A Love Letter to the “Cruelest Month”

New life sprouting out of dry sticks, and other poetic topics, will blossom all month long at the Lanier Library Poetry Festival.

In his epic poem “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

In his sensuous short poem “Cuttings,” Theodore Roethke also mused about the painful, cyclical revival of new growth: “This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,/Cut stems struggling to put down feet, What saint strained so much,/Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?”

And in one of her much-respected collection of poems praising birds and bees and flowers and beasts, Amy Clampitt sang back to the hermit thrush — one of the first birds to return from tropical migration each spring: “there’s/hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain/as we are of so much in this existence, this/botched, cumbersome, much-mended,/not unsatisfactory thing.”

However, all three poets excerpted above have long since passed away. Today’s nature poetry, which never really goes off-trend but merely ebbs and flows in a sort of literary tide, is most frequently concerned with environmental peril. Mountaintop removal, threatened flora and fauna, changing climate — all are topics ripe for poetic treatment. And spring seems like the most soulful time to address them.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, Lanier Library in Tryon — named after Reconstruction-era poet Sidney Lanier, who tried the cure for tuberculosis there — has expanded its annual literary festival to a month-long event. Instead of the usual weekend, poet laureates past and present will hold seminars, the winner of the annual Lanier Library Poetry Competition will be announced, and workshops are still being added.

Check Bold Life for a print story about the month-long celebration — but in case you don’t pick us up on the first day of the month, don’t miss the recently added April 1 workshop with Hub City poet John Lane, associate professor of English and Environmental Studies and director of the Glendale Shoals Environmental Studies Center at Wofford College. Lane’s talk, “Using Description as a Medium for Intensity in Nature or Eco-Poetry,” includes an in-class assignment. With spring going full-bore in the foothills, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a subject.

Lanier Library Poetry Festival, Workshop with John Lane, April 1, 1pm, $35. 72 Chestnut St. in Tryon. Class limited to 12 people. See lanierlib.org for a complete list of National Poetry Month workshops.

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