It’s National Poetry Month, which was founded by American poets in 1996 to draw attention to poetry and encourage more people to skim a few stanzas. For those who think poetry is high-falutin’ and unappealing, local poet and retired physician Bill Griffin urges them to give it a chance. Something unexpected might happen, just as it did for him.
“Some people are afraid of poetry maybe because of experiences from school or bored by poetry because of past experiences, but I would really invite people to pick up a book of good contemporary poems that are easy to get into,” said Griffin, of Elkin. “It can really open your eyes to the world of poetry, but also because poetry kind of speaks to your heart whether you are feeling up or feeling down.”
“I find that it kind of consoled me to read something that feels like it connects me to another person,” he continued. “Poetry can connect people and make us feel more like a community, and that’s really what we need — to not feel so isolated and to feel like we are all one.”
This year’s poetry appreciation month comes amid not only the emotions of a yearlong pandemic but also is energized by the headline-grabbing poem read by the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, whose scintillating poetry reading during President Joe Biden’s inauguration grabbed headlines with her powerful, non-traditional style.
“She really combined a little bit of spoken word poetry with like rap or hip hop — that kind of rhythm and internal rhyme that at the same time has amazing imagery and message,” Griffin said of Gorman. “I think it’s the kind of poem that anybody, any age could find something to really latch on to.”
Like Gorman created a poetry buzz earlier this year, for Griffin that transformational experience was about 25 years ago at the Elkin Library.
Griffin himself was not a poetry aficionado — let alone a poet — then. A busy family medicine physician at Jonesville Family Medical Center, he was an amateur science fiction writer and avid naturalist.
He was invited by a friend to a 6-week contemporary poetry appreciation series at the library featuring a poet who would later be named the state poet laureate.
“I was reading poets I had never heard of,” Griffin recalled of the weekly evening sessions. “Before that, I really didn’t know anybody after Edgar Allan Poe. The contemporary poetry was electric and mind-blowing. I’ve been writing poetry pretty seriously since.”
It was the contemporary poetry style that really changed Griffin’s perspective on the poetry genre. Contemporary poetry is free of many of the form and structure expectations often associated with poetry, such as rhyme and meter.
After retiring from medicine in the fall of 2020, Griffin devoted himself more intensely to his poetry blog, Griffin Poetry verse-and-image, which he founded 10 years ago. His blog features his own poetry and nature photography, but also North Carolina, national and international poets. Recent posts have merged poetry and Earth Day, which is Thursday, April 22.
A decorated poet in his own right, with numerous awards, published books and even a stint as a poet to the N.C. Zoo, Griffin hopes to further explore the intersections of poetry, the natural world and photography. He expects his current project will be published in a chapbook next year.
“I hope over the next year or so to put together another book that is more focused on ecology and the human ecology relationship and kind of the natural philosophy,” he said. “Everything about the meaning of life.”
Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-448-4968 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.