Poetry and Possibilities: Do They Live at Your Library?

Those of you familiar with my work over the years know I am a passionate advocate for poetry.  Thanks to a life-changing course I took with Dr. JoBeth Allen at the University of Georgia during Spring Semester 2003, my world changed, and so did my outlook on the importance of poetry in the classroom, libraries, and life. In my work as classroom teacher at Cherokee High and then Polaris Evening School, I tried to give my students many kinds of experiences in immersing themselves into reading, writing, and dwelling in poetry. As a librarian at The Unquiet Library, I published student works of poetry via blogs, bound books, leaflets we hung on our poetry clothesline about the library, and on posters we created from students’ original compositions and placed throughout the library on easels as part of a “poetry gallery.” I also worked with teachers to help students compose their own poems and then share that work as part of a poetry reading celebration; we also captured images, audio, and video from these shared poetry reading experiences.  I know many of you in public, school, and academic libraries are also champions of poetry—not as a brutal exercise in explication but as a means of creative expression and providing community.

Many of you know I am also a huge fan of Natasha Trethewey, our U.S. Poet Laureate.  Trethewey has partnered with PBS for a new series, Where Poetry Lives, as she explores the places poetry takes root in our lives.  Tonight’s segment featured a visit to the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit where PBS NewsHour explored the ways that poetry integration into the school is making a difference in the lives of its young students who are blossoming as learners, writers, and individuals.  With the help of the InsideOut Literary Arts Program, poetry is a medium opening doors of possibility as part of the learner experience at Marcus Garvey Academy.   Take a listen to what these three young wise poets have to say about the ways poetry reflects what is important in their lives and their thoughts on the importance of writing poetry:

How does your library honor poetry as a medium of art, exploration, participatory learning, and civic discourse? How might your library create these kinds of experiences to help people find their voices and to make the invisible stories of your community visible?  ,I encourage you to now take a look at these links from tonight’s feature story, which includes Trethewey’s recollections, thoughts from the InsideOut founder Terry Backhawk, the school principal’s reflections on the importance of poetry in his school, and additional commentary from the students.

Additional Resources:

Sometimes I Need to Read the Print Version: When the eBook Doesn’t Evoke the Same Reading Experience

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

Now that I’ve been reading books on the iPad/iPhone for about two years, I’m taking stock of some evolving patterns in my reading preferences.  A few trends I’ve noticed about myself as a reader:

  • I enjoy reading books that I would consider as “fluffy” or “light” (while still very gratifying!) fiction on the iPad or iPhone.  Not only do I seem to concentrate better on these types of texts in digital format, but I also seem to read more quickly.
  • Nonfiction is a mixed bag for me–initially, I didn’t notice a difference in my reading experiences of nonfiction from print to digital, but in recent months, I have felt a need to read nonfiction in print—the digital form of highlighting and notetaking just doesn’t seem to meet my needs like sticky notes, highlighted passages, and marginalia composed in my own hand.
  • Rereads of favorite fiction are definitely more enjoyable for me in print—I would say the sensory experiences I’ve associated with previous readings of a text in print are the primary reason for this preference.

I had not tried reading a book of poetry in digital format until this weekend.   In the midst of a poetry reading binge on Sunday, I finished two and a half books in print format and one in eBook format.   While I enjoyed all of the poetry reads, I quickly realized the experience of reading a collection of poems in the digital format was not gratifying, and in fact, felt quite uncomfortable—it was akin to putting on a cozy, familiar old sweatshirt and discovering it was suddenly scratchy and ill-fitting.  I literally had difficulty concentrating and soaking in the sensory experiences of the poems; the poems almost seemed sterile in eInk.  Now perhaps this is just a personal reading quirk, but the experience left me with these immediate reactions:

1.  I will purchase all future collections of poetry in print (unless I have a desperate midnight craving for a book that I feel compelled to read in the wee hours of the morning)

2.  Do others have preferences for certain genres in print vs. digital formats?  I’m guessing they do.

3.  How and to what extent is the sensory aspect of reading impacted by a print version versus a digital edition?  I know that question has been the subject of some mockery, but I think this is a legitimate and serious question to consider as readers have diverse needs.

4.  What are the implications of these kinds of questions or points for consideration when thinking about print and digital collection development?

What are your experiences as a reader?  Do you have a preference for certain genres in certain formats, or have you noticed your preferences evolving over time?  I realize what I experienced this weekend and the patterns I’ve noticed are not unique or earth-shattering, but the absolute dissonance I felt with my transaction with the poetry text in digital format are prompting me to think a little more critically about these questions.

Using Photographs to Dwell in Poems

As I was working belatedly yesterday on adding some new features to one of my National Poetry Month displays on the exterior of the library, I began thinking about what I might feature in addition to student created poems, quotes about poetry, and images of favorite poetry books.  Perhaps because I was surrounded by Ms. Frost’s 9th Honors Literature/Composition students with whom I’ve been immersed in presentation zen this past week, it occurred to me it might be fun to combine favorite lines of poetry or short poems with a carefully selected photograph to unpack a feeling, idea, or image I associated with the lines of poetry or short poem.

After I completed a few slides in PowerPoint, I shared what I had created with Ms. Frost, and she was so excited about what she saw that she plans to work with the library and use this approach to help students dwell in poems by focusing on key lines and images to tease out the concepts of imagery, connotation, and mood.  We plan to use student created slides and convert them into picture files that can then be printed as flyers or posters for hanging or display on art easels to feature throughout the library; we’ll also be sure to include an artistic tag to give students credit for their creation.  I also see this kind of activity as another learning exercise in visual thinking that can be used for a poetry immersion unit and an entry point into discovering new poems.

I hope you enjoy the slides I’ve created so far—to be able to immerse myself in this kind of thinking and content creation was therapeutic for me intellectually and emotionally.  Most of my days are spent as an instructional librarian (which I LOVE), but I relished the opportunity to use most of the workday for content creation as it was great mind candy for me and ultimately, a springboard to a wonderful conversation for some new collaborative efforts with Ms. Frost and her students.  I’ll be working with the wonderful Joy Mabry at our district “Teacher Center” to create poster sized prints of these slides as well as the student generated content to help celebrate and honor poetry year round—I’ll blog an update as soon as we have the new creative works up and on display in the library!

Another source of inspiration came today during a Google chat with my good friend and colleague Diane Cordell, an amazing librarian and lifelong learner.  Diane shared a poetry reading created with  VoiceThread, and I thought how cool it would be for students to choose a poem (either one they have composed or one of their choosing) to read and to add images to represent the poem; they could then narrate these poems individually, with a partner, or as a small group.  I see this kind of learning activity as another way of students remixing and interpreting poetry through sound and audio!

What ways are you using visual literacy or multimedia as an entry point to poetry?

Finding Their Verses: Student Poetry Reading, Collaboration, and School Libraries

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. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

John Keating, Dead Poets Society

English teacher Kendra Nayman, her students, and I experienced the power of poetry today with our 2nd Annual Poetry Reading @The Unquiet Library.    Ms. Nayman and I first collaborated on our poetry reading project nearly a year ago in which students immersed themselves in all forms of poetry (virtually and via our awesome poetry collection), composed poems off photographs, and then shared their poems with our poetry reading, which was recorded with Audacity, converted into a MP3 file, and then synced with the slidedecks of students’ photographs.

I find it difficult to accurately articulate the powerful experience of poetry readings and the spoken word or the joy I feel in students participating in this kind of literate community.  Students shared a piece of themselves in a way that took courage to expose an innermost glimpse of themselves to their peers and us as adults.  The themes and ideas ranged from funny to reflective to heart-wrenching, and we shared both laughter and tears.  Many students were surprised by the bubbling over of emotions that often comes with the act of reading a poem, especially one’s own, as well as the talent of their peers and the pride they felt in sharing their poetry.

I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with Ms. Nayman and her classes for two consecutive years and to be part of a learning experience that will stay with these students far longer than some ridiculous,  shallow, and artificial standardized test that can’t even begin to scratch the surface of what students should come to know through experience about poetry. I want students to know that the library is a space that supports these kinds of learning experiences and inquiry; through experiences like today’s poetry reading, the library can help students discover “we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

On Monday, I will blog the LibGuides “subject guide” I will create for this poetry reading, which will include:

I will also share more about our plans to publish the student work and integrate it into our collection in multiple ways.   Until Monday, please enjoy just a sampling of the student interview videos and an interview with Ms. Nayman as well!  I believe these videos reflect the importance of poetry  in today world’s and why poetry still matters.  More videos are available at The Unquiet Library YouTube Channel.

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