Poetry Programming Success – do it yourself

Each year, I try to drum up interest in poetry by creating displays and talking to teachers about National Poetry Month. The displays have sort of worked (one teacher transported the whole display to his classroom to use with his 8th grade English classes), but I wanted more. The problem (common to teen and school librarians everywhere) is that whenever I create “programs” they are often tons of work and poorly attended in the end. So this year, I started talking out loud about my ideas. I had planted a few seeds last year, by sending a copy of a VOYA article to the English faculty. The article was about a school librarian who had created something called “Random Acts of Poetry,” where topical poems are posted all around the school in celebration of National Poetry Month. That was the starting point. English teachers loved the idea, but most had little time to help me plan and I really wanted to create something that had some faculty buy-in. Thankfully, the 12th grade English teacher who is always game to try something new had handed over two of her classes to her student teacher and offered to help.

I made little tags identifying the “random acts of poetry,” and her students searched for poems of their choice, to print and tape up somewhere in the school with a tag. I have never had so many teachers respond directly to an activity! They loved it, and apparently the students did a great job of placing the poems in the right places. The poems went up at the very beginning of the month, and stayed up all April. ‘ In conjunction with that month-long display, I asked teachers to submit to me their favorite poem. I created a display with the full poems and made ballots for people to guess which poem was which teacher’s favorite. Again, the teachers loved this – both the process of deciding which of their favorite poems to submit – and trying to figure out which poems their colleagues had submitted.’  It was nearly impossible. Out of twenty poems on display, the winners got only six correct! Most ballots had only about two correct answers, but people really enjoyed guessing. The best side-effect of this was that most teachers had more than one poem they wanted to post, so I encouraged them to post and use their second-favorites in their classrooms.

In addition, the collaborating teacher and I kept coming up with ideas for an interactive poetry day in the library – sort of a culminating event for the end of the month. Initially I wanted to host a poetry slam, but kids in my school don’t even know what that is! Instead, we decided on a free-form, flexible day of poetry creation. I came up with six different activities that students could do. I invited teachers to bring in their classes, and for students to come in whenever they had free time. I expected at most five or six students to ask about it after they heard it on the morning TV school news. In a single day, 10 teachers brought in classes totaling over 120 students (in a school of 700). I had blocked off some space for the day, but regular classes were still using the library just like they always do, and the normal traffic continued. Most of these ideas were not my originals, they were planted somewhere, sometime in the past, but this is what I came up with:

  1. Concrete Poetry: with a couple of books as examples, as well as some printed “how-to” sheets, students were encouraged to write/draw their own concrete poems.
  2. Magnet poetry: I had created my own set of words printed on magnet paper (with the help of a student assistant and some instructions I stumbled upon online) and stuck the magnetic words on a magnetic bulletin board as well as a magnetic white board. While the innuendo was sometimes a bit too much, the kids really gravitated to this one.
  3. Collaborative Poetry: there are bulletin board-sized posters that are totally coated with Post-it’® note adhesive so you can simply stick paper on it and it stays. (You can also take the paper off, although I found that is more difficult than expected). Students wrote a single line of a poem on regular paper, ripped or cut it off, and added it to the lines that were already posted. Once in a while I would take a look and see if it was appropriate to end the poem and, if so, I removed it, taped all the lines together and taped it to a plain poster board to keep on display and encourage more. One teacher challenged a few of his students to create a poem on this board using only titles of books on the shelves! (This could just as easily be done with markers and a blank poster board or white board).
  4. Blackout Poetry: using old magazines, newspapers, or photocopies of books (or actual pages of weeded books), poets choose an article and blackout all the words they want to, creating a poem with the words that are left. By far, this was the most popular with the kids.
  5. Pocket Poetry: this day of poetry activities happened to be the day before “Poem in Your Pocket Day” so I had a station set up near the copy room for students to find a favorite poem and to make copies to carry with them the next day.
  6. PicLits.com Poetry: this site is excellent. They have an ever-changing gallery of incredible photographs which poets are able to use as a backdrop for poems or writing of any kind. You can use a word bank provided which has words related to the image, or you can go freestyle and just type the words which appear on the image itself. To be able to save it, you need to create an account and login, but you can create a group login if you like and have students just put their initials somewhere on their piclit. The site administrators are working on creating more functions that will help teachers use it in class/school – so if you have ideas, email them; they are totally open to feedback. This one was also a huge hit, and the next week I had a whole 7th grade middle school team come to try it, because they hadn’t been able to come on the poetry day.

So, all I can say is, either I’m getting better at planning events, or these are no-brainers that can work almost anywhere. There is little commitment from teachers, so they are welcome to fit it in or not, as they choose. Because it is poetry, it really can relate to anything they are doing in class, but they may need your help understanding this or seeing how it can work. Now I have a great starting point for next April.

Resources:’  Cloutier, Janemarie. “Random acts of poetry.” Voice of Youth Advocates Apr. 2009: 17-20.

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One Comment

  1. I love doing blackout poetry! It’s great for a Recycled Books project, but you can do it with discarded newspapers or magazines. Someone just did a book called Newspaper Blackout, and the technique is demonstrated in the book’s trailer at on youtube – add watch?v=QB2MT5istU4 to the URL.

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