Poetry Programming – How and Why

So, you’re working hard to connect teens with poetry. You’ve tried the Dickens and the Frost and the Angelou and the entire 811 section. The teens are sitting there looking at you bored out of their mind.

Well, have you tried the Beat poets? They’re all about rebellion and individualism, two themes towards which teens will feel a natural affinity. Working with Urban Word NYC and the Precision Poetry Drill Team, The New York Public Library sponsored “Bring the Beat back” at the Bronx Library Center. Performing works from such an influential movement in literature, the members of the Precision Poetry Drill Team inspired several teens to get up and present their own creations at the end of the session. One of the most memorable moments was their adaptation of Alan Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” which the group decided to perform on top of one of the tables in the Teen Center. If you check out the video link, you can see the opening lines from “Howl” on the scrolling marquee as well. Check out that video (and more):


If you’re looking to explore your own poetry programs, here are a few helpful suggestions:

  • Have the event on the main floor, or in a space where people can spend a few minutes listening before deciding to join you or continue browsing the collection. Many curious individuals stopped by after seeing people on top of the furniture in the library.
  • Try to add a unique element to the setup. “Bring the Beat back” started with the traditional podium and rows of chairs, but quickly morphed to accompany the movement of the performers and the teens.
  • Whether from a DJ or a simple mixed cd, music helps to serve as a bridge from one piece to the next and also helps to stimulate the audience, especially during the transitions from one poet to another.

Finally, here are some helpful journal articles related to adolescent development, poetry, and young adult literature, which might be helpful if you need to build support for poetry related programs in your library:

Glaeser, Chuck. “Why Be Normal? The Search for Identity and Acceptance
in the Gifted Adolescent.” The English Journal 92.4 (2003): 33-41. JSTOR. 18 June 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3650454.
Poetry encourages teens to explore their identity, especially as they experience
greater social pressure to conform. Whether in free form, haiku, or sonnet,
the diverse forms of poetry allow teens a wide range of creative freedom.
Morrell, Ernest. “Toward a critical pedagogy of popular culture: literacy development among urban youth. (Media Literacy).” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 46.1 (Sept 2002): 72(6). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. 18 June 2008 http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=EAIM
Pop culture and poetry combined form a powerful tool for exploring media and self identity. Teens who feel disconnected from mainstream culture are more willing to participate in discussions about that same culture.
Wissman, Kelly K. “‘Making a way’: young women using literacy and language to resist the politics of silencing.(Essay).” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 51.4 (Dec 2007): 340(10). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. 18 June 2008 http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=EAIM.
Poetry can be used to create a safe space for teens to openly discuss issues that they may not feel comfortable revealing in open settings. The camaraderie generated through such interaction creates stronger interpersonal ties and helps form a stronger support network for teens as well.
Zitlow, Connie. “Young Adult Literature: Did Patty Bergen Write This Poem? : Connecting Poetry and Young Adult Literature.” The English Journal 84.1 (1995): 110-113. JSTOR. 18 June 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/820491.
Poetry encourages discussions, especially when focused on particular themes. Reluctant readers can get a snapshot of character development, emotional resonance, and genre experience without reading through an entire book.

About Chris Shoemaker

I'm a YALSA Past President. I blog about YA programming, technology instruction for people interested in teen services, and YALSA governance stuff. I like baking and dislike humidity.
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