Guerrilla poetry a connective force

Rachel Yeates, Campus Carrier Editor-In-Chief

Poems left on bus seats, scrawled in dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror, stuck between pages of a library book, squirted in barbecue sauce on the end of the salad bar: poetry everywhere because poetry is everywhere. 

Welcome to the world of guerrilla poetry. It’s the understanding that poetry should be shared, and the recognition that discovery provides greater impact. 

This April 27 is a national celebration of guerrilla poetry, aka Poem in Your Pocket Day. Students, teachers, plumbers, notaries, cobblers, conmen, conwomen and conpeople are all encouraged to keep a poem on their person and share it with others throughout the day. This can mean reading, hiding copies in unexpected places or sharing your poem however else you see fit.

This year, Berry students are joining the Poem in Your Pocket moment, and we’ve got a hashtag to prove it (It’s #berrypocketpoetry, and you are hereby invited to use it for all of your guerrilla poetry needs). 

Sandra Meek, Dana professor of English, rhetoric and writing, charged myself and my advanced poetry class to go forth and spring poetry on the unsuspecting. You can track and share your hidings or your findings using #pocketpoetry and the Berry-specific hashtag. Provost-Elect Mary Boyd will also be in on the fun, so if you see her or any of us around campus, ask for a poem. 

But it’s not just a day for fun. I remember finding an anonymous note of encouragement tucked in the dirt at the base of a tree during my first semester at Berry. Last year, in a similar vein, Campus Cursive began a campus-wide effort to promote messages of positivity. While not poetry, there’s something in the finding that makes the note personal. In that moment, an audience of one, that message was written for you. has a collection of shorter poems selected just for the day. Share a poem by a living poet and tag them in your post, find a poem that speaks to a social issue you’re passionate about, look up a poem that was published the year you were born or check out the most recent copy of “Best American Poetry.” 

Poetry takes up space. It’s condensed language, purposefully potent. In “Ars Poetica #1,002: The Rally,” Elizabeth Alexander writes, “But a poem is a living thing / made by living creatures / (live voice in a small box) / and as life / it is all that can stand / up to violence.” 

Guerrilla poetry gives poetry back this life by disrupting the ordinary and forcing others to take notice. Poetry is political. It has the power to expose, to persuade, to amplify. As poet Mark Nowak said, “Poetry is a verb.” Poetry requires poet and reader to engage in conversation with the poem and with each other. And that makes us vulnerable. 

In an address at the Associated Writing Programs Conference on February 4, 2011, poet Claudia Rankine discussed the power poetry has both to enable racism and hold those ideas accountable. 

“Our very being exposes us to the address of another,” Rankine said. “We suffer from the condition of being addressable.” 

So take poetry personally. Let it mean something. Let it mean something again and again. And then take it back into the world.

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