“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.” —Dead Poet’s Society
With the wealth of resources libraries have at their disposal, I believe all students can be as engaged and excited about poetry as English teacher John Keating from the film Dead Poet’s Society.
Research indicates that inclusion of poetry is something librarians should pay attention to. Adam Zeman, a cognitive neurologist from the University of Exeter, conducted a study that shows emotionally charged writing, including poetry, aroused the “reading network” of the brain, otherwise known as the memory portion. Yes, these are the same regions that can cause shivers down the spine, and good poetry can evoke shivers. Researchers also found that poetry is linked to introspection and self-reflection. It can be incredibly freeing to students because poetry doesn’t have to follow strict rules; your poem doesn’t have to rhyme, and often you don’t have to write in complete sentences.
When students recite their own work in our monthly poetry slams, I have heard the incomplete sentences, but I’ve also seen the results of “the lighting up” of teenage brains. Writing and sharing engages the passionate nature of young adults, while encouraging thinking and sometimes even collaboration.
As we look forward to celebrating April National Poetry Month this year, I reflect on how our library has worked to excite students about poetry in the past. We’ve had spine poetry (stacking books so the titles form poems), a Twitter haiku contest, and found poems. This year, I’ve found a wealth of additional resources to celebrate poetry. The difficult part will be selecting the two or three that best fit our audience.
The National Poetry Month website has a wealth of resources including this year’s free downloadable poster. Both NCTE’s ReadWriteThink and poets.org have great classroom ideas and lesson plans. These sources will be useful when collaborating and encouraging educators and teachers to incorporate poetry into their classrooms this month.
One of the best recent resources I found was Nikki Robertson’s blog post on the epic ideas that she implemented in her library last year, including acrostic poems, the Goth-o-Matic poetry generator, Poem in Your Pocket day, and much more. But there are other resources too. Take a look at the Pinterest blackout poetry page, or better yet Cavaliers Read! blackout blog post from Cathy Jo Nelson, and you will find tons of ideas to do with your discarded books. Students at first may be hesitant to deface a perfectly good book, but with your encouragement, that hesitancy will turn to glee. If you want to turn your blackout poetry up a notch, maker space genius Colleen Graves suggests an amazing idea of combining a Makey Makey with the simple coding program Scratch to create incredible, interactive blackout poetry as described on her blog “create + collaborate innovate.”
Students love the way video adds depth to poetry, and we will be encouraging our teachers to create multimedia poetry using an application like PowToon, the green screen, or just their iPads. One of our English classes illustrated “Where I’m From” poems with iMovie, making each student poet’s vision come to life. To see examples of animated poems, watch Billy Collins’s animated TED Talk. Kids may also find inspiration in the poem/film “The Cracked Jug,” written by 17-year-old Shakira Morar.
One goal I have for my library this April was inspired by the read-aloud sites like the Library of Congress Poetry 180 site or the New York Public Library’s 30 Days of Poetry. We plan to use Flipgrid to ask our staff and students to record audio or video recitations of their favorite poems, and we will post these on our library blog as well as post them as a playlist on the multimedia workstation in the library. We’ll promote this through daily announcements, social media, and with the help of English teachers.
Another idea that really excites me is Robertson’s 3-D bracelet poem printing pattern in Thingiverse. We plan to set up our 3-D printers at the circulation desk so students can type in their favorite one-line poem and create their own 3-D wristband bracelets. While we typically charge 10 cents a gram for 3-D prints, we’ll offer a free bracelet to any student willing to read their favorite poem to add to our playlist.
In transforming our library into a poetry-themed space, I’ve also found some really wonderful interactive websites that could be posted on look-up stations in the library. They encourage students to create digital magnetic poetry or PBS’s haiku creators.
Libraries have long played a strong role in promoting the love of reading, literature, and yes, even poetry. What better way to celebrate April’s National Poetry Month than to incorporate these wonderful tech tools at teens’ disposal?
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