Zachary Harris believes to be a poet means to serve as a promoter of poetry -- especially at a time when many have written it off as a lost art.
"If you dedicate your life to it, it's necessary to create enthusiasm for it," says Harris, of Highland Park.
Harris and five of his friends will spend this summer doing just that. The six alumni of Carnegie Mellon University's Creative Writing Program will pile into a van and travel to libraries and community centers across the country in efforts to help create and sustain poetry programming.
"The six of us are all over the country now, but we're still really committed to poetry, and as we talk to each other, have found we're all really committed to community," says poet Ben Pelhan, who lives in New Orleans. "That's something that's really valuable and important to us."
Joining Pelhan and Harris for the project are fellow poets Adam Atkinson, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Anne Marie Rooney and S.E. Smith.
The tour, called Line Assembly, will start and end in Pittsburgh with a kickoff event June 29, at Assemble on Penn Avenue in Garfield. Then, they're off to towns in the Midwest and Northeast, hitting cities like Chicago; Madison, Wisc.; Buffalo and New York. They're also stopping at more rural spots to reach as many people as possible.
Their act includes poetry readings, workshops and a performance. They'll also leave behind materials to help each location build a lasting poetry community. The group will document their experience to share with future audiences.
The goal of Line Assembly is to dispel any ideas that poetry is a dying -- or already dead -- art form.
"Poetry is alive and well and very much important to lots of people in a bunch of different ways," Pelhan says.
Observations of its demise, which have printed in several major publications in recent years, are often written "from a distance," Pelhan says.
"They're looking at a very small portion of what poetry is," he says. "They'll look at the last six poets laureate and say they're not very good. That's just one person out of tens of thousands of poets in this country."
Pelhan's definition of "poet" includes everyone from published writers to people scribbling their thoughts in diaries to kids practicing rhyming.
"When you say it's dead, you're ignoring the popularity of rap, which is poetry put to a beat," he says.
To bring awareness to how critical public funding is for arts education, the Line Assembly crew will act out roles of anti-poetry advocates for a performance called "People Against Poetry. …