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Discovering Local and Public Poetry

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The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

"Local Poets Mail Poem to President Roosevelt on So. American Voyage." Roanoke Rapids Herald (N.C.). November 19, 1936: 6. From Chronicling America.
“Local Poets Mail Poem to President Roosevelt on So. American Voyage.” Roanoke Rapids Herald (N.C.). November 19, 1936: 6. From Chronicling America.

As I walk around my Washington, D.C., neighborhood, I often encounter vendors selling a local newspaper whose proceeds benefit the homeless of the DC Metro area. Many of the vendors are also writers who mention the page on which their article or poem appears in the issue. This got me thinking about the prevalence of local poetry and ways for us to discover it with our students.

If we know where to look, we can guide our students to poetry all around them:

  • Ask students to take a few minutes each day to look though a local or national newspaper to find poems. They may also find poetry published in popular or local magazines. Each student can bring in a poem to read aloud or to post on a public poem board.
  • Connect with local libraries for poetry readings students can attend or read at. Or consider hosting a poetry café in your own space.
  • Ask parents, staff, and other school community members if they or someone they know is a published or amateur poet. Bring a variety of poets in to conduct writing workshops or readings.
  • Gather copies of the literary magazine or school newspaper to read student poetry. Encourage your students to submit their work for publication.
  • Share Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty, then send students into the community to see if they can discover poems in unexpected places such as restaurant walls, monument pedestals, public transportation stations, or elsewhere.
  • Access historical newspapers through Chronicling America to search for poems from as early as 1789 in America. Students can search newspapers from states and towns across the nation, perhaps even from their own.
  • Extend the experience by introducing students to the Library of Congress’s Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. They may want to browse the collection to find a favorite poet or poem to share with others.

Looking for local, public poetry could be an ongoing activity or an endeavor that lasts only a few weeks. In either case, engage students in discussion asking: Why do poets share their words with others? What can we discover about ourselves and our communities by reading the poetry and responding to the poetry that surrounds us.

Celebrate their discoveries with a poetry reading or a poem board.