Stories from our neighbours: what rhymes with hope?

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Remember the rhyme: April showers bring May flowers? That’s not why the Academy of American Poets chose April as National Poetry Month, but it’s fun to say.

Adríana E. Ramirez — a Mexican-Colombian writer, critic, and poet based in Pittsburgh — says pleasure is something poetry gives us when we need it most.

“Poetry is distilled life, distilled joy,” says Ramirez, 38, a nationally acclaimed slam poet who founded Nasty Slam in Pittsburgh and has performed on slam stages across the United States. United.

National Poetry Month, created in 1996, brings together tens of millions of readers and poets to celebrate the essential place of poetry in our lives.

Ramirez, who lives in Highland Park with her husband, slam enthusiast Jesse Welch, and their two children, is the 2019 winner of the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards, among other honors. Ramirez co-hosts the “Charla Cultural” podcast, a City of Asylum & Aster(ix) Journal co-production. His first non-fiction book, “The Violence”, is forthcoming from Scribner.


I was always that weird kid with a notebook. In middle school and high school, I translated my tearful feelings into poems. Later, I was going to open the microphones and read aloud my tearful poems. I would wear a lot of eyeliner.

My first love was AA Milne, “Winnie the Pooh”. Milne has a children’s poetry book called “When We Were Very Young”. There’s a picture of me in third grade holding it to my heart. I can still recite poems from it.

Poetry is so accessible. You can read a poem, any poem, in one sitting. Read “Moby Dick?” Creepy. Read a poem? OK.

A poem can change you. Just like that. It’s fun to go to a poetry reading and hear poets read aloud. With poetry, you can hear something in 2 minutes that rocks your world. What other shape does it make? Religion, maybe.

I turned to spoken word because I found it nice to have thrown so many things at you in an instant. Today, children watch poetry online. They watch poetry on the TikTok.

I like to add articles in front of things, so everyone knows how old I am.

I think the popularity of poetry on the internet is a testament to the fact that just because we think academic poetry is inaccessible, street poetry – where I come from – was born accessible. It’s hip-hop, old troubadours, nursery rhymes.

Poetry like that? It’s for everyone.

One of the best things I could do was teach a poetry workshop in high school. Kids get into it so much. We are not sitting there analyzing Robert Frost, this path, this path. We look at what we can do with our own language, in our time, from our own lives.

When people say that poetry is inaccessible, it shows how much poetry exists in our cultural discourse. Because some have collectively decided that poetry is unattainable, this is reflected on all levels. Poets must supplement their income. America’s best-selling poet doesn’t live off his book sales. The best fiction writers can be. That tells you something about what we value as a culture.

At the same time, for people of color, street poetry, YouTube poetry, has value. There’s a reason Amanda Gorman resonates with kids now.

Diversity is so crucial. Sometimes when we talk about diversity it becomes shorthand for race. But it is about the diversity of lived experience. Reading a good book of poetry as a child allows you to see how someone else, who may seem very different from you, is struggling with the same issues as you. It makes the world less lonely.

My parents both taught me to recite poetry. They trotted me out when I was 4 and made me recite a poem. But neither my mother nor my father were ready when I decided to be a poet. They thought poetry was a hobby. My father plays the guitar, but he doesn’t want to be a musician. My parents were worried about my future.

I taught at the University of Pittsburgh for 10 years. Now I write full time, but I’m also a mom. I’m lucky that my husband makes enough money so that I can both be a mother and write. I have a 3 year old son and a little girl who just turned 2.

Some days it feels like you’ve been in a pandemic for 10 years. I always laugh when I say “before time”, as if we were in a post-apocalyptic bubble.

My beautiful, bright 2 year old daughter wears a mask perfectly because she has seen people wear masks all her life. It’s a brave new world. But I still believe that art, its humanity, can save us.

I suffer from depression. There are days that seem eternal. Sometimes I just want to go sit in a bar and drink and laugh and not worry about the vaccinations the stranger next to me has had.

What can poetry tell us in this dumpster fire?

Well, we’ve come this far. We must continue.

When things are really bad, we always turn to the arts, to poetry, to guide us out or forward.

Me, I look forward to a time when I can see other writers. Writing is an isolating profession. It’s something you do alone in the dark. I look forward to that time when I can hang out with all the other cave dwellers and say, “What’s up?”

Oh darn. Imagine that.

Learn more:
Visit Adriana E. Ramirez’s website at aeramirez.com


Lori Jakiela just released a new collection of poetry, “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?” and is the author of several other books. She lives in Trafford and directs the creative and professional writing program at Pitt-Greensburg. To learn more, visit: lorijakiela.net

If you know someone who would like to share their story, or if you would like to share your own story for this monthly series, contact us at: [email protected]


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