Here are a number of low cost suggestions to develop greater visibility for poetry during April and throughout the year.
Programs and discussions
Success stories from past years
These tips were developed through Poetry in the Branches (PITB)--a multi-layered, replicable program model that helps libraries become centers for the discovery of contemporary American poetry. The model seeks to improve public access to poetry through acquisitions, displays, live readings, writing workshops, and other poetry services to adults and young adults. PITB was developed by Poets House in collaboration with The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, and is now being made available to librarians all over the country. For more information about PITB, and how to bring it to your library, contact Jen Abrams, Poetry in the Branches coordinator, at (212) 431-7920 x.13.
Poets House is a 40,000-volume poetry library and resource center in New York City. Visit the Poetry Publication Showcase, an exhibit of the year's new poetry books, during National Poetry Month at Poets House. Call (212) 431-7920 for further information.
Poets House offers its special thanks to the Adult Specialists and Young Adult Librarians who contributed to this list: Caroline Bartles, Patricia Burn, Donald Laub, Cesare Passudetti, Jessica Roskoff and Marsha Spyros.
Electronic message boards can be programmed to broadcast lines of poetry either from the collection or written by library users.
- Displays of poetry books create a visible presence for the art. Frequent display changes and quality graphics engage library users with the collection.
- Always reinforce readings and poetry writing workshops with book displays. This sends the message that programs are a launching pad back into the collection.
- Include poetry in topical displays, both for adults and young adults. Again, this reinforces the idea that poetry is a way to respond to anything and everything in the wide world. For example, a display on the Civil War might include Walt Whitman or Herman Melville's verse; a display on Black History Month might include contemporary volumes of poetry or anthologies like In Search of Color Everywhere, etc.
- Chase's Calendar of Events indicates each special holiday and commemorative days (for example, Emily Dickinson's birthday, Earth Day, etc.) and can be useful in generating display ideas.
- Request a National Poetry Month poster for display through Poets.org.
- Encourage young library visitors to make posters of beloved poems from the collection. This creates material for displays and gives youngsters "inside-out" relationships with the text of the poems.
Institute a program whereby every library user gets a poem during NPM this April! Xerox a different poem for each day in April and hand them out at the circulation desk.
Programs and Discussions
- Open houses and receptions can create a sense of a living literary community. Host a reception for local poets, and keep a running list of their names and addresses. To find out who the poets are in your region, contact one of the following:
- Poets & Writers: 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, NY, NY 10004, (212) 226-3586
- Your local arts council. Find contact information at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies website, www.nasaa-arts.org.
- Writing programs in local universities
- Local literary organizations
- Host a reading and/or discussion with a local poet, or ask poets from different parts of the country to join a Skype chat with a live library audience.
- Host a Twitter chat with a poet on your library's Twitter feed. Actively promote the event in the library, online, and in other promotional materials.
- Offer a free screening of poetry films once a week during National Poetry Month, or have a poetry film festival. For a list of poetry films, visit www.poets.org/movie.
- Include poetry in book discussion groups. At selected gatherings use three poems as the text for discussion. Use poetry for book talks, too.
- Sponsor an "open mic" poetry reading. Have library visitors sign up to read for five minutes each. "Book" someone from the community to be an emcee.
- Try sponsoring poetry readings that will attract both teens and adults. You might book a more established writer with an emerging poet. Always have a question and answer period.
- Poetry writing workshops--either for young adults or adults--encourage the growth of a personal poetic voice and, ultimately, foster reading with a writer's awareness. Workshops are best scheduled to meet at the same time each week for at least three sessions with a local poet/facilitator.
- Publish an anthology gathering work from your site's writing workshops. Display and circulate the collection. Host a publication party.
- Create a display of archival materials of your town's (or the nearest city's) poetry history.
- Set an annual goal for your poetry acquisitions -- two per book order? -- and then display your new purchases.
- Poetry books in the collection "sell" each other. The collection should include a mix of anthologies and volumes of poetry by a single author.
- Journal publications, such as the Academy's American Poet that present the work of living writers are important to include in displays and acquisition priorities.
- Writers' guides are useful tools and give new writers a way to continue:
- Writer's Guides:
- Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell, eds., The Practice of Poetry, Harper Perennial, 1992. (Over 90 writing exercises from poets who teach.)
- Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones, Shambhala, 1986. (Zen philosophy, anecdotes and writing exercises.)
- Oliver, Mary, A Poetry Handbook, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994. (A book on craft by a celebrated poet: meter, rhyme, form, revision.)
- Publishing Guides:
- Poets & Writers Magazine, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, NY, NY 10004. (The central source of practical information for writers since 1970.)
- Poet's Market: Where and How to Publish Your Poetry, published on a yearly basis. (Information on poetry publishers with complete submission guidelines.)
- Begin a poetry lovers' mailing list and faithfully notify subscribers about each event. Send information about events to other libraries and local newspapers.
- Ask poets to help promote their events by reaching out to their friends, fans, and social media folllowers.
- Add your poetry events to the National Poetry Calendar on Poets.org www.poets.org/calendar.
- Use "Writers Live at the Library" materials to promote events featuring poets. Posters, bookmarks, postcards, tote bags, and other items are available from the ALA (800) 545-2433.
- Make a personal connection with local bookstores. They can help you arrange to get poets who are reading in their stores to do piggy-back visits to your site.
Some Success Stories From Previous Years
The libraries that had the greatest success with National Poetry Month were the ones that invested effort in hosting readings, setting up special poetry displays, organizing contests, and mentioning National Poetry Month in their newsletters and to the local media.
Teton County Library (Jackson, WY) The library held a variety of celebrations honoring NPM. Patrons wrote poems on paper leaves to decorate their Poetree. Teens could participate in a poetry contest for a cash prize. Local poets read aloud in an open-mike format for the traditional "Moose Readings." The traveling troupe Poetry Alive! Presented poetry as theater.
Bethlehem Public Library (Bethlehem, CT) Children wrote poetry incorporating the numbers one to one hundred and decorated invitations with numbers to honor the library's centennial year. A poetry reading-party was held and poems were gathered into a volume to become part of the library's book collection.
Blue Hill Public Library (Blue Hill, ME) The library had a program based on the "Poets In Person" radio series which they dubbed "Poets Out Loud." Their second annual "Favorite Poem Reading" was held April 26. In addition, the filing cabinets around the children's area were decorated with magnetic poetry.
Boston Public Library, South End Branch (Boston, MA) Their own Favorite Poem Project had community members reading through poems encompassing all portions of the program. Previous successful years of NPM promotion through displays, readings, and videos encouraged many people to attend the Favorite Poem Project festivities.
Public Library for Union County (Lewisburg, PA) The library set up a Poetry Wall and a Poet-tree with leaves provided so patrons could write their own poetry. For children, a Haiku workshop proved popular, as did the poetry story-time for pre-schoolers. The library also offered a poetry reading which was well attended.
Iowa City Public Library (Iowa City, IA) The library held several activities for NPM. A graduate student from the University of Iowa taught a two-week poetry course for adults. They also offered a workshop for children. Poets from the University's creative writing program read original works at "Poetry For Lunch." The library invited staff and community members to read a favorite or original poem. Poems from previous year's workshops were placed on placards on city buses for passengers to enjoy.
Oconee County Library (Watkinsville, GA) Patrons posted their poetry on a Poetry Wall, sometimes adding illustrations. The library showed films such as "The Bitter Berry: The Life of Byron Herbert Reece." The festivities culminated with a poetry slam and open-mike readings. Winners received a poetry book, ribbon, and gift certificate from area bookstores.
The Friends of Minneapolis Public Library (Minneapolis, MN) The popular and critical response to the library's "Favorite Poem Group Poetry Reading" has been so positive they are making it an annual event. In 2000, participants included the Mayor of Minneapolis, best-selling novelist Judith Guest, Arts Advocate Joan Mondale, Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, and several other local TV and radio personalities.
Osterlin Library (Northwestern Michigan College) The library tied a "zero response time" book of poetry to every computer workstation so students would have something to read while they waited.
Bethlehem Public Library (Delmar, NY) The library offered a number of workshops for NPM. "What We Know" poetry writing workshops were funded by Poets & Writers. A local certified poetry therapist taught a Poetry Therapy workshop. Nationally known poet June Jordan held an informal seminar. In addition, the library set up a display of poetry in the building.
Medford Public Library (Medford, MA) The library hosted "Medford Poets Live!" an evening of readings by local poets. Due to its success, next year a poetry discussion group will be added to the festivities. A poetry book display was featured through the month of May and attendance in a children's poetry writing workshop tripled.
Edgecombe County Memorial Library (Tarbaro, NC) The library held a "Poetry on the Lawn" event on their front lawn. Teachers brought their classes over to hear a local poet read, and some read their own works. In addition, the event attracted many passersby curious about the proceedings. A lively discussion followed.
Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, NY) Twelve branches of the library sponsored a five-week poetry writing and reading program, "Writing With Rhythm," for young adults. They published and distributed a poetry anthology to local schools and other library branches. Due to the growing interest in poetry during National Poetry Month, the library also offered a Poets Coffeehouse series in the Central Library.
Prairie Trails Public Library (Burbank, IL) For the second year, the library held an "Animal Pupp-o-etry" show where animal puppets read animal poems for younger children and they held a poetry party for older kids. The library's monthly writing club also focused on poetry. Librarians found that the poetry shelf in their youth section was ¾ empty throughout the month of April.
Jefferson Township Public Library (Jefferson, NJ) The senior librarian, Christine O’Brien, bought artificial roses, printed out copies of classic poems; wrapped a poem around each flower’s stem, and tied it with ribbon. She then put them in a basket to be displayed at the circulation desk near the entrance. Within three days she gave out over one hundred poems.