National Poetry Month

As part of my work as the Lower Division Librarian, I give presentations on various topics at our morning meetings. With each passing year I have come to own certain topics for the morning meeting schedule. As an example, I create a presentation on the Caldecott and Newbery winners just after they are announced in January. I see these presentations as an opportunity to create a lesson for a wide audience since attendance at morning meeting includes our Kindergarten through Fifth Grade students as well as faculty. These presentations are also an opportunity to promote the Library and the resources I carefully select for the collection.  

In recent years I have created a poetry themed presentation to coincide with our lower school poetry recitation contest during National Poetry Month. For this year’s presentation I began by describing my morning commute to school while listening to an NPR program Here & Now and coverage of the National Cowboy Poetry gathering in Elko, Nevada.  What struck me about this story (what literally almost made the car veer off the road!) was the straightforward, relaxed way Gail Steiger described the tradition of cowboy poetry and the incredible recall he had in reciting, singing, and playing examples of the genre. He describes cowboy Poetry in this way:

“Well, yeah, cowboy poetry, it’s kind of a broad brush. I mean, there are purist who think it’s all about, you know, cowboy hats and boots and spurs, but there are a bunch of us who realize it’s a lot more to do with just what a gift it is for all of us to come here and get to live on this planet, you know, where life just grows up out of the ground.”

In the segment, Steiger recites Wendell Berry’s “Her First Calf” which is utterly mesmerizing. What I especially loved about sharing this poetry with my students was its distinctly American roots! And in my research reviewing the plethora of resources available on the internet, I found this video of Joel Nelson reciting Lasca at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in 2013. My work in researching content for morning meeting presentations demands that it reaches a wide, yet juvenile audience. And although it would not have worked for my students primarily based on the 7 minute length, I found Joel Nelson’s recitation captivating.

Our poetry recitation contest has evolved in the eight years I have been a part of the event. Our students have embraced the work of some of the most famous poets contributing to this form of literature. I have showed video from Poetry Out Loud the National Poetry Foundation’s recitation contest for high school students and we discuss our observations about the students and their performance. This year we viewed a video of the 2013 Tennessee  state champion Whitney Baxter reciting [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] by E.E. Cummings. Students made the observation that while the orator was passionate about the poem she did not provide a dramatic rendering of it for the audience. She did not use props or hand gestures, yet we could still feel intensity that she conveyed in the way she said the poem.  This was an interesting point to illustrate as sometimes our students make their poem a dramatic art form!

Finally, in the poetry presentation, I wished my students good luck with their recitations and that as faculty we all recognized what hard work and effort went into this assignment on their part. And I asked them to not limit the presence of poetry in their lives to the month of April. Poetry is a wonderful literary form for our students to work with as it demands to be read, re-read, shared, and enjoyed. The Writer’s Almanac provides a simple pathway for accessing a new poem each day – even when you are not required to memorize it.

One thought on “National Poetry Month

  1. Faith — wonderful initiative and I envy you the regular forum for promoting library resources.

    Our students in grades 7-12 all have a poetry unit in April and I have created a supporting LibGuide (to which I will add the Writer’s Almanac poem a day link, thanks!). This year I am experimenting with a Facebook post each day featuring a different poet from various countries and time periods … The jury is out on whether it will reach the students. I am at an all-boys school and there’s a certain resistance.

    But I never admit defeat, so this year we’ve also launched a poetry writing competition called Battle of the Bards (name borrowed from our league of Canadian Poets). Students can submit poems all month and winners will be chosen from middle & upper school by a panel of faculty judges. Fingers crossed! I share your enthusiasm for encouraging students to make poetry part of their lives, but often it is not an easy sell!

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