CUNY Begins a Month of Poetry On April 1 at Bowery Poetry Club

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruelest month” in the opening line of his famous poem The Waste Land, but April 2003 will be especially kind to poetry lovers.

April is National Poetry month and The City University of New York will welcome the month with a festive reading by nine CUNY poets and the Poet Laureate of New York State at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, on April 1.

The poets who have promised to read their poems include John Ashbery, Poet Laureate of New York State who taught for many years at Brooklyn College, and members of CUNY faculty including Grace Schulman (Baruch College), Kimiko Hahn (Queens College), Julie Agoos and Louis Asekoff (Brooklyn College), Elena Georgiu and Donna Masini (Hunter College), Isaac Goldemberg (Hostos Community College), Tracy Smith (Medgar Evers College), and Barry Wallenstein (City College).

The poetry reading is part of the year-long “CUNY is Reading” initiative, which was kicked off in the fall with a reading by the nation’s Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Lehman College Distinguished Professor of English, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On April 11, CUNY will join in a unique special event that will capture the poetical attention of the entire city, “A Poem in Your Pocket.” The idea for this city-wide initiative, in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg has agreed to be a leading participant, was sparked last fall in a New York Times review of Nine Horses, Billy Collins’ latest collection, when reviewer Mary Jo Salter remarked that “Thousands of Americans are walking around right now with Billy Collins poems in their heads.”

Planners in CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs took John Adams’ advice in 1781 to his 14-year-old son John Quincy, “You will never be alone, with a Poet in your Pocket. You will never have an idle Hour.”

Inspired by Poet Laureate Collins’ assertion that “poetry belongs to everybody,” the City University community of poets and poetry-lovers will join Mayor Bloomberg on April 11 to encourage New Yorkers to carry in their pockets or purses, book bags or briefcases a poem that carries special meaning or gives unique pleasure for them. They will then be asked, at some time during the day, to take it out and share it with another, even a stranger on the street or subway.

During his tenure as Poet Laureate, Professor Collins has placed special emphasis on the importance of poetry for school children and has created the Poetry 180 web site ( to make poetry accessible to the schools, encouraging schools to have a poem a day read aloud.

The City’s Department of Education has joined the initiative and CUNY’s roster of poets and poetry students will visit public schools throughout the five boroughs on April 11 to read and discuss their own poetry and conduct poetry workshops.

CUNY will sponsor a number of other events including the Honors College Poets’ Café, ongoing Lunch Poems sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, and poetry readings at the Central Office on April 11 from 12-2 p.m. and at the individual colleges.

Hostos Community College will get a jump on the celebration with a “Grand Slam” poetry slam on April 10 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the C-building cafeteria. At the second round poetry slam that was held in mid-March, 22 students read and performed their own work to a packed house. The Hostos library is going to sponsor the publication of a Hostos literary magazine to publicize the poems of all of their winners.

On May 13 the 31st annual Spring Poetry Festival will be held at City College for public school students from ages 6 to 18 under the direction of City College professor and poet Barry Wallenstein. Last year there were 3,000 entries in the competition chosen to be read at the Festival’s full day of poetry reading. Featured guests in 2002 were poets Marilyn Hacker and Philip Levine.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847 as the Free Academy, the University’s 23 institutions include 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves 243,000 degree-credit students and more than 240,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree.