March 27 2013 12:00 AM

East Lansing's celebrates poetry throughout April

April is National Poetry Month, and, like the flowers it often celebrates, poetry is about to spring forth all around town. Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities’ Center for Poetry has several activities planned for the month, including three poetry readings, a poetic chalking of a section of the Lansing River Trail and Poetry in Motion, which is hitching a ride on local CATA buses for the second year in a row.

Stephen L. Esquith, dean of RCAH, said that the poetry reading workshops and other activities bring community members outside the university into contact with students, faculty and poets.

“It is distinctive in terms of engaged learning,” he said. “The workshops allow poets to be candid about how poetry is conceived, the struggles of being a poet, and to reflect on the craft of poetry. It enriches our common good and makes us think carefully and slowly as the world goes by.” 

Chicago poet Li-Young Lee, the son of exiled Chinese parents who moved to the U.S. to escape the anti-Chinese attitudes of Indonesia, will take the first turn on RCAH’s podium at 7 p.m. April 3. Lee has written four books of poetry focused on what has been described as the “beauty of humanity.”

Next up is University of Michigan Professor Laura Kasischke, who will read from her work at 7 p.m. April 10. Her poetry explores her personal life and basic human desires. Kasischke recently won the prestigious National Books Critics Circle Award for poetry for her book, “Space, in Chains.” She also has written eight novels, including four that have been made into movies; her novel “The Life Before Her Eyes” was made into a movie of the same name starring Uma Thurman. Kasischke, who grew up in Grand Rapids, will talk about her philosophy for teaching and writing poetry. 

 “Poets can’t think of anything they’d rather do than write poetry,” she said. “I am someone who believes that writing brings on inspiration.” She said that this is in contrast to the belief that you have to be highly inspired by something to write. 

Kasischke teaches in the fine arts program at U of M, her alma mater. She said today’s students are more ambitious and better organized than she and her contemporaries were. She attributes much of that to colleges´ costing three times as much.

“There’s a little more fear about the economy,” Kasichke said. She said that she strongly believes that the world needs poets. 

“Poetry expresses the human experience in ways people need to be less alone,” she said. “The brevity is powerful.”

Over the years, she said she has changed her own poetry and now finds herself working in shorter lines, using less narrative. Another change she’s noted is that she finds modern writers are less embarrassed to identify themselves as poets.

The final visiting poet Carl Phillips, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. His work, which is greatly influenced by his love of classical languages, mostly deals with the sexuality of gay males, morality and spirituality. Phillips has won numerous awards such as the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He will be at the RCAH Center for Poetry at 7 p.m. April 17.

In addition to poetry readings, each guest poet will meet with students and community members at 3 p.m. on the day of their appearance to discuss poetry. All poetry readings and community conversations will be held in Snyder Hall on MSU’s campus.

Starting in April, CATA buses (mostly on major routes and serving campus) will carry 12 different poetic posters celebrating poetry for Poetry in Motion. The posters, designed by MSU graphic design students, contain quotes from notable poets, such as an excerpt from Amy Newman’s “Dear Editor”: “Let my words be acceptable to you / to magnify and be magnified / In order that we may one day be fully aware of whatever gift has been sent our way / even though it’s obvious to me there isn’t anything to see / to actually see.”

On April 15, the section of the Lansing River Trail just off Farm Lane will be chalked for the seventh year in a row with poetry and art. Stephanie Glazier, acting director of the Center for Poetry, said the chalking is a way of repurposing the space, which has a less-than-glowing public image. Glazier, a 2008 MSU graduate and a 2012 Antioch graduate in poetry, said the poetry month celebration’s goal is to serve the larger community.

“Poetry is the missing piece in arts education,” she said. 

MSU has a rich poetic history. Noted Michigan poet Theodore Roethke taught at MSU in 1935-‘36 when it was still called Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.  He once climbed out of window and onto a ledge at Morrill Hall as a means to motivate his students. He was fired soon afterward, but went on to win a Pulitzer and two National Book awards. The outspoken poet who grew up in Saginaw once described poetry as “our defense against hysteria and death.”

But just maybe he was inspired by another “Michigan” poet, Robert Frost (he spent two years at the University of Michigan), who famously wrote: “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.”