TPIB: Poetically Speaking!
“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 Poet’s Society
April is National Poetry Month and a great time to get teens thinking about and writing poetry so that they can add their verse. So that they may sound their “barbaric yawp” and “suck the marrow out of life.” You can find some ways to celebrate National Poetry Month at the 30 Ways to Celebrate page at Poets.org. You can also keep reading and find some of the ways that I like to share poetry with teens.
One of my favorites is Poem in My Pocket day which is April 26th this year. The idea is simple, carry a poem in your pocket and when you have a chance to interact with others take it out and read it to them. Set up a challenge where on this day any teen who comes into your library with a poem in their pockets gets a simple reward with the caveat that they must read it out loud to you. It could be something as simple as a cookie or their name on the wall of fame, the point is to encourage poetry.
In the past I have had a yearly poetry month contest, which has always been quite successful (and also incredibly angsty). The trick, I have found, is to work with your local English teachers and ask them to collect and submit the poems. I always had teachers coming in with manilla envelopes full of poems written by a variety of their students. Some of the teachers even provided extra credit for submitting which increased participation. I have also found it works better to have a middle school/junior high and high school category because their skill levels are so different. And I recommend having a wicked cool prize, preferably a substantial cash prize (which you can deliver in the form of a prepaid gift card since most libraries can’t give cash and need a receipt to turn in). I always have teens fill out a submission form and ask them not to put their names anywhere on the poem itself for judging purposes. And I ask that all submissions are typed in order to make sure I can read everything. You can then either have teens vote on their favorite poem or put together a panel of judges to help you select a winner in each age category. Making sure teen names do not show to the public can help eliminate any bias in judging. You can invite the teens to a poetry slam and announce the winning poems there. You can also make sure and display the poems on your various web sites, in your teen area, and in your library newsletter if you have one. As part of my submission form I always had teens sign a statement saying it was an original work and giving permission to reprint the poem. I am impressed every year by the various poems that my teens write.
There are also lots of fun poetry themed activities that you can do to inspire poetry writing.
Make Your Own Magnetic Poetry Kit
Supplies: Magnet tape strips, Discarded magazines, Scissors and glue (bonus if you have tins such as used mint tins)
Simply have teens cut out words from various discarded magazines and glue them on to magnet strip tape cut to the appropriate side. Here teens will collect for themselves a wide variety of words that they can use to create their own magnetic poetry kit. You can store the words in old magnetic tins and larger tins can be double as storage and a canvas to create their own poems. Oriental Trading has a design your own lunch box tin that would also be a good idea for storage and an additional craft.
I have mentioned the exquisite corpse a lot in my various activities, but it is also a great way to get teens working together to make fun poems. Simply fold a piece of paper multiple times and pass it around having each teen write one line of a poem. The rule is that they can’t read any of the other lines so they don’t know what others have written. In the end you unfold the paper and read the poem and it is often quite amusing. You can also do this as an online activity (although they will see the previous lines) and use your social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to write a group poem. You could also do this by having teens tear headlines out of those discarded magazines.
Take a cart of just returned books, a full one, into your program room and let teens use the books to create book spine poetry. This is also a fun way to create displays on the end of your shelves. The idea is simple, you place the books spine out on top of one another to create a poem using the various book titles. I love this activity and you can see a fun gallery of book spine poems at 100 Scope Notes.
Sidewalk Chalk Poetry
Teens still love sidewalk chalk and this is a great way to create some fun art around your library on your sidewalks; they become a blank canvas that teens can share poems they love or write their own to share with the world. Bonus, supply are low but creativity is high.
There are a variety of things that you can purchase or re-purpose and decoupage with poems, again by using words and sentences torn from discarded magazines. You can do spiral bound notebooks to create poetry journals, boxes to store your magnetic poetry tiles in, etc. You can also have teens creates poems to frame and hang on their walls, or decorate your teen space with them.
Create a space in your teen area where teens can create or leave poetry. You can get magnetic chalk board paint and create a space (either directly on the wall or by using plywood and affixing it to the wall. Or you could just buy a magnetic dry erase board). Be sure to have a variety of magnetic words available for teens to use the space. Or you can use cork board tiles and teens can simply pin up the poems that they write (you’ll want to check in periodically to make sure you are not having anything put up like advertisements or content inappropriate a public display.)
Have teens decorate pizza boxes (ask a local pizza place to donate) and write poems on the inside. This is a great way for a teen to deliver a poem to someone they love. Or if you are in a school, deliver poems to your classrooms. You can also do this activity using Chinese food style take out boxes that you can find at most craft stores.
Have a Poetry Exchange
Many people have a favorite poem. Have your teens bring in a copy of their favorite poem and have an exchange party. You can switch out poems and have teens read them and then try and guess whose favorite poem it is. Or have teens put them together in unique presentations (wrap them as a present, do a video, etc) and share them with each other. This takes the concept of the open mic reading and allows teens to get creative with their presentations and include tech or art if they so choose. Plus, every teen will walk out of the room with a new poem. You could even swap poems in a way similar to the traditional white elephant gift exchange.
Mad Dash Poetry Scramble
Think relay race and puzzles, kind of Survivor style. Print out the words to a poem and cut the paper up into single lines. Have teens assemble in teams at one end of the room and have the poem set up at the other. One by one each teen dashes to the end of the room to grab a line, comes back and tags the next teen, and then in the end they try to unscramble the lines and put the poem together.
Other simple things you can do include:
- Random Readings: during the day (if at a school) or during your library program, stop all activity and have a random poem reading. Everything just stops and everyone must freeze while you read the poem.
- Or play a game of poetry freeze tag and you set up a signal where you tag a teen at the program and they must bust out a poem and everyone freezes during the reading.
- Show the movie Dead Poet’s Society
- Have a make your own fortune cookie craft where your fortunes are lines from your favorite poems.
- Have a poetry contest
- Have a poetry slam
- Have a poetry scavenger hunt and provide teens with snippets of poems and have them find the title, author or next line.
Don’t forget that Teen Ink, Figment and VOYA are all places that encourage teens to write and create so be sure to share them with your teens. VOYA has a yearly teen poetry contest and the winners appear in the April edition, it is also a good place to find additional poetry activities to do with your teens.
Whatever you do, be sure to take some time to get teens thinking about poetry during the month of April. If you have some fun poetry activities you have done in the past or are thinking about doing this year, please share them in the comments.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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