What makes a poem a poem? Find out Saturday


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

This House of Books, at 224 N. Broadway, is hosting a panel discussion on the nature of poetry this Saturday.

Six experts will address the question of what makes a piece of writing a poem during a panel discussion this Saturday, March 24, at This House of Books in downtown Billings.

Starting at 4 p.m. in the bookstore at 224 N. Broadway, the panelists will tackle the question in a manner that is accessible to a general audience, including non-scholars. The discussion will be moderated by Billings Public Library Director Gavin Woltjer.

The panel will present examples of traditional and contemporary poetry, beginning with brief selections of ancient poetry in their original forms. Although now only scholars understand these now dead languages, we all can hear that we are listening to poems.

The selections will move to modern language, and will feature some outstanding contemporary poetry. The challenge is the same — if you hear an author reading a new work, can you tell it is a poem just from listening to it?

The panel will feature:

♦ Classical languages specialist Victoria Cech.

♦ Poet and performer Dave Caserio, presenting “Beowulf” in Old English.

♦ Retired professor Bill Kamowski, presenting selections in Middle English.

♦ Tami Haaland, the 2013-2015 Montana poet laureate, who will be reading from her own work.

♦ Lowell Jaeger, the 2017-2019 Montana poet laureate, also will be reading from his work.

♦ Poet Bernard Quetchenbach, who will outline the changes we see in poetry.

Even before This House of Books opened its doors, the plan was to feature author readings, especially for poetry. The thinking was that anyone can read prose silently to themselves without diminishing the experience, but poetry is an oral art form that requires out-loud recitation.

In practice, though, much of what we hear in poetry reading today sounds more like prose. But if we read poetry in the way people normally speak, why is it not prose? This is a very basic question, but it turns out to be controversial. Nobel Prize-winning poet W. B. Yeats was challenged on his traditional style of recitation. He replied, “It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.”

The definition of “poetry” has never been more wide open, but it remains a significant art form that profoundly reflects what makes us human. The people putting this event on find that there is a deep hunger for poetry in Billings and the region.

They don’t expect that there will be answers to the questions asked in the program, but it’s all about encouraging people to think and share, to learn diverse perspectives, and to grow in appreciation of poetry.

Co-sponsoring the program is Billings Public Library and Humanities Montana, through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Montana’s Cultural Trust and private donations.

The event is free and open to all. For more information, call This House of Books at 406-534-1133.

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