Admit it: You’ve always wanted to be a poet, from the moment you scrawled your first rhyming couplet on a bathroom stall to your recent, ill-advised attempts at rap battles. Guess what? April is National Poetry Month: What better time to unleash your inner Walt Whitman? What better place than D.C., which offers so many poetic opportunities? Follow these 10 simple steps to go from poetry novice to slam-poet superstar in just one month.
1. Read Some Walt Whitman
Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; / The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all dark night — some are so young; / Some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad. — From Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser” (1865)
You don’t even have to buy a book to get inspired by one of America’s greatest poets. Just head to the north entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station to see this Walt Whitman excerpt, a meditation on the decade the poet spent in Washington during and after the Civil War, caring for Union soldiers who were hospitalized here.
Dupont Circle Metro Station, north entrance; Connecticut Avenue and Q Street NW.
2. Avoid Ezra Pound’s Fate
The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough — Pound’s “in a Station of the Metro” (1913)
Pound was talking about the Paris Metro, not D.C.’s. But he did live in Washington — when he was institutionalized at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast for 12 years. Apparently ushering in the modernist age of poetry does not grant you immunity from the consequences of speaking out in support of fascism during and after World War II (namely, his arrest for treason upon return to the U.S from Italy in 1945 and commitment to mental institution).
3. Learn How Poetry Can Change the World
“Poetry and politics: We put it together, and we don’t see a separation,” says Henry Schwarz, head of Georgetown’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The center holds its annual symposium next week, titled “America From the Outside: How the World Sees US.” Go listen to smart people talk about immigration and imperialism through the lens of art and poetry.
Various locations at Georgetown University; events held Tuesday at 7 p.m. and throughout the day Wednesday, free; 202-687-6294, Lannan.georgetown.edu
4. Hang Out With the Poet Laureate
She beats time on the rugs, / blows dust from the broom / like dandelion spores, each one / a wish for something better. — From Natasha Trethewey’s “Domestic Work, 1937” (2000)
Reviving a tradition that’s been dormant for nearly 30 years, U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is holding office hours at the Library of Congress. “Partly it’s an education for her,” says Robert Casper, the head of the library’s Poetry and Literature Center, “to find out about why people care enough about poetry to show up here.” Email Poetry@loc.gov to get one of the few spots left.
Library of Congress, 10 1st St. SE; Monday afternoons and some Tuesday afternoons through May, free; 202-707-1308, Loc.gov/poetry. (Capitol South)
5. Let Her Read to You
The poet laureate will host the last event of the Library’s National Poetry Month programming, joining a stellar lineup for a reading titled “Necessary Utterance: Poetry as a Cultural Force.” Trethewey will lecture on the topic that evening.
Library of Congress; May 1, reading at 4 p.m., lecture 7 p.m., free.
6. Check out Some Famous (Dead) Poets
You can look into the eyes of famous American (and a few non-American) poets at the National Portrait Gallery. “Poetic Likeness” — an exhibit with portraits of Sylvia Plath, above, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsburg and others — is up until April 28, and an April 6 celebration in honor of National Poetry Month features performances from local poetry groups.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets NW; through April 28, free; 202-633-8300, Npg.si.edu. (Gallery Place)
7. Check Out Some Live (Alive) Poets
children in the struggle understand that they are / not privileged, but blessed / ’cause when gunshots act as lullabies and your mother’s tears / are chopped and screwed beats for your eardrums to thump to / you learn to walk a little lighter, buy more RIP shirts and pray you’re not next / when the list of brothers gone are longer than the line at the welfare building / you recognize the hood ain’t where life should be / but if you ain’t use to nothing else it appears as a destiny — by Alexis “WordPlay” Franklin, 17, member of 2012 DC Youth Slam Team
D.C.’s spoken-word poetry scene is thriving, and you can see performances almost any night of the week. Busboys and Poets has open-mic nights Monday through Thursday, plus special events scattered throughout the month.
Busboys and Poets, various locations; Busboysandpoets.com/poetry
8. Read Some Contemporary Poetry (the Easy Way)
North up Georgia Avenue in our own soldiers’ home — / Walter Reed — the boys and now girls too / mourn the ghosts of their own legs and arms / and our capacity for love. Where is their / sworn poet? Harriet Tubman born / so close. All these heroes under our feet. — From Sarah Browning’s “The Fifth Fact” (2005)
A poem from a contemporary American poet will appear in your inbox each week when you sign up through local poetry nonprofit Split This Rock (Splitthisrock.org). “It’s always poems that touch on social issues in one way or another,” says director Sarah Browning. “That really is the Washington, D.C., tradition of poetry.”
Join the mailing list at Splitthisrock.org/contact
9. Actually Write Poetry
We’re interior / decorating while the roof / falls off of the house. — “Climate Changed” (2013) by Gowri k (@gowricurry), poetry coordinator for Bloombars
Fear of a blank page? Drop into a no-experience-necessary poetry workshop at BloomBars. The arts nonprofit’s monthly event uses prompts and freewriting to get your thoughts flowing.
BloomBars, 3222 11th St NW; April 7, 5 p.m., $10 donation; 202-567-7713, Bloombars.com. (Columbia Heights)
10. Share Your Genius With the World
Chicken biscuit and an Egg McMuffin / A bunch of Fuddruckers and some Stove Top stuffing / I beez gettin’ fat, beez, beez gettin’ fat. — From Droopy the Broke Baller’s “I Beez Gettin’ Fat” (2012)
Spit Dat is an open-mic night that’s truly “open.” Amateur poets, experienced poets, spoken-word poets, lyric poets — everybody has a place. “The energy, the intimacy: It’s like church,” says organizer Drew Anderson, who performs under the name Droopy the Broke Baller.
Spit Dat, Emergence Community Arts Collective, 733 Euclid St. NW; Thursdays, 8:30 p.m., $1; Poetry247.com/spitdat (Columbia Heights)