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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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University Department Celebrates National Poetry Month

Selections from Whitman, Frost to be featured.

2015-04-24
Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 4-3-2015

It’s April, so you know what that means, right?

Wait ... You don’t?

Well, then we’ll tell you. It’s National Poetry Month! Which means this is the month that you get reacquainted with the wordsmiths and rhyme makers that made the art form famous. Or ... maybe get acquainted with some new poets. National Poetry Month dates back to 1996.

At Minnesota State University, Mankato last April, they launched a project called the National Poetry Month Video Project. The English department teamed up with the university’s Maverick Visual Productions to produce a series of professional videos to promote poetry. The result was a fun-to-watch daily dose of verse, read on camera by Minnesota State Mankato students.

This April, they’re doing it again, and the poetry selections feature poets such as Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Christina Rossetti, as well as contemporary poets including fellows for the National Endowment for the Arts, finalists for the National Book Award, and winners of the Minnesota Book Award, Nebraska Book Award, and the Washington State Book Award.

We thought we’d throw a few questions to Diana Joseph, the creative force behind the video project, and see if we can learn a little more about it.

The Free Press: What prompted the video project for National Poetry Month?

Diana Joseph: When I first envisioned the National Poetry Month Video Project, I thought of it as an opportunity for our undergraduates to participate in something fun. It was. But it was also a way for them to feel connected to the larger literary community. Many students became Facebook friends with their poets; others have exchanged email.

FP: There’s a difference between reading a poem and reciting a poem. Did you have to coach your readers much or are they all just natural poetry reading rock stars?

DJ: I thought these videos would be a unique way to show that difference: the students have the experience of reading a poem; the audience has the experience of hearing and seeing it read.

The students rehearsed their readings. I helped coach, and so did Professor Dick Terrill, and this year’s Project Coordinators are Katy Clay and Angela Duryee (both Writing Instructors in the English Department.) We each met with students one on one. We’d chat about the poem’s meaning, and we’d work out the pacing, where to pause and what to emphasize, and when to look at the camera. The rehearsals are my favorite part of this project.

FP: How have English students embraced it?

DJ: Ten of this year’s readers also read for last year’s project. Also: not all of our readers are English majors. We have also readers majoring Information Technology, Social Work, Nursing, Mass Media and Marketing.

FP: What about beyond the English department: are people paying attention?

DJ: The videos can be found on the English department website. We also promote them through social media. The project has been very well received. I’ve heard from college instructors and high school teachers in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Maine, New Mexico, California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania who are showing the videos in their classrooms. This morning, I received an email from an instructor at North Hennepin Community: He said our project has inspired them to do something similar.

FP: Does anybody even care about poetry anymore? Tell us why poetry is good for us.

DJ: Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

The poet Traci Brimhall shared yesterday’s video on her Facebook page. She wrote, “When I was younger, any good sermon could bring me to the front of the church. I was born again dozens of times by language. These days it’s poetry that makes me believe again and again in that way the heart can ache itself open.”

Stephen Burt has a great TED Talk called “Why People Need Poetry.” He says, “Poems, the patterns in poems, show us not just what somebody thought or what someone did or what happened but what it was like to be a person like that, to be so anxious, so lonely, so inquisitive, so goofy, so preposterous, so brave … Poems can help you say, help you show how you’re feeling, but they can also introduce you to feelings, ways of being in the world, people, very much unlike you, maybe even people from long, long ago.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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