April 13th, 2015

Editor’s Dispatch: National Poetry Month with Roz Chast!

by Countess Tea

Hi, all!

It’s National Poetry Month!

Like comics, poetry is something that has been a huge influence on so many of our lives from the time we are tiny children.  It’s everywhere, even if we don’t notice it. So it’s only natural that we should have a month to celebrate it.

We work with The Academy of American Poets to syndicate Poem-a-Day to readers around the world.  Poems, like comics, have long been part of our journalistic landscape, and in many ways serve a similar purpose: to capture a moment or a mood and communicate it in a nice, concise package that lets readers, for a moment, experience that thing the creator wanted to express.  There’s something very special about reading a poem every day.  Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the AAP, says that “In the past few years, we have experienced a dramatic increase in interest in the daily poem.”  I know that I have so many friends who use social media to share their favorite poems in a way they never did before.  

Glenn Mott, our Managing Editor here at King Features, also feels strongly about poetry’s place in our world and its relationship to the other things we do here.  Glenn says, “Journalists and poets are often in conflict over the meaning of words, but not their place in the world; poets may naturally envy journalists their readership, and journalists may envy poets their permanence. But they share many traits in the daily practice of their craft. A daily poem is as essential as the daily news. Both add their headlines, and this is the soul of each: that there are truths beyond the facts we know.”

Every year for National Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets commissions a very Special National Poetry Month poster, which they distribute for free.  This year’s poster was designed by one of my favorite cartoonists, Roz Chast, who is a much-beloved New Yorker Cartoonist and finalist for the 2014 National Book Award.  Her poster translates words taken from Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry” into a comic in celebration of poetry and of the process of writing and creating. 



You can get request your own poster for a U.S. school, library, bookstore, or community center by clicking here. 

Roz was kind enough to chat with me about her participation in the poster design.  Designer Chip Kidd, who works with the Academy of American Poets each year to create the poster, invited her to be involved.  “I admire his work so much, and was delighted to be asked,”  said Roz.

Roz talked a little bit about the relationship between comics and poetry. “They do relate,” she said. “I think they both share a respect and love for a certain amount of compression. Though it’s not as simple as “shorter is better.” Maybe it’s more like a search for a certain kind of exactness of expression.”  

I asked Roz to talk a bit about her history with poetry, and some of her favorite poets.  

“When I was in junior high and high school, I read a fair amount of poetry. The usual, I guess: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was a favorite. I liked e.e. cummings. For some reason, I didn’t “get” Ferlinghetti– his poems were too formless for me. I liked Yevtushenko back then, too. Also Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich… Then I went to art school, and pretty much stopped reading poetry. About fifteen years ago, I discovered Philip Larkin and adored him. He’s so funny, so dark. I like his rhymes. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. I like Mark Strand. I like Emily Dickinson.  A.R. Ammons– a friend recommended “Garbage” and I was knocked out. Deborah Garrison’s “A Working Girl Can’t Win” is terrific. I like Elizabeth Macklin.  I discovered a poet in Harpers magazine some years back named Michael Robbins. He’s interesting, funny, and original and I like the way he uses language. There are a lot of songwriters whose lyrics seem like poetry to me: Stephin Merritt, Bob Dylan, Morrissey… Plenty of others. But as you can see, my taste, if you can call it that, is all over the map. I’ve read parts of “The Waste Land” and thought, oh, this is wonderful… and parts of this and parts of that, but I’m not in any way whatsoever knowledgeable about poetry. 

I think for many years I didn’t read poetry because I would try to read a poem and think: just spit it out. What are you trying to say?? Can you make it a teeny tiny bit more comprehensible???  It got to the point where I stopped reading poetry completely. One strange and possibly good thing I’ve noticed about being an Older Person is that for some reason, I’m finding myself more drawn to poetry. I don’t know why. Maybe I have more patience now.”

There are definitely some poets in that list that I have yet to read, and I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with them, myself.  

Thanks so much, Roz!

To read “Eating Poetry” in full, you can visit Mark Strand’s page on the AAP website.

You can sign up to receive Poem-a-Day via email directly from the AAP here.

Have a happy National Poetry Month, and feel free to share some of your favorite poems below! 




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