Chandler Williams reads "To the Harbormaster" by Frank O'Hara

In celebration of National Poetry Month, every day we're posting a new poem from the spoken-word album Poetic License, a three-CD set that features one hundred performers of stage and screen reading one hundred poems selected by the actors themselves. From Shakespeare and Dickinson to Lucille Clifton and Allen Ginsberg, the lineup spans contemporary American poetry and classics of the Western canon.

Frank O'Hara (1926–1966) wrote nine collections of poetry—three of them published posthumously—including Lunch Poems (City Lights Books, 1964) and Meditations in an Emergency (Grove Press, 1957), and like his contemporary and fellow poet of the New York School John Ashbery, he also wrote art criticism and plays. Fostering associations with painters such as Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollack, O'Hara worked as a curator and writer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City until his death at the age of forty.

Chandler Williams recently appeared in the play In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) by MacArthur "Genius" fellow and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Sarah Ruhl. He also has played roles in revivals of Mary Stuart and Translations on Broadway.

"To the Harbormaster" by Frank O'Hara, from Poetic License produced by Glen Roven. Copyright © 2010 by GPR Records. Used with permission of GPR Records.   

Audio icon 17_To_the_Harbormaster.mp31.18 MB

Poetry Challenge


Need a dose of inspiration for your writing routine this April? Take our Poetry Challenge and try out a new writing prompt or poetry-related assignment every day during National Poetry Month.

April 30
Transcribe a poem—one of your own from this month’s challenge or a poem that’s spoken to you sometime this month—onto a postcard. By the end of the day, slip that card into the mail to be delivered to a friend.

April 29
Pause today and allow yourself at least fifteen uninterrupted minutes to write freely, using the first word or phrase that comes to mind to guide the entire exercise. If you come to a stopping point in the writing before time is up, revisit the initial word or words as you would a refrain.

April 28
Choose a clichéd phrase ("fit as a fiddle," "think out of the box," "running on empty," etc.) and turn it around. Use the new meaning created by this reversal to fuel a poetic meditation.

April 27
Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.

April 26
Choose a word or phrase you find yourself saying often (e.g. like, totally, hate, really, kind of) and write a poem using it as much as possible, turning it over and over, repositioning it, extending it, playing with its uses and the parts of speech into which it can be shaped.

April 25
Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”

April 24
Open a book that you're reading to any page. On this page are the materials you have at your disposal to make a poem. Circle words and phrases that strike you, as well as words with which you're not familiar or are overly familiar. Use the words on this page to make a new literary object. Repeat words as you see fit, but do not add any other material.

April 23
Choose a poem that you are in the process of revising. Create a map of that poem, paying attention to the gradation of its landscape, its realities and abstractions, its landmarks, the spacial relationships among its features. Use the map to guide a revision of the initial work.

April 22
Make a list of the names of your family members and friends. Use all of them to create a poem. Try writing a tiny letter to each name, using free association to link each name with another word, or describing each briefly as if it were a character or object.

April 21
Print out a poem—yours or another writer’s—double spaced. Above each word write another word that is similar in spelling or meaning, until you have the makings of new lines above each existing line. Revise these into a finished poem.

April 20
Take a look at the selection of Keith Waldrop’s collages and consider what Robert Seydel, the editor of Several Gravities (Siglio Press, 2009) writes of the work: "In collage, opacity is the norm, defining a solid architecture through a series of abutments. Certainly Waldrop employs this formal structure on occasion, but he more typically enunciates his picture through transparency. Ghostings, hauntings, veilings, falling and ascending figures, drift are central themes for Waldrop, all concerning the in-between, in part the unbeheld." Now write a poem.

April 19
Choose a poem that you’ve written and rewrite it in its reverse, making the last line the first, etc. Revise this version, creating a new poem.

April 18
Write a sonnet. For examples, visit the Poetry Foundation’s Web site.

April 17
Choose an everyday object (e.g. subway car, elevator, paper napkin, coffee, highway, grass) and investigate the anatomy of that object, real or imagined. What are the specific names for its parts, its origins, its functions, who it touches, how it moves or is moved? Use these terms to fuel the writing of a poem.

April 16
Flip through the dictionary randomly and choose ten words. Write a poem with each word in every other line.

April 15
Choose a favorite line from one of your poems and write a new poem using that line as the first one.

April 14
Find a map—of the Earth, the United States, or your home state or city—or visit Google Maps, pick a town at random, and write a poem about daybreak in that specific location, inventing any pertinent details.

April 13
Take any printed page—from your favorite magazine or book, today’s newspaper, an instruction manual, junk mail—and create an erasure poem. For a discussion of erasure poems and plenty of examples, read Small Press Points or visit the Wave Books Web site.

April 12
For one week, collect words and phrases you encounter throughout the day, from signs, advertisements, menus, overheard conversations, radio programs, television, etc. At the end of the week, write a found poem, using these snippets.

April 11
Go to a used clothing store and choose a piece of clothing that you are drawn to or repelled by. Wear the item and a channel a poem from it.

April 10
Write a poem using the N+7 form, conceived of by the French poets of the Oulipo movement. Choose a text, such as Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art," and replace each noun in that text with the noun occurring seven entries below it in your dictionary. Next, try the exercise with one of your own poems. For more on the poets of the Oulipo, read "Oulipian Feats: Postcard From New York City."

April 9
Snip apart a draft of one of your poems, line by line or in chunks. Rearrange the elements and rerecord the original work.

April 8
“Translate” a poem into English from a language with which you have limited familiarity. Be attentive to the texture of the language and allow your immediate impulses about what the words mean inform your interpretation. Be sure not to look at an English translation until you have finished writing your imagined translation.

April 7
Select five objects from the room around you. Isolate those objects in a landscape and write a poem that investigates, insists upon, dissects, or contextualizes those objects. If the poem takes you away from those initial objects, and you find yourself stuck or lost in the landscape you’re creating, return to one of the objects.

April 6
Collect images from newspapers and magazines either by clipping them or making a list of the colors, things, people, objects, and their qualities that you notice as you look through them. If you’ve clipped images, create a collage with the clippings as an illustration of a poem not yet written, and then write that poem. If you’ve collected images as text, use the snippets to create a poem.

April 5
Transcribe a snippet of dialog overheard today and use that cue as the opening thought of a poem, like an epigraph.

April 4
Choose a line from those collected below, or a line from the book you’re reading, and embed that line in a work of your own, starting with or returning over and over to it.

“Oh, but it’s dirty!”
Elizabeth Bishop, “Filling Station”

“Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,”
John Ashbery, “At North Farm”

“When I die, I want your hands on my eyes,”
Pablo Neruda, “Sonnet 89”

“Green, how I want you green.”
Federico García Lorca, “Romance Sonambulo”

“Such poisonous families / I startle,”
Cathy Park Hong, “Elegy”

“My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent,”
Frank O’Hara, “In Memory of My Feelings”

April 3
Transcribe the text of a sign that you encounter. Write maintaining the tone—imperative, advisory, declarative, etc.—of the sign.

April 2
Write to and through a work of visual art, such as the piece we’ve selected, Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. (You can view the painting on Wikipedia's Web site.) Visit a museum or gallery to experience works firsthand or check out a Web site such as the Museum of Modern Art’s at, which allows you to peruse the museum’s collection.

April 1
Listen to an audio version of T. S. Eliot reading one of his poems. (On Salon’s Web site you can hear him read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.") Internalize the music and rhythm of the poem, and freewrite for a page, interpreting those elements in your own language. Read what you’ve written, circle three to five phrases that you like, and use them to start a poem.

Academy Prepares for National Poetry Month


The Academy of American Poets launches on Wednesday the fourteenth annual National Poetry Month, a thirty-day celebration of poetry in American culture. Throughout April, the organization will sponsor events in New York City and initiate poetry-sharing programs nationwide.

The month kicks off with the Poetry and the Creative Mind gala at Lincoln Center in New York City, featuring readings by writers such as Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, and Zadie Smith, as well as by performing artists such as Joan Baez, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Wynton Marsalis.

Through April 15, the Academy is inviting readers to transcribe a line of poetry in an environment that "invites that line's undoing" and submit photographs of the ephemeral poetry to the organization for possible inclusion on the Academy Web site. Submissions to the Free Verse Project are also entered in a contest to win a copy of Poem in Your Pocket, an anthology published by the Academy, and a piece of jewelry engraved with a selection from a poem.

On April 30, the Academy celebrates Poem in Your Pocket day, when readers are encouraged to carry poems to share with others throughout the day. A selection of print-ready portable poems is available on the Academy Web site. In celebration of the day, a reading from the Poem in Your Pocket anthology featuring Matthea Harvey, Ann Lauterbach, and Meghan O'Rourke, among others, will be held at the Strand Bookstore in New York City.

Readings and programs happening nationwide during April are listed on the Academy Web site, which features a state-by-state map of events. Also available on the Web site are ideas for how to celebrate the month in your community and a list of newly released books of poetry. Visitors to the site can also sign up for the Poem-A-Day service, which will send each day via e-mail a new poem from a collection published this spring.

Academy of American Poets Goes Mobile


The Academy of American Poets on Monday launched a mobile version of its online poetry archive at Users can now access the archive, which contains more than twenty-five hundred poems as well as hundreds of biographies and essays, using an iPhone and most other mobile devices. The new service is free.

"I have always believed that poetry has a necessary place in daily life," says Academy executive director Tree Swenson. "As the first arts organization to offer mobile content, the Academy of American Poets affirms its imperative to connect people to poetry by creating free and simple access for everyone." Poems can be browsed by author, title, occasion, and form as well as searched by keyword. Users may preview the mobile archive here.

The new component of the Academy's Web site was unveiled three weeks before the beginning of the organization's signature program, National Poetry Month. On Wednesday, the Academy announced the establishment of a national Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 17, during which Americans are encouraged to carry poems with them and celebrate "the power of the poem to both transport a reader and be transported by one." Also in April, the Academy will hold its sixth annual benefit, Poetry and the Creative Mind, featuring Candace Bushnell, Katie Couric, Jonathan Demme, Dianne Reeves, Meryl Streep, and others. The event will take place on April 1 at Lincoln Center in New York City.


Academy of American Poets Elects Three New Chancellors


The Academy of American Poets recently announced the election of Rita Dove, Gerald Stern, and Kay Ryan to its board of chancellors. They will join current chancellors Frank Bidart, Robert Hass, Susan Howe, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Nathaniel Mackey, Robert Pinsky, Susan Stewart, Gary Snyder, James Tate, Ellen Bryant Voigt, and C.K. Williams.

Dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Thomas and Beulah (W.W. Norton, 1986) and served as the U.S. poet laureate from 1993 to 1995. Her most recent book is American Smooth (W.W. Norton, 2004). Stern won the National Book Award in 1998 for This Time: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton, 1998) and is a recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award. His most recent book is Everything Is Burning (W.W. Norton, 2005). Ryan is a recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her most recent book is The Niagra River (Grove Press, 2005).

The Academy’s board of chancellors was established in 1946. Former chancellors have included W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, and James Merrill, among others.

Pause the Podcast and Dial-a-Poem


As poets and publishers have taken advantage of technological advances to present poetry in a variety of new media, from podcasts to video poetry produced for the small screen, one writers organization is looking back to the telephone to spread the word. Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia recently launched 6-POEM, which offers callers a reading of a poem by a celebrated writer from the PennSound archives. The phone number is 215-746-POEM (7636).

Today's callers can hear a recording, from April 10, 2000, of Robert Creeley, once a Kelly Writers House fellow, reading his poem "Thinking." A poem by a student reader affiliated with the Writers House is also featured. The recordings will be updated frequently, according to the organization's Web site.

The dial-a-poem concept dates back to 1969, when poet and performance artist John Giorno and his organization Giorno Poetry Systems set up a call-in recorded poetry project with ten phone lines in New York City. "Using an existing communications system," Giorno wrote in an introduction to a collection of featured dial-a-poem recordings, now available online, "we established a new poet-audience relationship."

According to Al Filreis, one of the Kelly Writers House founders and the director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at Penn, comments on 6-POEM have been positive. "The responses I've received so far typically say, 'Geez, this is so retro it's cool,'" Filreis wrote on his blog, "and 'Everything seems to be converging on the phone,' and 'Telephony rocks.'"

For those looking for a higher-tech poetry experience, the Kelly Writers House also posts podcasts of readings and PennSound houses its extensive archives online. 


The Tale of the 10 Cruelest Months

Daniel Nester

After winning the Tanning Prize—now called the Wallace Stevens Award—from the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, James Tate gave a public reading in New York City. After reading a few poems, Tate stopped abruptly and said, “Well, we’ve survived [National] Poetry Month. It was a very close call for some of us. Thank God.”

Nine years after Tate got belly laughs from his audience, the Academy is preparing to celebrate the 10th annual National Poetry Month in April. NPM is still going strong, and still eliciting strong reactions from the poetry community. It is seen, depending on one’s perspective, as either a marketing bonanza or a wonderful excuse to bring poems into the public sphere.

“It’s done what it set out to do, which is to seriously raise the profile of poetry,” says Tree Swenson, the Academy’s executive director. “National Poetry Month is one of the components that has raised the water level of poetry.”

The Academy is planning its typical water-level-raising events for this year’s celebration. Book designer Chip Kidd designed a promotional poster, 175,000 copies of which will be given to libraries, schools, and bookstores nationwide. Scores of publishers, labeled NPM sponsors, will schedule special events and new poetry titles for April. And a third installment of the celebrity-studded “Poetry and the Creative Mind” fund-raiser, to be held April 5 at Lincoln Center’s 1,100-seat Alice Tully Hall, will feature actress Meryl Streep, architect Maya Lin, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and network anchorman Dan Rather, all reading their favorite poems.

This year’s celebration will also include two new programs. The first is “Ten Years/Ten Cities,” which will feature well-known poets reading at venues across the country, from Maxine Kumin in Seattle to Jorie Graham in Washington, D.C., all sponsored by the Academy or cosponsored with local poetry organizations. The second is an effort to start poetry reading groups. The Academy will resuscitate its Poetry Book Club—launched in July 1998 but defunct since October 2002—this time with a retail partner. The Academy’s Web site ( will offer book recommendations for reading groups, as well as free Readers Guides of notable poetry books each month. A guide for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass will be the first.

Charles Flowers, the associate director of the Academy, says the reading group initiative is part of an effort to uphold the larger principle of the organization’s dedication to poetry book publishing. It’s also in response to the NEA Reading at Risk survey, issued in June 2004, which reports the percentage of adults reading literature has decreased 10 percent in the past 20 years (from 56.9 percent to 46.7 percent). “It’s hard to measure how much is read or written during National Poetry Month,” Flowers says. With the reading groups and the book club, the Academy will “try to quantify who’s reading and buying poetry on a regular basis.”

Paul Yamazaki, a buyer for City Lights Books, says in the first years of NPM, poetry sales at the store increased by nearly 18 percent. “It’s a very strong stimulus for independent booksellers and publishers of poetry,” he says. Independent literary presses—Yamazaki cites Copper Canyon, Coffee House, Graywolf, Kelsey Street, O Books, and Sarabande, among others—“have found many new readers who look for their colophons on the shelves of City Lights Books.”

Laura Moriarty, the deputy director of Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California, points to the “small bump” in March sales as bookstores plan for April readings. NPM, she says, is a “fine opportunity” to reach outside the admittedly small circles of regular poetry buyers.

NPM, though, has its share of critics. In his keynote address at the 1996 PEN Literary Awards ceremony, past Academy chancellor Richard Howard said that NPM is “the worst thing to have happened to poetry since the advent of the camera and the internal combustion engine.” In his essay “Against National Poetry Month As Such,” which he read on National Public Radio, poet Charles Bernstein complains that NPM “tend[s] to focus on the most conventional of contemporary poetry” and suggests an alternative title of National Mainstream Poetry Month.

“We take it all in stride,” says Flowers of the criticism. “The fact that people are talking about it is a good thing.”

The consensus seems to be that the annual poetry celebrations aren’t hurting anyone and may even turn a reader or two to a book of poems, which is generally regarded as a step in the right direction. “I’m certain that anything that brings poetry to a wider audience is a good thing,” Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Paul Muldoon says. “At the end of the day, poetry needs to be seen as an ordinary part of our lives rather than something extraordinary.”

Paul Yamazaki, a buyer for City Lights Books, says in the first years of NPM, poetry sales at the store increased by nearly 18 percent.

Poets Move From Page to Stage

Anna Mantzaris

Most poets are probably less familiar with William Butler Yeats’s play The Countless Cathleen than with his poetry collection The Wind Among the Reeds. But this dramatic work, performed at Dublin’s Irish Literary Theatre in 1899, is illustrative of a rich tradition of poets, including Dylan Thomas, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Eliot, all of whom wrote, and sometimes performed and directed, plays.

In the second half of the twentieth century, a number of poets’ theater programs, including the Poets’ Theatre, which was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1950, and staged plays by John Ashbery, James Merrill, Frank O’Hara, and Richard Wilbur, provided venues for work written by poets for the stage. Now, a new generation of poets’ theater programs—in California, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.—are raising their curtains for plays by poets.

The annual Poets’ Theater Jamboree, presented by Small Press Traffic (SPT), a literary arts center founded in San Francisco in 1974, will be held from January 13 to January 27 at the California College of Arts. This year’s festival, which serves as the nonprofit organization’s fundraiser, will feature approximately twenty-five plays written and performed by poets. Past participants have included Kevin Killian, Camille Roy, Leslie Scalapino, Gary Sullivan, and K. Silem Mohammad.

Not bound by the conventional narrative structure of traditional plays, or the pressures of the commercial success that large theaters require, the poets are free to experiment with form and to redefine drama as a genre. “It’s not just about narrative, but language. People take it in whatever direction suits them,” says SPT executive director Elizabeth Treadwell. “It’s definitely something that is kind of broad and [continues to be] invented as it goes along. That’s hopefully part of the charm.”

Some performers bring homemade props and read from scripts, having rehearsed their work only a handful of times, while other productions are more polished, presented after long technical rehearsals in the theater.

“We get the biggest crowds of the year for the Poets’ Theater Jamboree,” says Treadwell, who adds that the 132-seat venue often sells out during the festival. “Everyone is doing this for the pure pleasure of language and performance, and the audience really responds to that.”

Poets Ken Rumble and Chris Vitiello recently organized the Theater of Consecutive Thinking, a festival that will debut in June in the Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. The event will be held the same week as the nearby Carrboro Poetry Festival, and will feature new productions of plays written by Stein, Jack Spicer, and Kenneth Koch, as well as plays written specifically for the festival by local poets.

“I think what we really are interested in doing is providing a collaborative space for poets, actors, musicians, and artists,” says Rumble. Although the festival’s participants will be predominantly poets, Rumble and Vitiello hope to collaborate with local theater companies and the drama departments at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Duke University as well as with local artists on set design and other production elements.

A little farther north, in the Washington, D.C., area, poet-playwright Magus Magnus is planning a series of poets’ theater events for spring 2007. Sponsored by the Alexandria Performing Arts Association, the festival, which Magnus hopes to hold annually, will be held in a variety of venues, such as art galleries and coffee shops, and will feature staged readings and short performances by poets Thalia Field, Kevin Thurston, Ric Royer, and others

Anna Mantzaris is a journalist in New York City.

Not bound by the conventional narrative structure of traditional plays, or the pressures of the commercial success that large theaters require, the poets are free to experiment with form and to redefine drama as a genre.

The Written Image: Poets on Painters


Guillaume Apollinaire and Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers—they were some of the great poet-painter collaborators of the twentieth century. Now, an exhibition at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University in Kansas presents a look at the next century of collaborations by pairing twenty contemporary poets with twenty contemporary paintings. The painting above, Untitled by Lamar Peterson, is being shown along with the poem it inspired, "Down the mountain (an afternoon appearance of man and mystery)" by Sueyeun Juliette Lee, in Poets on Painters, through August

5. The show's catalogue, designed by Jeff Clark, features all twenty paintings and poems, as well as an essay by curators Katie Geha and Travis Nichols that is written as a series of letters. In his introduction to the catalogue, poet Anselm Berrigan, the former director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York City, describes the way in which a viewer-reader of the exhibition is asked to look at a painting and read a poem near simultaneously, resulting in a third kind of experience. Berrigan characterizes this third experience as "necessarily intense, bewildering, tonally charged at all points, and capable of changing at any moment." After its premiere in Wichita, Poets on Painters will travel to Queens Library in Jamaica, New York, and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.