Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator
The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center blog introduces a new series called Deep Dive into Culture, where we shine a light on a tidbit of the cultural landscape we may take for granted. This week we look closer at poems and Poetry Month. Literature forms some of our collection at the Museum, and poetry is featured heavily in Seasons: The Museum Store this month, as well. Clarksville also has some cool literary connections nearby.
April as a designated month to revel in poetry began in 1996, inspired partly by the successful celebrations of Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. National Poetry Month is considered the biggest celebration of literature, as it is recognized internationally. This year marks the 25th year of celebrating poetry in April. Poetry is worthy of such a celebration for many reasons: it is considered the first form of literature, extending even before recorded history. Experts say poetry was composed to express stories and pass down history before the use of written language. After all, the earliest examples of literature we possess are in the form of poems. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known written poem, albeit a long one, written in Sumerian. Beowulf is the oldest known English-language piece of literature, also an epic poem.
Poetry has increasingly become part of the fabric of modern culture. Many of our first books are written in verse and rhyme, like Seuss and Silverstein. We eventually advance to plays written by Shakespeare in iambic pentameter. Popular songs are really just poems set to music. Poetry is art, painted in words rather than pigments. A good poem can make a reader sense color and landscape, hear sounds and smell fragrances that are not physically manifest. Our local connection to the world of poetry, Robert Penn Warren, had a talent for imagery. Warren – teacher, poet and novelist – was born just over the Tennessee-Kentucky state line in Guthrie, Kentucky. He attended Clarksville High School in 1920, graduating after only a single school year at age 15. The original high school building on Greenwood Avenue has since been converted to residences and renamed The Penn Warren Apartments in his honor. Warren taught at a string of prestigious universities, including Vanderbilt and Yale; but, his most acclaimed achievement is becoming the nation’s first official Poet Laureate in 1986. A beautiful example of his work comes from “The Owl:”
Here was the sound of water falling only,
Which is not sound but silence musical
Tumbling forever down the gorge’s wall.
In nearby Guthrie, visitors can find Warren’s charming birthplace home on Cherry Street, now a museum open to the public.
Writing utensils and creative notebooks that can be purchased in Seasons
To participate in Poetry Month this year, read some poems. Write some poems. Talk about poems with family and friends. Additionally, Poem In Your Pocket Day on April 29 is a fun social holiday often featured in libraries – where you can borrow a book of poetry. Bring a poem with you to work that day, or host a fun poem-sharing party, in order to spread new poems around to people you care about. Poetry can be a balm to people in pain or inspire people to create their own art, so sharing is definitely worth the effort. Remember to stop by Seasons: The Museum Store to see what books and other poetry-related items you can pick up on your next visit to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center.