National Poetry Month is almost over, but you can make poetry a part of your day year-round. Here are five simple suggestions for fitting poems into your busy schedule:
1. Visit the Writer’s Almanac. Better yet, listen.
Every morning while I’m getting dressed, I play the audio version of PBS’s Writer’s Almanac. Narrated by Garrison Keillor, these brief recordings begin with a look at “this day in literary history” — brief biographical sketches of poets and writers — and then Keillor reads the day’s chosen poem.
I have come to treasure these quiet moments during which I savor the rich cadences and vivid images of these thoughtfully-selected verses. I’ve encountered many new-to-me poets in this way, and I find that their words linger in my mind throughout the day. What used to be a bustling, buzzing time of morning has become more peaceful and deeply rewarding.
I want to acquaint you with a new program for making poetry an active part of the daily experience of American high school students. The program is called Poetry 180 and offers a poem for every day of the approximately 180-day school year. But there is another reason I chose that name.
A 180-degree turn implies a turning back — in this case, to poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.
Don’t feel limited to sharing these poems with teenagers; my kids range in age from 3 to 16, and we have found our twice-weekly dips into the Poetry 180 selections — including poems by Theodore Roethke, Jane Kenyon, and the wonderful Billy Collins himself — to be a thought-provoking experience for the whole family.
3. Experience Poetry Friday — any day of the week.
Every Friday, dozens of bloggers share poems and poetry-related links, and a rotating lineup of volunteers posts a roundup of that week’s entries. (You can find the schedule at Kidlitosphere Central.) Although I’m sporadic about posting my own Poetry Friday contributions, I take great delight in exploring each week’s links. It usually takes me a full week to get through them all–and then it’s time for another round! Some of my favorite Poetry Friday entries are the original poems shared by gifted writers like Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm and Susan Taylor Brown, who enchanted me with this week’s contribution: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Hummingbird.”
4. Check out the Poetry for Young People series by Sterling Publishing.
These gorgeous books have been a part of my kids’ lives since they were tiny. Each volume features the work of a single poet, such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Langston Hughes, and Lewis Carroll, or a selection of poems organized around a theme like animal poems or African-American poetry. The books are picture-book-sized, beautifully illustrated, with helpful introductory notes for many of the poems and footnotes explaining difficult words.
About once a week, I have each of my older kids pick one of the volumes from our collection and ask them to choose one poem to share with the rest of the family. I love to hear what moved my children to pick the poems they’ve chosen — why they connected with the words on the page. The deep-probing, wide-ranging conversations sparked by their choices are some of my happiest family memories. And quite often I’ll find that one of the kids has been inspired to memorize her selection.
If I had to pare down my poetry collection to a single book, I’d choose this one in a heartbeat. This classic collection, edited by Helen Farris, is a nice fat tome stuffed with excellent poetry — a diverse selection ranging from comic children’s verse to lyrical masterpieces. This is the book that first introduced my kids to Nash, Lear, Tennyson, Shelley, Rossetti, and dozens of other poets.
One poem in particular has become something of a family tradition. I am never, never permitted to put this book away without reading — nay, performing — Thomas Hood’s hilarious “A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months.” It’s all the more delicious right now when we happen to have a boy aged three years and almost five months…but there hasn’t been a year yet when Hood’s verses didn’t elicit shrieks of laughter from the big sisters in this house.
Of course, our family favorites might not be yours. But that’s the beauty of diving into poetry together: You forge your own connections, your own reflections, your own rich family memories.