Celebrating National Poetry Month With a Niagara Falls Flavour by Alison Langley

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Daffodils in Front of the Illuminated American Falls. Photograph by Andrew Porteus

Alison Langley, a reporter for the Niagara Falls Review has written an article about Andrew Porteus and the Niagara Falls Poetry Project to help celebrate National Poetry Month.  The article has been reprinted below. See the original article here


As the former manager of adult reference and information services at Niagara Falls Public Library, Andrew Porteus would often come across poems about Niagara Falls in unusual places.

After reading a poem about the Falls in an old book about engineering, he realized its audience was extremely limited, other than people who came across it by accident like he did.

To that end, he copied the poem and created a file dedicated to Niagara Falls poetry. Each time he came across another poem, he’d add it to the file.

More than 20 years after discovering that obscure poem in an engineering book, the file now includes more than 500 poems relating to Niagara Falls.

And, there’s lots more out there yet to be discovered, said Porteus, a retired librarian who recently completed his master of arts degree at Brock University.

“… there are still a ton out there,” he said.

His Niagara Falls Poetry Project can be found online at niagarapoetry.ca. The site receives between 750 and 1,500 hits monthly.

The project has become part of the poetry in place movement, which highlights poems that give the reader a sense of a location as opposed to a concept.

“I know one person is using the site for the university project and I suspect some university instructors are finding it and students are looking at it as well,” Porteus said.

The substantial collection includes what is believed to be the first poem to reference Niagara Falls, “Untitled” by Le Sievr de la Franchise, from 1604.

The catalogue includes “Niagara, Seen on a Night in November” by Adelaide Crapsey.

How frail

Above the bulk

Of crashing water hangs,

Autumnal, evanescent, wan,

The moon.

Crapsey is known as the inventor of the cinquain, a poem of five short lines of unequal length. She died in 1914 and her poems were published posthumously.

Porteus regularly updates the site and welcomes submissions of original poems about Niagara Falls, and from Niagara poets.

Recent additions include C.D. Onofrio’s “Italian Angel of Gelato,” inspired by the Italian Ice Cream shop on Victoria Avenue, and F.J. Doucet’s “My Grandmother was a Waitress in Niagara Falls.”

Porteus has also added an interactive map marking specific locations linked with specific poems. Each “pin” on the map includes a poem or two and some interesting facts about the area.

There’s also a Poetry Walking Tour of Niagara Falls app available on the site.

“It makes for a more interesting experience of the Falls if you are interested in poetry,” Porteus said.

“It’s sort of combining different aspects of the Falls together to make one experience.”

April is National Poetry Month, and Porteus encourages people to check out the site to celebrate poetry and its important place in Canadian culture.

National Poetry Month began in the U.S. in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

Members handed out copies of T.S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land,” which begins “April is the cruelest month …” to people waiting in line to mail their tax returns.

Apostrophe to Niagara by Frank B. Palmer

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Niagara Falls, possibly by photographer Silas A. Holmes, c1855. Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is Jehovah’s fullest organ strain!
‡‡I hear the liquid music rolling, breaking.
From the gigantic pipes the great refrain
‡‡Bursts on my ravished ear, high thoughts awaking!

The low sub-bass, uprising from the deep,
‡‡Swells the great paean as it rolls supernal —
Anon, I hear, at one majestic sweep
‡‡The diapason of the keys eternal!

Standing beneath Niagara’s angry flood —
‡‡The thundering cataract above me bounding —
I hear the echo: “Man, there is a God!”
‡‡From the great arches of the gorge resounding.

Behold, O man, nor shrink aghast in fear!
‡‡Survey the vortex boiling deep before thee!
The Hand that ope’d the liquid gateway here
‡‡Hath set the beauteous bow of promise o’er thee!

Here, in the hollow of that Mighty Hand,
‡‡Which holds the basin of the tidal ocean,
Let not the jarring of the spray-washed strand
‡‡Disturb the orisons of pure devotion.

Roll on Niagara! great River King!
‡‡Beneath thy sceptre all earth’s rulers, mortal,
Bow reverently; and bards shall ever sing
‡‡The matchless grandeur of thy peerless portal!

I hear, Niagara, in this grand strain
‡‡His voice, who speaks in flood, in flame, and thunder —
Forever, mayst thou, singing, roll and reign —
‡‡Earth’s grand, sublime, supreme, supernal wonder.

Source: Severance, Frank H. Old Trails on the Niagara Frontier.  Buffalo:  The Matthews-Northrup Co.,  1899

Written in 1855

Click here to read Severance’s discussion on Palmer’s Apostrophe to Niagara  (To go directly to the page choose the html version and after it comes up add  #Page_317 to the end of the url)

 

 

Adelaide Crapsey Biography

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Adelaide Crapsey – early 1900s

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Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the third daughter of Episcopalian Rev. Algernon Sidney Crapsey and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey. She was an honours student at Vassar College, and then became a teacher. She contracted tuberculosis somewhere around 1903, and died on October 8, 1914.

She had been working on a study of metrics that proved too exhausting for her to continue after the onset of her illness, and so she concentrated on poetry. She is known as the inventor of the cinquain – a poem of 5 short lines of unequal length, of which Niagara is one. Her poems were published posthumously.

See her poem Niagara, Seen on a Night in November

About The Cinquain

Closely related to the Japanese hokku is a little form invented by Adelaide Crapsey. She called it a cinquain.  Verse published after her death contains twenty-eight poems in this pattern. They too are exquisite little atmosphere poems. They suggest, as do the Japanese poems, the feeling of things and circumstances. Absence of rhyme gives them the same elusive charm. The scheme is five iambic lines arranged one foot on the first line, two feet on the second, three on the third,  four on the fourth and one on the fifth. Substitutions frequently vary the music.

As an expression of the frail inventor’s spirit, the cinquain form has special poignancy. Miss Crapsey was a victim of tuberculosis. She wrote most of the poetry which we have today at Saranac*. In fact she gathered her poems together as her memorial.

Her pattern inspired young versifiers. When their first experiments appeared in print a reader remarked that they irritated her. “They promise so much,” she complained, “touch the feelings and then leave one nowhere to think it all out for one’s self!” That is exactly what Japanese poetry and cinquains are intended to do: they “tease one out of thought’ as Keats says it.

About the Cinquain From:  Wrinn, Mary J. J.  The Hollow Reed.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935

*Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium, later the Trudeau Sanatorium, in Saranac Lake, New York.