“April is the cruelest month,” according to poet T.S. Eliot, but not for those who enjoy Eliot’s pursuit. Since a 1996 inauguration by the Academy of American Poets, April has been National Poetry Month and this April finds the Midcoast’s two cities in observance.

Belfast has been a poetry-centric place for years, boasting one of the state’s current two city poet laureates. That number will climb to three this month when Rockland names its first poet laureate as part of its inaugural Poetry Month Rockland festivities.

Poetry Month Rockland

Poetry Month Rockland is the brainchild of city poet Carol Bachofner, who approached the Rockland Public Library last year with the idea of a National Poetry Month event.

“We have so much wonderful visual art here, and poetry has gotten a little overlooked,” she said. “Since 2006, I’ve been on a mission to make people more aware of poetry in the Midcoast, particularly Rockland.”

Bachofner, who grew up in York and spent years teaching “away,” is a fan of the Rockland Public Library and wanted Rockland Poetry Month to be centered there as a way to remind people that there is more to do at the library than check out books.

“The library is the literary heart of the community, the hub of the wheel from which all these literary spokes go,” she said.

Library Director Amy Levine and Program Director Steve Donoso agreed to work with Bachofner on the project and among the events that came out of their winter discussions was the idea of concluding the month with a big reading by numerous poets, including the newly named poet laureate. In honor of spring, they dubbed it a Poetry Swarm. The reading, which will feature almost a dozen poets, is set for Thursday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the library’s Friends Community Room.

Nominations for Rockland poet laureate closed March 30. Bachofner said the committee investigated the criteria for Maine poet laureate, currently held by Betsy Sholl (with whom she studied during her master’s program), and came up with a job description and a way to choose among the nominations. As she suspects she will be nominated herself, she removed herself from that component of Poetry Month Rockland early on.

The honorary post will be chosen by committee and appointed by the city for a two-year period.

“He or she has to be a resident of Rockland and give one talk per year,” she said. “The poet laureate also must write a poem for big occasions like the Lobster Festival or Blues Festival or historical occasions if the city requests. The big thing is, the poet laureate will do Poetry Month Rockland, but I think we’ve laid the ground work for that.”

As chairwoman of the inaugural Poetry Month Rockland, Bachofner has decided not to enter any of her poems in the poetry contest open to all city residents, citizens of neighboring towns and anyone with a connection to the Midcoast. Entries in three categories – adults (age 19 and older); teens (age 13-18); and children (younger) – are due at the library on or before Saturday, April 3.

“I brought materials for the contest to all the schools, so we expect a lot from students,” Bachofner said, adding there are “some terrific prizes” for contest winners.

The first official Poetry Month Rockland event will be the appearance Thursday, April 1 of printed poems in the windows of the city’s Main Street businesses. These range from contemporary local poets such as Kendall Merriam; to nationally known poets of the past with Rockland connections such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Leo Connellan; and wider-ranging Maine poets including one of the earliest, Joseph Frye (founder of Fryeburg) and regional poets who wrote in Maine such as Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Throughout the month, visitors of all ages to the library will find a magnetic word board and what Bachofner calls poetry prompts to encourage them to try their hand at the time-honored art, surely one of the most historical of human activities. The month’s children’s story hours, set for Wednesdays, April 7, 14 and 28 at 10:30 a.m., will feature poetry. On Sunday, April 18 at 2 p.m., there will be a poetry talk, and the Wednesday, April 21 monthly meeting of the Midcoast branch of the American Association of University Women at 1 p.m. will host a quartet of local and state poets.

The library may be the hub, but there are events tied to Poetry Month Rockland at other city venues. On Friday, April 9  at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday. April 11 at 2:30 p.m., artist and writer Alan Clark of Cushing will offer a reading of his play for voices “Guerrerro” at Asymmetrick Arts on Main Street. On Saturday, April 17 from 2 to 4 p.m., there will be a Teen Poetry Slam at the Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education. And the Velvet Lounge series at Rock City Books & Coffee on Main Street will host what it calls an Objective Chance Poetry Dance Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m. (no dancing is actually involved, said Bachofner).

All the events are free, which Bachofner thinks is integral to the event and to poetry itself.

“Words are free! All of the words that are in these books are in the dictionary; someone creative took them and turned them into something that moves the mind and soul,” she said.

For more information about Poetry Month Rockland, contact Bachofner at mainepoet@me.com or visit the library Web site, rocklandlibrary.org.

Digging Poetry in Belfast

Belfast holds its annual poetry festival in the fall and last year named its current poet laureate, Linda Buckmaster. For National Poetry Month, Belfast Free Library offers the Digging Poetry series every Tuesday in April at 6:30 p.m. in the Abbott Room. Each week, a renowned Maine poet will lead a discussion on an aspect of contemporary American poetry.

The series is designed to develop a deeper appreciation of modern poetry and will feature poets Gary Lawless, Jonathan Skinner, Candice Stover and Arielle Greenberg. Lawless, co-owner of Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick and publisher of Blackberry Books, will start the series with a discussion on who the Beat poets read. He has reason to know, having lived for a time as apprentice at the home of Beat poet Gary Snyder. Currently, he lives at Chimney Farm in Nobleboro, former home of writers Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth, as caretaker.

On April 13, Skinner will discuss Ecopoetics: Language, Form and Site. In addition to readings, the evening will introduce some techniques in site-specific writing. On April 20, Stover will lead a discussion titled A Woman’s Place. On April 27, Greenberg, an associate professor at Columbia College in Chicago currently in Belfast to work on an oral history of the back-to-the-land movement in Waldo County, will lead participants through A Century of Radical Verse: A Glance at American Poetry on the Margins, 1910-2010.

Prior to each discussion, a packet of poems to be discussed will be available for participants to pick up at the library. Participants are encouraged to sign up in advance for each program so that there are enough copies. Those interested in participating should stop by the main circulation desk of the library or call 338-3884, ext. 10.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.