Free Verse

Every year since the Academy of American Poets launched National Poetry Month in 1996 we have come up with a new angle to help draw people into the world of poetry. For 2009, we are playing off of Paul Sahre’s National Poetry Month Poster design, which features lines from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” scrawled on a fogged window: “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” We invited people to send in photographs of bits of verse that they have presented in some ephemeral medium.

Participants have recast lines from favorite poems by writing on their bodies, on petals of flowers, in sand, or in snow. They have written with chalk on sidewalks and icing on cake, and they have arranged pebbles or twigs to form the letters of words.

The best of the submissions cleverly rhyme the visual image with the medium in which the lines of poetry are cast:

  • A horizontal candle with the wick lit at both ends is inscribed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s words, “It will not last the night.”
  • “One must have a mind of winter,” from Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” is scratched through a dusting of snow on a city sidewalk.
  • Theodore Roethke’s line “I wake to sleep,” from “The Waking” is spelled out on a patterned blue pillowcase with carefully arranged orange vitamins.

The academy has received more than seven hundred submissions from around the world, which can be viewed on the Free Verse group page on Flickr or on the Academy’s Fan Page on Facebook; selected entries will be permanently featured on Poets.org.

The photos which are being chosen for the website usually use intriguing or beloved lines from great poets, which are well matched to the way the words are conveyed. Though the formal qualities of the photos as visual art are less important, we are selecting entries in which the words are legible and the photographs are not blurry. The most important element in the Free Verse project, however, is to convey lines of poetry that have touched, moved, or inspired someone in a way that helps bring across the beauty, wisdom, or humor of emblematic lines of beloved poems.

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