National Poetry Month is approaching, and my library is preparing with a Poem-A-Day contest – the winners of which will be displayed during the month of April. There are three age categories, children, teens, and adults. Guess which one has received the fewest entries. Teens! We decided to run a lunch hour “Poetry Blitz: Inspiration Station” in the library to raise awareness of the contest, and to get teens excited about making poems.
My library is a public library inside a high school, making it the perfect location for teen outreach. I was able to connect with the English department, who passed the contest information on to their classes. I also submitted a blurb for the morning announcements, and posted signs promoting the Inspiration Station.
Poetry is usually a very individual experience. Maybe teens would sit in the library and write during their lunch hour, but I know it’s more realistic to give them a take away package for them to return on their own time. I created a Poetry Toolkit containing:
- fun Poetry Prompts that I wrote (and resources on how to find more)
- Make Your Own Shape Poetry sheet
- Make Your Own Black Out Poetry (with an attached page from a withdrawn book)
- Try a New Type of Poem info sheet (with descriptions of unique forms of poetry that teens might not know of like pantoums and landays)
- The Poetry Toolkit Cover
- and of course a Contest Submission Form.
Creating the Poetry Prompts page took the most effort of them all, but it was also the most fun. I considered compiling a list of prompts form various sites, but weeding through them and picking the good ones turned out to be overwhelming. Plus, I know my audience here at the school, and I was able to create a list of unique prompts that they’re more likely to use (and I even stuck some information literacy skill building exercises in there). You can download my resource Poetry Prompts, or check out some examples:
- Ask a friend to write down 2 unrelated words. Tell them to be creative. Rearrange those words however you want. This is the title of your poem.
- Write an acrostic poem based on the word “Fragility.”
- Create a shape poem representing a human flaw. Fear, anger, jealousy.
- Write a soft poem about something sharp.
- Think of a topic you’d like to write about. Now go for a walk. Notice everything. Look for metaphors that relate back to your topic. Write a poem.
- Pick a number between 1 and 154. Look up the Shakespearean sonnet of that number (Google “Shakespearean Sonnet #”). Use all of the words from the first line somewhere in your poem.
- Write a poem about love and your least favourite season.
- Ask for a discarded book from the library. Create a black-out poem by crossing out words on the page, and leaving others.
- Write a poem as though you are an alien visiting earth for the first time. Read “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” by Craig Raine for inspiration.
- Write a Haiku about waiting a very long time for something to happen.
I scattered submission forms and Make Your Own Black Out Poetry sheets throughout the library (during lunch we have over 100 kids come through the doors. Their cafeteria isn’t big enough). I set up a more concentrated Inspiration Station near the desk where we usually have our lunchtime maker spaces. This included Poetry Toolkits, markers, pens, lined paper, withdrawn pages from books, and cut outs of the poetry prompts scattered around.
Reflections and Result
As I expected, even with a little prompting most teens didn’t want to spend their lunch hour sitting by themselves in a loud, crowded space writing poetry. However! Teachers and students were interested in the take-away Poetry Toolkit – especially the Black Out Poetry activity. Almost all of the Poetry Toolkit packages I set out were gone by the end of lunch hour, and I had spoken to 5 different teens about the contest, all of whom were genuinely excited to submit.
One sneaky trick I used to draw teens in was putting out the button maker with new button images. I always end up talking with the people making buttons, so today I was able to casually shift the conversation over to the poetry contest to great success.
All in all, this event will attract some more poetry submissions in the upcoming week. It would have been ever better if we had set out the toolkits at the beginning of the contest, and maybe added a new activity every week (or featured a different form of poetry). In any case, this program works well as a promotion tool, and the toolkit could stand alone as a passive resource for teens in the future.
I believe that there should be more collaboration and sharing in the library world. If you work in a high school or a public library free to use my work – just please do not claim the work as your own, and refer all interested parties to my blog. I’d love to see how other librarians run poetry events for teens. Let me know via e-mail or comments if you’ve done similar events (or if you use my resources!)