Twenty Years of Poetry

National Poetry Month was initiated in 1996 to mark poetry's important place on our culture and lives.

Below, find resources for celebrating National Poetry Month this month and beyond, as well as reading suggestions that offer uniquely presented perspectives spawned from a variety of cultures.

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About Bees

This week, I noticed stories about bees. They turned up on my Twitter feed and on the TED Talks website. There was a story on the local news. I even got into a conversation with a local farmer about them. Taking this as a sign, I decided to focus on these pesky, important little insects in MVP's very first Buzz post.

Why are bees important? They pollinate over one-third of the human food supply, amounting to about $15 billion in crop production. Their hard work helps produce crops including carrots, apples, onions, cherries, blueberries, avocados, and broccoli. Note that without bees, guacamole is an impossible venture.

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Review of Max Baer & the Star of David on

Max Baer was only a quarter Jewish, but he wore a Star of David on his trunks, smart marketing in the 1930s when many Jews fought professionally, especially smart when Baer fought and pummeled German heavyweight Max Schmeling. But the symbolic star resonates beyond a marketing ploy in this novel. The lusty connection between black Horace and Joleen and white Max, champion of and for the Jews, suggests a larger racial connection. Blacks and Jews, the slaves of the United States and the original slaves in Egypt, two oppressed races forced to do hard labor and too-often forced to hide their identities or watch their words, are united physically and symbolically in Neugeboron’s novel. Only once does Max’s in-ring violence enter his daily life, and it’s to defend his brother Horace. While enjoying a night out, a belligerent customer confronts the two friends and points to a We Serve Whites Only sign above the bar. At first, Max counters the racist with humor: “So you’re okay then. They can serve you here.” But when the altercation escalates and the bartender pulls out a baseball bat to enforce the whites-only rule, Max, not a young man anymore, flexes his muscles. Another patron recognizes Max as the great Max Baer, and when his identity is revealed, the mere mortals back down. Horace Littlejohn infers the race-connection when he wraps up the tale, “The man who had confronted Max backed away, told Max he didn’t mess with killers or kikes, and hurried out the door.” The black man and the man representing the Jews remain in the bar. The racist is banished. Max buys everyone a round of drinks and, if only for a moment, unity trumps hate and divide.

Max Baer and the Star of David is a novel first, a boxing novel second. And that’s how it should be for a novel whose title character may have been more famous for his out-of-ring escapades than his pugilistic career. The real fighters in this novel are the people that surround Max, Horace and Joleen and a woman Horace falls for as a middle-aged man, a woman who teaches the handicapped how to hear without hearing and see without sight. Novelists fill in the senses; they make the unreal real. Jay Neugeboren takes old fight-film footage, removes the graininess, introduces color, helps us hear and see the men and women behind the man, as well as the man himself, Max Baer, whose life was as colorful as the deep blue star emblazoned on his trunks.

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'On the Veranda,' by Jay Neugeboren

“It was the summer of 1937, in the August of my thirteenth year, and two months before I would, because of what happened that day, leave home forever.”

The sun was gone from the sky on what had been a brutally hot day and, returning home from the fields, I saw that my sister Marie-Anne was by herself, her back against a pecan tree, and that she seemed to be in the midst of the kind of frightened, dream-tossed sleep that, in the bed we shared with our brother Paul, frequently plagued her. We lived on farms in southeast Louisiana owned by white people in those years–Hammond was the nearest city–where we worked as sharecroppers and domestics. In the summers, Marie-Anne and I, along with our seven older brothers and sisters, were loaned out as field hands where we were needed most. It was the summer of 1937, in the August of my thirteenth year, and two months before I would, because of what happened that day, leave home forever.

As I drew closer, I saw that Marie-Anne’s skirt, the deep black-brown of river-bottom, was raised above her waist. Her eyes were closed, and she had one hand between her legs while her other hand was pressed against her mouth in order, it seemed, to stifle growling sounds much like those our dogs would make when a person unknown to us came near..

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