April in Steuben County
It is April in Steuben County, and that means many things. The lakers begin returning, the robins build nests, and there is poetry on the square every day!
It started as a whim last year as it was the 400th year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. It was reported that a Poetess was reading Shakespeare in Atlanta every day to celebrate. Not wanting to be behind the city of Atlanta, the folks in Angola decided to take also take on the celebration. Every day at 4:00 the sonnets were read on the square in town.
It was a huge undertaking, and yes, I was glad when it was over. However, the good folks of Angola couldn’t forget or let it go. Wherever I went there were comments. “You are doing poetry again this year, aren’t you?” “What poet will you be reading this year?” I brushed the comments off with a shrug and a bit of a laugh. No, never again. I had already decided.
But then February came, and the days were a bit gray and dreary, and it seemed as if the only cheery news would be coming from poetry. And then it happened, I announced Poetry on the Square, much as a town crier would call out into the night. It happened before I could even stop it!
So every day in April there are poets and poetry on the square. The group has doubled in size from last year. Every day a new poet is showcased, but folks don’t even pay attention to that as everyone brings their favorite poems to share. Guests from out of town show up with poetry in their back pocket beaming as they walk up toward us.
The poetry has ranged from Dickinson to Longfellow to Dr. Seuss to an obscure Canadian poet connecting centuries and countries. Even real poets show up as did Loren Niemi of Minneapolis and Michael Czernecki from upstate New York. (How did they hear about us?)
Truth be told, I love this part of my day. My alarm is set for 3:25 every afternoon in case I would forget, but how could I? I bike on down to the square and greet everyone. Most are local folks, but everyone is invited. If you happen to be in town any day this month, come on by. We read Monday through Friday at 4:00 in front of the beautiful Brokaw Movie House.
You don’t have a poem to share? It doesn’t matter; just come listen! We would love to meet you.
My only problem is now what do I do about next year? Do I spend my winter hibernating so no one will find me or do we just keep going? Perhaps Mayor Hickman will declare one day in April to be Poetry Day in Steuben County. I imagine the day to be full of poetry in every classroom, in every business, in every meeting. Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but then again whoever thought that poetry would become a vital part of our downtown during the month of April?
Happy poetry month!
Michael Czernecki, New York, reading his own selections.
A group picture following a day of poetry.
Joe Hysong, a local businessman, reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Good Night,” by Dylan Thomas.