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Poetry Opens Doors

By Ydalmi Noriega

It is National Poetry Month! Many of us are busy writing poems or seeking them out – in favorite old books, exciting new collections, on Facebook and YouTube, or at live readings. And, like always, my colleagues and I at the Poetry Foundation are focused on bringing poetry to the largest possible audience. It is for this reason that we are excited about a new partnership with ElevArte that brings a poetry-focused year-round afterschool program to Hamline Elementary in New City. Students in the Hamline program will write poetry in workshops, listen and learn from local poets and spoken word artists, visit libraries, and do close readings of poems every week.

Many life-long readers of poetry came to it in their youth, when a caring and talented teacher introduced them to a poem that spoke to them directly and powerfully. That was the case for me: ninth grade, T.S Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I didn’t know then what the poem means (and I am not sure I really know now, either). But I loved how it sounded, the images it put in my mind, how it looked on the page, and how it propelled me to read to the end. It made me read it over and over again, and then read other poems and other kinds of poetry. I moved from Eliot to stuff that was instantly relatable, current, to stuff that sounded different and cooler, to other amazing images, to new emotions. For me Eliot opened the door, de Burgos, Poe, Laviera, Shakespeare, and Mistral pushed me through it.

Poets – the best ones – speak truth. At this moment in our country poets like Danez Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Jacob Saenz, and Franny Choi, are speaking on issues of justice, equity, solidarity, empowerment, love, and hope. Through poems and our close reading of them, we begin to understand ourselves and our world. Our partnership with ElevArte allows us connect young students with poems at a time in their lives when they are looking for new forms of expression and self-discovery. We are excited about this work, and about the prospect that the doors this programs opens lead not only to poetry, but also to self-knowledge, engaged participation in civic discourse, and many other empowering opportunities.

Chicago is our home and it has been home to Poetry Magazine, our longest-running program, since it was first published in 1912. That year founding editor Harriet Monroe wrote, “The Open Door will be the policy of this magazine—may the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius!”  Today, through our different programs, that door is open not only to poets, but also to aspiring poets, careful readers, dabblers, admirers of spoken word, and anyone who might be simply curious. In this spirit, we are concentrating our efforts to bring poetry to neighborhoods across the city, and making the library and public events in our building at the corner of Dearborn and Superior accessible to all Chicagoans.

Ydalmi Noriega is Manager of President’s Initiatives and Board Relations at the Poetry Foundation, where she focuses on piloting new programs and developing institutional partnerships. She is originally from Rincón, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, and has lived in Pilsen for the last decade.