The following post, written by From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress., was originally published on the blog
In 2001, the then U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins launched the online poetry project Poetry 180 as a way to introduce American high school students to contemporary poetry. Poetry 180 quickly became the most popular poetry-related resource on the Library of Congress’s website, and consistently ranks among the most visited sections of the Library’s entire site. We are quite pleased, then, to announce that Poetry 180 has received the first major redesign in its history–just in time for the start of the new school year!
Poetry 180, for those of you new to the resource, presents students with a new poem for each of the 180 days of the typical high school year. Participating schools often have the daily poem recited through the school’s public announcement system, read aloud by a teacher or student in the classroom, or printed and posted on a class’s bulletin board. The poems—all of which have been handpicked by Billy Collins–are highly accessible, and are not intended for classroom analysis. Widespread attempts by students to “torture a confession out of” a poem, as Collins writes in his own contribution to Poetry 180, “Introduction to Poetry,” are a surefire way to encourage students to dislike poetry. Poetry 180 provides examples of poems that students can enjoy, and even fall in love with, on a single reading.
In addition to a more modern look and feel, the new Poetry 180 website includes brief biographies of contributing poets, along with a “Rights & Access” tab that will take you quickly to permissions information for the selected poem.
As in the past, readers can use the Subscribe button near the top of each page to receive through email a new Poetry 180 poem each weekday during the course of the school year. The first Poetry 180 poem of the school year will be sent out later this morning.
Several months ago the Library asked Billy Collins if he could comment on how he came up with the idea for Poetry 180, which was his major project as Poet Laureate, and its impact. Here is his response:
Thinking of a “project” connected with poetry did not come naturally to me. The poet part of me is happiest in his cell, writing away in private. But the energetic projects of some previous laureates set a precedent that was hard to ignore. Plus, as Poet Laureate, one has the material and human resources of the Library of Congress more or less at one’s disposal, which is a rather heady position to be in. Poetry 180 was a response to the general lack of contemporary poetry in the curriculum of American high schools. I thought that gathering together 180 good, clear poems—one for every day of the school year—and having one read each day would result in showing students that poetry was more than a subject to be studied, like psychology and physics; poetry could be an enjoyable, even stimulating part of every day life. Much to my surprise, I was right. I have gotten hundreds of responses from high school teachers all over the country telling me that Poetry 180 actually works in the classroom. It seems that just one poem can melt a student’s resistance to Poetry—if it’s the right poem. Happily, what began as a Library Congress website has turned into two poetry anthologies from Random House designed for any reader, not just students, especially those who have ignored poetry ever since they abandoned it at graduation.
We’d love to hear from those of you who are currently using, or have used, Poetry 180 in your school or classroom. How are you presenting the poems, and what has been students’ reaction? Leave a comment below!