April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, a crowd of more than 100 people recently gathered at Mercyhurst University – The North East Campus to participate in the campus’s inaugural “Poem in your Pocket Day” event.
Poem in Your Pocket Day, now a national event spearheaded by the Academy of American Poets, started as a commemoration of National Poetry Month in New York City by the Office of the Mayor of New York and the NYC Departments of Cultural Affairs in Education. The movement encourages people throughout the U.S. to select a poem, carry it with them and share it with others throughout the day.
The crowd included current and former MNE students; Mercyhurst faculty and staff; as well as poetry fans from the Mercyhurst Erie campus.
“Throughout time, poets have captured and recorded the essence of human thought and helped people find common ground across cultures, time and space,” said Diane Onorato, instructor of English. “Plato said long ago that ‘Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.’”
The eight student-leaders in Onorato’s honors-level British Classics course planned and carried out a day’s worth of activities to commemorate the occasion, which culminated that afternoon with a drum circle and open-mike poetry slam at the campus gazebo.
Along with Onorato, Claudia Matz, instructor of English and coordinator of the Mercyhurst North East Honors Program, was instrumental in the planning and coordination of the event.
Cameron Demarco, a senior from the Mercyhurst University campus in Erie, led the drum circle and volunteered the use of his unique percussion instruments as students drummed and read beneath sunny, 50-degree skies.
“The acoustics were amazing with drum beats and voices reverberating off the stone walls of the buildings near the gazebo,” Onorato said. “Cameron Demarco noted that sound waves created by the circle will continue timelessly to permeate the universe, which is now – and will continue to be – framed by the rhythmic tones from times long past.”
Throughout the day, students chalked messages along campus roads and sidewalks; distributed pocket-sized leaflets of poetry to the campus community, in person and even under car windshield wipers; and encouraged all to hang a poem to share with others on the “Poet-Tree” outside Miller Hall.
Under the leadership of charismatic emcee and academic success coach George Morgan III, students read popular works of poetry from a diverse array of poets including Maya Angelou, Rabindranath Tagore, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Dr. Seuss and Tupac. About a third of the poems read at the mic were students’ own original compositions. Upwards of 25 students rocked the mic. Those who read or otherwise volunteered were awarded a free T-shirt from the Writing Center with the message, “Keep Calm and Listen to the Poet.” It’s a message that rings true in today’s age, says Onorato.
“Poets give voice to the stirrings of the soul, and if we stop listening to the murmurings of our souls, we will lose an essential part of what it is to be human,” Onorato said. “For as Rita Dove said, ‘Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.’”
PHOTO: Mercyhurst North East sophomore Salma Akol and Mercyhurst Erie senior Cameron Demarco participate in the Poem in Your Pocket Day drum circle on April 25.