A few years ago, when April was designated "National Poetry Month," the move looked like just another gesture to pacify a vocal minority. But poets - who get precious little fame and fortune - have turned the month into a true celebration.

And this year, "National Poetry Month" in Utah takes things up a notch with one of the finest slates of readings, signings and discussions to date."The first time I was contacted about April being National Poetry Month was in April 1994," says Guy Lebeda, literary director for the Utah Arts Council. "There were activities by poets all over America that year. But it caught on. And this year everybody's gearing up for it again. I think poets see this as a chance to gain some recognition outside of the mainstream publishing world. And a lot of people play along - arts councils, coffee houses, book stores. It makes he happy when people are willing to stage poetry readings on their own."

More events will surface as the month moves along. For now, here's a list of several major happenings. Others will be noted in the Literary Footnotes column each Sunday.

April 7:

- Sekou Sundiata, one of the most popular "performance poets" in America, will visit the University of Utah. His work owes much to "griot" - the oral tradition of Africa and African American cultures. He will be at the Languages and Communication Building at 7 p.m. Call 581-5206 for details.

April 8:

- David Lee, poet laureate of Utah and perhaps the hardest working poet in the West, will read at the St. George Art Museum, 47 E. 200 North in St. George at 7 p.m.

- Mark Doty of the University of Utah will read from his new collection of verse, "Sweet Machine," 7 p.m. at the Waking Owl Bookstore, 208 S. 1300 East. Call 582-7323.

- Stephen Dunn, winner of the National Poetry Series, will speak at the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts on the Westminster campus at 8 p.m. Call 488-4112.

April 9:

- Stephen Dunn reads his poems at the Jewett Center, 8 p.m.

- Sam DeLeeuw, the "cowboy poetess," will recite a selection of pieces from her book, "Hilda and Friends." DeLeeuw will perform at the Art Barn, 54 Finch Lane, at 7:30 p.m. Also on the program will be Utah cowboy poets Doug Brewer, Mike Robinson and Judge David Young. Mark Merkley directs the event. A book signing will follow. Call 756-2913.

April 17:

- The Utah State Poetry Society will hold its annual awards festival at the Airport Holiday Inn on Friday, April 17, and Saturday, April 18. Sue Brannon Walker will be the featured speaker. Events begin with a "get-acquainted" dinner at 5 p.m. on the 17th with the awards and a reading at 7 p.m. Sessions begin at 9 a.m. on the 18th. Poets may register in advance or at the door. For information call Kolette Montague at 292-0283 or Joyce Marder at 467-2935.

- Alex Caldiero, performance poet and author of the new collection "Various Atmospheres," will read at Barnes & Noble, 612 E. 400 South at 8 p.m. An open-mic poetry reading will follow. If you wish to read your work call 233-0208.

April 23:

- Poets Jeffrey Berke and Alex Caldiero at the City Art Reading Series, 7:30 p.m., the Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, 175 S. 700 East. An open reading will follow. All poets interested in reading their work should call 277-1510.

April 25:

- "Big Poetry Party" at the downtown Barnes & Noble with games and entertainment.

April 30:

- Mark Doty reads at Barnes & Noble, downtown, 8 p.m.

- Alice Fulton, winner of the 1985 National Poetry Series and a poet the New Yorker described as "electrifying," will read at the Art Barn, 54 Finch Lane at 7:30 p.m. Call 596-5000.

- Marie Anton, Malcolm Berenson and Joan Coles will read their poetry at the City Art Reading Series, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, 7:30 p.m. Open poetry reading to follow. Call 277-1510 to reserve a spot.