April is National Poetry Month. It was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to raise awareness of the importance of poetry and highlight the role of poets in our culture. When I was in class, I loved teaching poetry, which I know is not the experience of many teachers. Part of my joy was taking my classes to the library for programming that my librarians had planned. After the long January to March work in public school, celebrating poetry in April, usually after spring break, was a great way to inspire my students to redeem. It helped bring creativity and fun to the classroom after months of standardized test preparation.
Planning school library programming for National Poetry Month is a great way for the library to partner with teachers. One of my goals this year, after a year of virtual teaching, has been to make life easier for teachers. I no longer want to create work for teachers, but rather offer a reprieve. It is easy to participate in many of these programs and add to the enrichment of students without adding to the workload of teachers. Collaboration is one of my favorite parts of being a school librarian, and National Poetry Month is one of the best times to encourage collaboration.
As with any program, awareness is key. You can get a free downloadable poster to include in digital announcements, and a physical copy can be requested to display in the library for teachers to put in their classrooms. The poster was designed by a student and selected through a competition. There is a cash prize for the winner and runner-up, and the student will see their work displayed in schools, libraries, and at literary events across the United States. Watch for the 2023 Poster Contest, taking place this fall.
Dear Poet 2022
In this multimedia project, students and teachers are invited to write letters to poets in response to their poems, which are available written and read by the award-winning poets themselves. On the site, there is a list of videos of poets reading selected works for the year. Students spend time viewing or reading (or viewing and reading) the available poems, then write a letter in response to that poem. There are two ways to submit letters to Dear Poet: students can submit them individually or teachers can submit them from classes on behalf of their students. For teachers, there is a lesson plan outlining four activities that start with reading historical poets and writing them a letter, then reviewing the poets of 2022 and responding with a letter.
This is an opportunity for school librarians to teach in the classroom and collaborate with teachers and students. If you prefer to organize this as a month-long activity program in the library, the individual student response form should be used. This activity is perfect to hold during lunches or study halls as it is easy for students to participate on their own, with some guidance from the librarians. When they’re done, you can download and print a certificate of completion for them to take home.
Submissions are due May 1, 2022. Once work is submitted, select student letters are selected for publication with the student’s permission. Then the poets will respond to the answers. So students can come back to see what the poets they learned at the library think about what the students said. It’s exciting to be able to engage with poetry in real time in this way and with poets who are currently writing. Students are happy to get an individual response. Check out some of the letters and responses from 2021.
Occult poetry is when any printed text, a page of a book, newspaper or magazine for example, is redacted or “blacked out” so that the words left behind create a poem. This is a great curriculum option as it allows students to leave their phones and engage in touch activity. This is also another program that can be held perpetually all month.
All you need are pages with text and black permanent markers. Take weeded and discarded books and tear out the pages. Even better to let the kids tear out the pages because they love the thrill of something so taboo allowed in the library. This can range from a poem as basic as a poem completely blacked out with only a few words, to incorporating drawings that represent the subject of the poem. The poet becomes as creative as he wishes. For a more detailed step-by-step tutorial, check out this blog post.
Pro tip: Wherever you set up the markers and paper, be sure to put something on the table to protect it or you will get black marks bleeding through the paper.
Book spine poetry is a form of “found” poetry. It is composed of words from other sources, such as occult poetry or poetry composed of a series of images. In this case, the titles of the books create a poem, so a little imagination should be used.
Ask students to stop and stack books so that their titles form a poem. It’s fast, fun, and a great way to get kids into the library. It’s a perfect photo opportunity for #shelfie. Kids can add their creations to social media if they want to share their poems. Plus, it’s a great photo op for libraries with their own social media presence to showcase student work.
Poem in Your Pocket Day
April 29 is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. The date is always in April but changes from year to year. Launched in 2008 by the Academy of American Poets, the idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is to take a short poem (one that fits in your pocket) with you to reflect on and share with others, fostering as well as reading poetry.
For the program, print short poems, no more than one page. Poets.org has provided a poem in your pocket daily resource with short poem suggestions and ready-to-print poems. This resource is about 60 pages, but don’t feel you have to print every page. There are instructions, poems and even an origami swan tutorial included.
Once you have printed and cut the pocket poems, set up a designated space for the pocket poems, so students know where to pick up their poems. Encourage them to write their own poems to share and carry in their pockets too! It’s fun to have sticky notes or other small papers out for students to write their own or copy a poem they like. Consider creating a space where pocket poems can be displayed. Students will be able to publicly share their own work or favorite poems. This is a program that benefits from a lot of day-to-day development or marketing to help increase participation.
Encourage teachers to participate by choosing their own pocket poem and allowing time in class to share the poems. You can share with teachers a digital tool to create a staple-free book that students can add multiple poems to if they wish. Again, this is another activity that translates well on social media, often the hashtag #PocketPoem is used. Share the poems students chose and why. Or share poems students have written if they’re comfortable with you.
I found a nifty digital poem in your pocket activity created by a high school library in Virginia where they created a slideshow of pockets you can click on and each takes you to a different poem. This library did this while their school was in hybrid teaching mode; some students at school, but 80% are still learning virtually from home.
Organizing a poetry slam is the ultimate goal of the library. It’s a big project, but definitely worth it. As I mentioned before in How to Start a Teen Book Club, the best way forward is with student leaders. Does your school have a poetry or creative writing club? Can you visit and recruit into a creative writing class? These are your people.
This is a great opportunity to involve the community. See if you can contact local poets who might be willing to judge or give a special performance. It’s always great to have community members that students know or have heard about literacy in action where they live.
Once you have your student leaders, appoint an MC, organizer, and recruit judges. It is preferable to have both student and professor judges. The MC will host the event, hype the poets and manage the audience. The organizer will keep time, score and manage participant lists and submissions. Promotion is also very important for this event. You don’t want brave teenage poets showing up to deliver spoken word poetry and having no one in the audience. For a more detailed step-by-step guide, check out this one from Youth Speaks.
National Poetry Month is a great opportunity to remove some of the stigma surrounding poetry. It’s often in school that teenagers learn to hate poetry because they think they’re wrong or they can’t understand it. The library can be a place to gently reintroduce beautiful poetry that is accessible, shared and appreciated by all.
If you’re looking for more poetry resources, you should check out the best poems of all time and your 2022 poetry calendar for National Poetry Month.