Welcome to the Poetry Café

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.

La marchande de café.

One of the best ways to surround students with poetry is to host a poetry café or reading or slam. These events are essentially the same, but I have always favored a poetry café format.

Begin your planning by speaking with your most frequent patrons, English teachers, and administrators to elicit input about the format that would best suit your school community.

I prefer the poetry café format for a few reasons:

1. I enjoy making the event special for students who are not normally permitted to bring food into the library by providing hot chocolate and/or coffee (depending on the age of the students) as well as small pastries and other snacks. Students may also bring their lunches from home.

2. I have also been fortunate to have round tables and café tables in my library which I set up around a central “stage” area to make the library feel like a café with tablecloths and electric candles and dimmed lights.

Once you have decided on a format, date, and time, begin the advertising blitz. Posters, social media, school announcements, e-mail—use whatever means you have to communicate with as many students as possible.

I have found the following to be helpful in ensuring a successful event:

  • Ask students to bring a poem to read: published or their original work.
  • Have copies of poems you have selected in case anyone who wants to participate does not bring one.
  • To get the event going, I often read or recite the first poem—if this is a first-time event, students are just sometimes reluctant to be the first reader.
  • Encourage students to attend even if they would rather not read. Experiencing poetry by listening to others read also nurtures poetry lovers.
  • Consider limiting the length of the poems students may bring or the number of poems any one person may read. This helps ensure everyone gets a chance to read and no one student dominates the event.
  • Host a lunch time event rather than after school. More students are likely to participate and the time can also be controlled better for an effective event that does not drag on. Also, depending on the format of your school day, consecutive lunch periods allow for a revolving event where students come and go as their lunch times begin and end.
  • For the first event, limit the participants to students during the school day. If successful, consider expanding to teachers, siblings, and parents or other participants.
  • Provide a microphone. This is practical, but also adds to the atmosphere of the event.
  • Make a list of the published poems students read and create a display of books by the poets. Also ask students who read original work for permission to post their poems in the library.

What advice do you have for those hosting a poetry event in their school?

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