The Academy of American Poets started the National Poetry Read-a-Thon in April 2006. Each year thousand of classrooms participate in the project, with students from across the country reading and writing responses to poems by great American poets such as Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and Sylvia Plath. Some of the poems were chosen from the anthology How to Eat a Poem: A Smorgasbord of Tasty and Delicious Poems for Young Readers which the Academy freely distributed to thousands of schools and literacy programs across the nation in 2006.
On average, students who participate in the Read-a-Thon read one poem per day throughout April. The Academy asks teachers to send in sample responses from their students each year,and below are a few of the submissions we've received over the years.
On "The Builders" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The Builders" is a very cryptic poem. At first glance, it seems to be a jumble of rhyming words, but when you read it a second or third time, you discover its hidden meanings. One of these is that we are the builders of our lives. Then in terms of construction materials it gives advice on how to build a good life. An example is the third and fourth lines of the third stanza, and the first and second lines of the fourth stanza, which say: "Our todays and yesterdays are the blocks with which we build. Truly shape and fashion these; leave no yawning gaps between." I think "truly shape and fashion these" means that we should have purpose in life and our lives should not just be shapeless, poorly formed bricks. Another meaning that I noticed was "leave no yawning gaps between" which I think means we should not have any loose ends in our lives because they will come back to haunt just like a crack in the wall.
Mary Grove’s 8th Grade Class
Northland Preparatory Academy
On "I, Too, Sing America" by Langston Hughes
In "I, Too, Sing America," Langston Hughes showed confidence and optimism for a better future for minorities. Maybe he hoped black activists after him would reflect on his poem and pick up from there. Maybe Mr. Hughes had just as much hope and confidence in his next generation to succeed as he had in himself. It would be hard to think about the present without such imposing past characters and poets influencing us. This means just one thing: poems aren’t always floaty nonsense; poems can be stirring movements that change history.
Carol Waxenberg’s 5th Grade Class
Episcopal School of Dallas
On "Skier" by Robert Francis
"Skier," written by Robert Francis, contains superb imagery combined with wonderful sounds. Upon reading the first line I could envision the skier swinging his way down the mountain leaving a winding path behind him. Also, I heard him rushing down the mountain his jacket flapping in the wind and his skis rearranging the snow with each turn. I felt the cold stinging his face as the wind pressed against him. I saw his fall when he engulfed himself in a blanket of powdery snow. I felt a strong connection with "Skier" not only because of the vivid language, but because I’m a skier.
Lynn Leiter’s 8th Grade Class
East Grand Rapids Middle School
Grand Rapids, MI
On "Hope is the thing with feathers" by Emily Dickinson
Have you heard the cry of a bird in Antarctica? Have you heard the chirp of desperation? Hope rises above all. The bird symbolizes Mother Earth who takes care of everything. She tells the kids in poverty to hold on. If everyone abandoned hope, the world would be gone. Instead, hope is what makes the world flourish. And the thing that keeps so many people pushing ahead every day even when they are in the chilliest land.
Samantha Davis’ 8th Grade Class
Floyd Dryden Middle School
On "How to Eat a Poem" by Eve Merriam
I think this is the perfect description of how one should read poetry. You shouldn’t hesitate, you should just dive in and start reading. Poetry is always ready to be read, whenever you are ready to read it. It will never go bad! It is definitely cleaner than eating a fruit, but it has the same aspect of indulging yourself with food, except it’s food for your brain. Everyone knows what it is like to bite into an apple or a peach and feel the juice running down your chin, so it was smart to compare a familiar sensation to reading poetry. The poem reminds me of eating mango water ice.
Denise Miller’s 7th Grade Class
Unami Middle School
On "A Divine Image" by William Blake
The poem’s subject is very interesting. It says that cruelty has a human heart. I believe that he means that every human heart has cruelty or is cruel to at least one thing in the world. Jealousy has a human face. I agree. Everyone is jealous of something, and they show how they are through their face. Terror and secrecy create a horrific mystery. That creates drama, which is present in every human being. I think the iron is forged from the fire of unnecessary anger. The poem I believe was true because all feelings he describes are in every single human being on this planet.
Andrea Spinello’s 8th Grade Class
Spotswood Memorial School
On "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazurus
Emma Lazurus’s "The New Colossus" is a poem [whose] subject is the Statue of Liberty that stands tall in New York City. The poem strongly describes Lady Liberty as a portal, or a gateway to freedom to all exiles coming to America. The statue seems to be welcoming all... but recently it seems the people who come here are not as wanted as the statue represents. Basically, the statue’s arms are not as wide open as they used to be. With all these new immigrant laws trying to be passed, it felt weird to read about something that is so loving and so welcoming to all.
A. J. Guerra
Valerie A. Williams’s 8th Grade Class
Central Middle School
West Melbourne, FL
On "The Kraken" by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem "The Kraken" deals with the immense sea monster of Norwegian legend. He uses images of dark and desolate sea floor as well as the great age of the Kraken to make him appear to be a force of nature, just waiting for a moment when he will rise and reek havoc. By using phrases like "huge sponges of millennial growth and height" and "giant arms the slumbering green," Tennyson gives us visions of the appearance and enormous size of the Kraken. These create a fear of the Kraken, as Tennyson might have had at the time.
Catherine Koss’s 8th Grade Class
Providence Heights Alpha School
Allison Park, PA
On "First Love" by Carl Lindner
I think the poem "First Love" is about his first love, basketball. I could tell it was basketball because of the words he used, such as "layup," "jumpset," and "backboard." But what I thought was interesting was not once did he actually say the word basketball. Also, what I thought was interesting was how he ended the poem by making himself part of the ball falling into the hoop. A friend of mine once said, "To be good at a sport like basketball you must feel the ball go into the hoop." That’s what I thought the poem was trying to say.
Ms. Cortes’s 7th Grade Class
East Hampton Middle School
East Hampton, NY
On "The Tyger" by William Blake
This is one of the most deep, horrifying, heart-clasping poems I have ever read. It’s written in such dramatic dialogue and depth that you can just see everything happening right there. In the first stanza, I already had this scary feeling. Imagine, camping out in a forest, you see flaming ashes of brightness strolling in the mist of the air. It gets closer and closer. Your consciousness rises up from your stomach and everything freezes in you. Soon you see it spreading. Darkness is being swallowed and you can start feeling the scorches of fire burning inside your eyes... It’s silent now... Too quiet. All of a sudden there was a big slap like a hand popping the sun with a needle and everything erupts around the surface of the Earth. What powers could pulverize this planet? Well, all I can say is, this world is going to end some way.
Susan Davis’s 7th Grade Class
The Chinquapin School
On "To You" by Langston Hughes
Reading "To You" by Langston Hughes made me think. Our world really is a problem world and we do nothing about it. I wish I could "sit and read, sit and dream or learn" about how to help this problem world. It makes me angry to think that people who don’t read poems like this think this world isn’t a problem world. So they do nothing to help this world. My teacher says, "Even holding the door for someone changes the world." Langston Hughes once said, "All you who are dreamers too, help me make our world anew."
Mrs. Gates’s & Ms. Bell’s 5th Grade Class