If there’s a bright spot in the strangeness and anxiety that so far has marked April 2020 forever in our collective memory is that this is also National Poetry Month.
Founded in April 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, the celebration was created “to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters,” according to poets.org.
Bobby LeFebre is Colorado’s newest poet laureate, having been appointed to the post on July 23, 2019, by Gov. Jared Polis through a program administered by Colorado Creative Industries and Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book. The state’s eighth poet laureate, LeFebre will serve a four-year term.
For those who don’t know what it is a poet laureate does exactly, LeFebre said he serves as an ambassador for poetry across the state, which can include tasks such as visiting towns and cities and reading poetry; sitting on a panel talking about art, culture and poetry; running workshops and even engaging in civil disobedience.
“It could be all kinds of different things, at least in the way that I’m approaching the position. I’m a lot more active, I think, than poets laureate traditionally are,” he said. “Usually, these positions are treated as sort of like a lifetime achievement award or something, and I’m far more interested in connecting with people and figuring out what’s happening in places around the state, what issues are people dealing with and how my presence or poetry could supply some sort of conversation to those issues.”
LeFebre said the focus of his writing has changed over the past couple of months because of the global pandemic.
“It’s definitely on-topic. I’ve been writing a lot about what’s been happening right now,” he said. “That’s kind of what happens in times like this – artists and poets are activated in a way to translate and make sense of what’s happening.”
For those left alone with their thoughts and feelings during self-isolation because of the coronavirus outbreak, it might not be a bad idea to put pen to paper and write it down. There’s no right or wrong way to write poetry, LeFebre said – go with your gut, go with your instincts to begin to document how you’re thinking and feeling and making those connections to other things in the natural and made-up world. He suggests taking it slow, maybe start by journaling your thoughts and ideas.
“Documenting that is going to be important for a lot of reasons, but mostly because 20 years from now, these stories are going to be the ones that we’re going to be telling future generations, and we’re going to want to document the way we were thinking and feeling, how this was impacting what we did in these moments, so it could look like a whole lot of things,” LeFebre said.
And whether writing or reading, don’t be intimidated!
“I think there’s a misunderstanding about what poetry is. I think people get caught up in the idea that it has to look a certain way or appear a certain way or come across a certain way. So much of what I sort of preach about poetry – it’s not only about what you write, it’s just really about the way that you see the world,” he said. “All poetry really is, is a connecting of things that seemingly don’t have a relationship and making sense of those things. That’s really what metaphor is, that’s what basic simile is.”
A good place to start checking out poets and their work is online, LeFebre said. Check out poetryfoundation.org and poets.org, a site that offers you the opportunity to sign up for a daily poem that arrives in your email. LeFebre said it’s a pretty cool way to get an idea of a diverse range of poets and begin to read poetry that includes different styles, eras and voices.
For LeFebre, poetry serves as “a translation of the times, whether that is times of uncertainty and strife ... like we’re in now, or in times of celebration,” he said, adding that humans go to language to help us make sense of the world.
Poetry is everywhere, he said, even in the ads we see and hear: “People are using poetry to sell us cars, there’s a commercial aspect to it as well because we know that language is important. The way that we choose to use it – or not – can make it a weapon or it can make it a balm, a salve.”
“I think that it’s important because it helps tell our collective story; it’s a way to document history and time,” LeFebre said. ”Really, it’s sort of a portal to the human heart, and I think that is something we’re all looking for in this world where things are so wild and different, especially times like now.”