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Keeping poetry close at hand

MILLERTON — Poetry was the word of the day Thursday, April 29, as students from Jason BreMiller’s 10th-grade English class took to the streets of Millerton, as part of Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The students were from The Hotchkiss School, where BreMiller expounds on the importance of aesthetics and reality, all while teaching about the written word.

“We’re trying to activate a love for art, and to get them off the campus and reading poems,” he said. “They’re learning from the world to love poetry.”

The method seems to be working. Student Dianna Fregoso was among those walking along Main Street handing out cards printed with poems to passersby. She spoke about what she was getting out of the experience.

“I get to read different poems and they’re really nice poems,” she said. “I didn’t even know there was a National Poetry Month, but I was excited to come to Millerton and distribute poems.”

The Hotchkiss School’s Chris Downs, who works in the admissions office, joined the class on its jaunt from its home base in Lakeville, Conn., to Millerton.

“I came to kind of ride the wave. It’s really fun, spreading awareness,” he said. “I think poetry is important and it’s lost its place in day-to-day life. This is a way to remind people that it’s supposed to be a part of everybody’s life, and that poetry is not just found in the academic [realm].”

Student Camrinn Hanley said he found the event to be enjoyable and productive.

“It’s been going well and it’s been pretty fun getting poetry out to the masses,” he said. “They take it pretty well. They take the card and read it, and I’m learning the people in Millerton are very nice people.”

Hanley said he’s also learning something else.

“I’m learning that some of the faculty from school are pretty good poets,” he said, clearly impressed.

Athena Fliakos, who taught at Hotchkiss last year, is the cofounder of Mass Bliss Productions and organizer of the event. She said the reaction to Poem in Your Pocket Day and poetry in general was very encouraging.

“This is a celebration of National Poetry Month,” she said, adding that she and her Mass Bliss partner, Andrew Belcher, decided to emulate Columbia University’s original Poem in Your Pocket Day at Hotchkiss, which is how the event took root in the region.

The idea then took off, and Fliakos brought 19 poets on board to contribute 30 original poems. Some of those poets are already established, others emerging, some are college age and others are still in high school.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “The less we did to it, the more it took off. So many people use poems to commemorate [life’s important] events … so to see people so excited to receive a poem gives me hope.”

Students handed out more than 400 poems, far exceeding the success all involved had hoped for.

“We’re really excited,” Fliakos said. “And I think we would love to extend this. It could be a community service effort; maybe we could do this once a month even.”

“People have been really grateful and receptive,” added an encouraging BreMiller with a smile.

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