A Nebraska native, Mary K. Stillwell has studied writing in New York and, with Ted Kooser, on the plains and earned her PhD in plains literature from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She served as coeditor of Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry and has published her poetry widely in literary magazines and journals as well as a number of anthologies. Her full-length collection of poems is Moving to Malibu and she is the author of The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser (Bison Books, 2013).
Each year, not long after the spring equinox, warmer days bring daffodils, grape hyacinths, and National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poetry established April’s month-long celebration of poetry in 1996 and it’s been going strong ever since.
The State of Nebraska has an especially good reason to celebrate poetry this month—and all year long. Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (Backwaters Press) has been selected by the Nebraska Library Commission as the 2018 One Book One Nebraska. This is the first time in the program’s fourteen-year history that a collection of poems has been honored.
Nebraska Presence, edited by Greg Kosmicki and yours truly in 2008, brings together over 80 of the state’s finest contemporary poets from A (L. Adkins) to Z (F. Zydek) and includes work by Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, former State Poet William Kloefkorn, and other contributors born in the state or living in Nebraska. Poets had to have been published in major poetry journals in order to be considered. The anthology, which includes introductions on the making of the anthology and an overview of Nebraska poetry, features cover art by Nebraska artist, Stephen Dinsmore.
A state-wide One-Book-One-Nebraska reading program is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Nebraska Library Commission, and Humanities Nebraska. Libraries across the state are joining together with other literary and cultural organizations to hold book discussion groups, activities, and special events to encourage Nebraskans to read Nebraska Presence. Support materials, including a full list of poets along with their biographies, sample poems, and discussion/reading activities, are available here.
Every April, the Academy of American Poetry suggests online a variety of activities to encourage the enjoyment, sharing, and writing of verse for every day of poetry month. For example, you can request a free copy of the National Poetry Month poster from Poets.org until mid-April (while supply last), memorize a poem, chalk your favorite poem on the sidewalk, deepen your poetry experience by reading Edward Hirsch’s essay “How to Read a Poem,” and ask the U.S. Post Office to issue more stamps celebrating poets.
Since Nebraska’s One Book One Nebraska honor is for the whole year of 2018, here are a few suggestions for celebrating Nebraska Presence (NEP) and poetry for the months to come.
*Pick up or order your own copy of Nebraska Presence. Many local bookstores have copies to sell or order on-line. Most Nebraska libraries also have copies available. *Send a copy of your favorite poem to your income tax preparer. They need a break! *Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month, is April 26. On this day select a poem from Nebraska Presence, carry it with you, and share it with others at work, over lunch, at water aerobics, on Facebook or on a friend’s answering machine. *On Arbor Day (April 27) read a poem about or that has images of trees.
*Include an NEP poem in a May basket for a friend. * On Cinco de Mayo, try your hand at writing a poem celebrating the people and country of Mexico or of Mexican-Americans who call Nebraska their home or how your Mexican-American heritage informs your life in Nebraska. If your ancestry is Ghanaian, German, Cambodian, Czech—or any other group—write a poem about your own heritage. *On Memorial Day, discover a NEP poem that remembers those who served in war, here or aboard.
*Memorize your favorite NEP poem. *Read a poem at an open poetry mic at a local cafe. *Include a poem in your card to a special bride and/or a groom. *Celebrate the coming of summer by reading a poem set during the season. *Read a poem by a poet born in Alliance, Nebraska.
*Send your parents (or kids) a poem about a parent for Parents’ Day (July 22). *Choose a poem about a pet or wild animal in NEP and send it to your vet. *Need directions to Plattsmouth? See page 136 in NEP.
*Write a fan letter to your favorite poet (published in NEP or anywhere). Chances are they’ll be happy to hear from you. *It’s back to school time; send your favorite teacher (past or present) a poem. *Read a poem by a NEP poet who studies in Sheffield, England. *August 25, attend a reading at the Nebraska Book Festival, held in Lincoln this year at the UNL City Campus Union.
*Sign up for a poetry workshop or class. *Buy a book of poems by a poet you admire. *Read a poem by a poet from Western Nebraska. *Find and read the two poems in NEP directly refer to the events of 9/11. *Discover a poem by a Nebraska poet who studied with another former poet laureate Karl Shapiro. You’ll find quite a few in NEP.
*Read a poem from Nebraska Presence each morning. Start with “October” on page 49. *Organize a book club and read a book of poems together at least once a year. *Asked for a photo ID? See page 42 of NEP. *Learn more about poets and poetry events in your state. *Locate and read a poem written by a poet born or living in Omaha.
*Read a poem about rivers in NEP. See page 98 and 130; can you find others? *Discover a poet from Imperial, Nebraska. *For the researchers among us: see if you can find the first poem published in what became the state of Nebraska. Share it with a friend. *Give thanks for the bounty that our state provides and read a poem aloud at Thanksgiving dinner.
*Read a poem in NEP written by a poet born in Rome who now lives in Crete. *Create an anthology of your favorite poems in NEP or elsewhere. Share it with a friend. *Discover a poem with “Nebraska” in its title. *Remember that poems make excellent stocking stuffers and can be selected with the specific interests and talents of your friends in mind.
Before we know it, 2018 will be past and 2019 will be opening a new chapter of our lives. I hope you will begin the New Year with a toast (see page 79 of NEP for a template) and a resolution to read poems by Nebraskans—and others—throughout the months that follow.
Happy reading throughout April and all year long!