IUKA • Tishomingo Arts Council is celebrating National Poetry Month this April in a big way.
The local arts council has reached out to poets laureate from across the United States to each contribute to one grand celebratory project centered on Tishomingo County, and the response from poets has been huge.
“This is an important time for us,” explains TAC chair Brent Bonds, “it was about this time last year that we responded to COVID by moving all of our projects to a digital platform. Our celebration of National Poetry Month in April was our first digital campaign, so this is kinda like a birthday for us - we wanted to do something big.”
TAC began reaching out to poets laureate in early November of last year.
“We hadn’t seen at that time a project that pulled all the poets laureate - the poets appointed by each state to serve as ambassadors of the arts - together. Around November, there was a lot of worrying and a lot of division. We wanted to build something that underscored unity and still celebrated the differences from place to place inside the country. We were working on a project with our own Mississippi Poet Laureate, Beth Ann Fennelly, about that time, so we decided to expand on that - we had no idea what the response would be.”
The response was swift and positive. After only a few days, more than half the nation’s state poets laureate had expressed commitment to the project. By January, over 50 poets laureate at the level of state, regional, and Native American nation had signed on to submit readings of their poetry addressed specifically to north Mississippi.
Nebraska’s Matt Mason was one of the first.
“Being asked by an agency in another state to send a poem is an honor anyway," he said, "but this is a place I have fond memories of and at least one poem I know I've written there as I traveled the Natchez Trace. As Nebraska State Poet, it's wonderful to share space with so many other poets who I respect in a great project that, seriously, no other city, county, or state is doing right now! This is no small thing, this is a fantastic project.”
These thoughts were echoed by Alabama Poet Laureate, Jennifer Horne:
"I was so impressed by the foresight of the Tishomingo Arts Council in planning months ahead for this ambitious National Poetry Month project, and by the range of poetic responses I have seen so far in their postings," she said. "This is one of the best things a local arts council can do: to expand its constituents' exposure to a range of voices and to do so in a way that anyone can have access to, and be inspired by."
Now, mid-way through April, many of these readings have already been published on Tishomingo Arts Council’s Facebook page, the platform TAC has made its primary means of offering art related opportunities and events to the public for the past year. The council publishes roughly two readings per day, scheduled at noon and at 4 p.m.
The programming is as much fun for the poets themselves as for the people watching at home:
“What a privilege to be part of the Tishomingo Arts Council’s Poetry Month Project,” says North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate Bonnie Larson Staiger, “I love seeing fellow Poets Laureate read their work on Facebook and witness the diversity, energy, and love for the power of poetry to bring people together.”
Heather Lang-Cassera, Poet Laureate of Clark County, Nevada, has also enjoyed watching the readings.
“Witnessing the month-long video exhibit unfold has been a highlight of National Poetry Month ... and because so many wonderful projects take place during the month of April, I mean this as especially high praise," she said. "Thank you to the Tishomingo Arts Council for gathering a diversity of poets. It is a delight to watch the Laureates I know as well as to become introduced to those whom I have not yet heard or read. I haven't been to Mississippi—yet—but now I'd really love to visit!”
“It’s a beautiful thing, I think,” Bonds said, “to see all these poets - these are people with a lot of weight in their field - and they’re calling out our little corner by name. And, it’s been nice to see the project shared back into these states. We’ve seen a lot of our audience participation from out of state. We have people from across the country learning to pronounce Tishomingo and then wanting to come see the place they now can say. We’ve seen participation from Maine to California...and we’re hoping to get Alaska involved if they select their new writer in residence by the month’s end. There was some talk early on with one the poets of this leading to a physical meeting of all the nation’s poets laureate -- I told her we had just the place.”
The project, while certainly the most impressive this month, isn’t the only thing happening at Tishomingo Arts Council.
“Also part of poetry month, and thanks to Renasant Bank, we’re holding an ekphrastic poetry competition this month that’s open to anyone from anywhere. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry based on something visual - for this contest, the entries are being based on the twenty finalists from the art competition we had last month. That’s another thing we think is cool, art inspiring more art. Beyond that we have a scholarship open for application, an arts-mentor award open for nomination, and several smaller things running. It’s a busy month, and we’re proud of all we have going and all we’ve been able to do over this past year. It truly is a great little birthday.”
To view the readings of poets laureate, find Tishomingo Arts Council on Facebook.