism is objective.

What gives? I just read an article by someone who works at the library. She didn’t know April is National Poetry Month, except she works at a library and so she knows April is NPM.

Our annual book festival here, sponsored by the foundation for our city library, included a poet last year—from an out-of-state high school creative writing program. Word of mouth reviews were unkind.

That isn’t to say we don’t have poets here. We have them crawling out of our ears. We’ve got poets who go for formal work, a poet who teaches classes on a riverboat, a poet who is a university professor who edits an internationally known journal.

We’ve got poets here like me, who speak in many cities about our work, who have won awards that go far beyond North Florida’s rigid border in terms of recognition.

One of our poets, Dorothy Fletcher, just won the Robert Frost Contest.

A Jacksonville poet’s book was the only Florida poetry book cited by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association for poetry book of the year last year. A Jacksonville poet is organizing a reading of Florida poets for the Library of Congress in December, for the Poetry at Noon program. A Jacksonville poet writes regularly for well-regarded national magazines about poetry.

Our daily newspaper will absolutely not review a book of poetry, although it will do features on self-published poets in the community section. Thank God for community news. When I think about it, if it weren't for the community news and local book events sections, you wouldn't know the city had a single poet. Our city magazine rarely features anything to do with poetry. A leading women’s publication here has no idea what poetry is (I suspect).

April is National Poetry Month. In cities like Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, people know about it. But poetry should be a year-round interest. The people are interested in poetry. Teachers at schools are. I know because I am frequently invited to speak about it,not just in other places, but here at home.

Up here, “where Florida begins,” I reckon we need to tattoo it on one of our famous billboards. Maybe we could dress up a Hooters waitress, draw dark circles around her eyes and drape her with a sandwich sign asking, “Got Poetry?” Maybe we could decorate a poetry manatee? Could we invent a poetry football helmet?

Maybe we should all just send the various powers that be a poem. We could offer operating instructions with it.

Recommended poetry link of the week: Julie Carter’s blog, Carter’s Little Pill.
Why? Because her poetry works magic on your mind and ear.

Recommended to-do of the week: Enter The Writer Magazine’s online Poetry Spotlight 2 Contest.

1 comment:

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