OTISVILLE—High school English teacher Evan Mantyk is on a poetic mission. In 2012 he founded The Society of Classical Poets, which its website describes as “a group of poets dedicated to the revival and proliferation of good, new poetry.”
Poetry can express values that improve our society, according to Mantyk. “Americans need to be thinking about our values. Right now tolerance is a big one, with Muslims and immigrants, in general. You need to respect your neighbors, to think outside the box.”
The poetry the society promotes builds on traditional forms.
Every word makes a difference in a traditionally-structured poem. “Because of the meter, each line is crafted,” Mantyk says. “Each word has a place. Each line has a place. If you take out one word, there’s something wrong. It doesn’t work.”
A Teaching Tool
Mantyk cultivates the love of classical poetry in his own backyard—Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in Cuddebackville where he teaches high school English and middle school history using “lots of poetry.”
Fei Tian specializes in the performing arts—most of the students are dancers or musicians who train in classical art forms.
Mantyk says history and English were traditionally studied together. Reading a poem brings history to life. “You get the students to repeat it a few times. All of a sudden they connect it with the history and it comes alive.” He introduces American history by having students read Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
In English classes, students look at classic poetry, especially Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Mantyk challenges his class with the question of why some poetic forms, such as the sonnet, have stood the test of time. “Why has it stuck in people’s minds for so many centuries?”
As with any learning, students have to figure out for themselves how what they are learning applies to them and what it has to do with their lives today. Mantyk said they find it relatively easy because of their training in other arts to connect with classical English poetry. At the end of the year he allows some students to memorize a poem and recite it to the class.
The Bard Delivers
Shakespeare can jar young minds when they first hear his poetry but in the end it works. Some students’ first reaction is that Shakespeare writes in a pompous fashion. “It’s not pompous if you can actually deliver something great and wonderful that you promise. And he does,” Mantyk said.
Shakespeare’s sonnets resonate with people, and they have resonated for centuries. “You are getting a poet who had this kind of dignity, and who had pride and stature in society.”
Of all classical forms, Mantyk said the sonnet is the treasure and is still written quite often today. It’s a good size and clear structure—14 lines, 8 lines to introduce the idea, 6 to wrap it up. Something interesting happens in those last 6 lines—a change of perspective, an action, something.
The last six lines can be chunked into four lines and finished with a two line couplet, reducing by a factor of two. “You start with an idea and it’s becoming crystallized or distilled down to its very essence when you get to that last couplet.”
Mantyk welcomes aspiring poets in Orange County to learn more about classical poetry at the Society’s website, classicalpoets.org. He encourages poets to write about what they know. “It’s more meaningful to your local audience, to your family, friends, community.”
The Society holds a competition every year and Mantyk said submissions come in from all over the world—Canada, Australia, England, India, South Africa—as well as the United States. Aspiring poets may submit three to five poems of not more than 50 lines.
Meter and rhyme are preferred but not required to have a poem accepted by the Society. Submissions to it must fall within four themes: the beautiful and sublime; humor and riddles; issues of our day; and classical culture.
The Society believes that the civil rights crisis of our era is taking place in China, with the persecution of the spiritual practice of Falun Dafa being emblematic of the plight of the Chinese people under the Communism Party. One of the poems submitted should address this crisis.
Exemplary poems are published on the Society’s website, and may be published in its annual journal. The Society also publishes essays and translations.
Mantyk said open mic poetry night is a good way to share ideas and connect with the community. Rather than spending money to go out to eat or see a movie, people can listen to poems from neighbors and friends, written about topics meaningful or humorous. “You don’t have to fill your mind with all kinds of Hollywood gimmickry,” Mantyk said.
Poetry is happening throughout Orange County. Several open mic poetry events happen every month. Every fourth Monday Ted Gill hosts an open poetry mic at the Goshen’s United Methodist Church. A retired chemist, Gills said he holds it, “because I’m a poet, the words keep coming.”
On Dec. 28 the open poetry mic entertained about a dozen aspiring poets. Local celebrity poet Robert Milby read poems from the December birthdays of poet greats as well as a few of his own poems.
Other open mic poetry happenings in Orange County:
- Noble Coffee Roasters, Campbell Hall: Thurs Jan 21, 7 pm $2 donation. 845-294-8090
- Florida Public Library Poetry Café: Fri Feb 19, 7pm free, 16 or older
- Poetry at Jones Farm, Cornwall: Fri Jan 29, 7 pm, 845-534-4445
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For the Mid-Autumn, or Moon, Festival
My Ford Explorer ascends no higher
Only making it half up the first hill
On a December night cold and dire,
The truck, that old machine, loses its will.
Not I, I spring forth and rustle about,
Fitting spikes on my boots for the climb
Up the mountain where rain has frozen stout,
My spikes, a nice thought, break off in no time.
It’s not all bad, the moon lights up my way;
It leaves just enough purple blue softness
So that I know that I won’t ever stray,
Even if I can’t see my feet in darkness.
Taking baby steps, my fate is unsure,
Yet, I smile at this moonlit adventure.
Published with author’s permission
Dip and drop and flip and flop,
Riding high up to the top,
Sail and soar and flail and flow,
Through the wind that wildly blows,
Holding tight onto her kite
That in her hand seems to fight,
The little girl could not be
In any way more happy,
Her lofty thoughts, like the kite,
Climb up to the greatest height,
Dipping, dropping, flipping, flop,
Ridding, gliding, tippy top,
Sailing, soaring, flailing, flow,
Going, going, going, go!
Published with author’s permission