Is that a poem in your pocket?

William Waterway, founder of the Martha's Vineyard Poetry Society and M.V. Poem In Your Pocket Day. — Photo courtesy of William Waterway

Don’t be surprised if you’re treated to an impromptu poetry reading this Thursday while shopping at the supermarket, waiting in line at the bank, or just walking down the street. April 18 is National Poem in Your Pocket Day and the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society (MVPS) is sponsoring a local initiative to encourage people to read a poem in their workplace, at a gathering of friends and family, or in a public space.

Poem in Your Pocket Day originated in New York City in 2002 as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008, the initiative went national, picked up and promoted by the Academy of American Poets. Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. currently participate with many towns hosting special events.

This year local poet, author, and musician William Waterway has established Martha’s Vineyard Poem in Your Pocket Day (MVPIYPD). “I wanted to personalize it for the Island to make it ours,” he said.

In February Mr. Waterway, MVPS founder, started encouraging poets and others to participate in the local guerilla poetry event through the MVPIYPD Facebook page. Around 30 people, including artists, writers, musicians, as well as some of the 200 members of the MVPS, have committed to reading poems at public places around the Island. Intended venues include post offices, street corners, and possibly even the Steamship Authority ferries.

“It is open to everyone,” Mr. Waterway said. “I feel it will be a community event that will just grow every year.”

While in other parts of the country people tend to either read or distribute the work of other poets, on the Vineyard Mr. Waterway and many other of the scheduled participants will read original poems. Others are welcome to read anything they like, although Mr. Waterway suggests that people keep it brief – preferably under one minute.

“Everyone on Martha’s Vineyard is free to participate and read a pocket poem at whatever venue appeals to them,” Mr. Waterway continued. “You can read your own poetry, or that of your favorite poet.”

Last April, Mr. Waterway decided to launch Poem in Your Pocket day here on a small scale. Although he encouraged others to participate, it ended up being a one-man event. He started out at the Edgartown Stop & Shop where he asked if he could read a poem over the intercom. With some trepidation, the manager gave him permission. According to Mr. Waterway, shoppers stopped in the aisles, riveted by the unexpected entertainment. The traveling poet then made a stop at Sovereign Bank in Vineyard Haven where he temporarily stopped transactions and was met with applause.

This year Mr. Waterway will revisit the scenes of his earlier successes as well as the Black Dog Café on State Road in Vineyard Haven. However, rather than repeating the same performance at each location, he will be reading different poems — perhaps ones that are appropriate to the venue — at each stop.

Mr. Waterway founded MVPS in 2002. Among the initiatives sponsored by MVPS so far are a number of poetry related events and the election last year of the first Vineyard’s first Island-wide Poet Laureate.

Martha’s Vineyard is very unusual with the way poetry has saturated the fabric of our culture,” said Ms. Waterway. “The Vineyard seems to be a crucible for artistic experimentation.” Throughout April, Pathways Projects Institutes at the Chilmark Tavern is hosting a number of poetry events in honor or National Poetry Month.

Mr. Waterway suggests that participants ask a friend or bystander to videotape their impromptu readings and post videos and pictures on the Facebook page. At the end of the day, the public is invited to meet at Pathways where participants will read their poems and share pictures and videos. All are welcome to join.

The MVPIYPD Facebook pages offers some suggestions for would-be readers:

When presenting: Introduce yourself to the management of the public area. Inform them that “Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day,” and many poets will be reading at public places across the Island. Tell them you wish to share your pocket poem.

Visit the Facebook page for more information.

Martha’s Vineyard Poem in Your Pocket Day celebration, Thursday, April 18, 7 pm, Pathways space at the Chilmark Tavern. Free. Light refreshments served.