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Reintroducing Poetry 180 – A Poem a Day for High School Students

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The following post, written by , was originally published on the blog From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress.

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 poemsall 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.

Biographies for poets, as well as a "Rights & Access" tab, are now included on Poetry 180 poem pages. Screen capture of Poem 001. "Introduction to Poetry," by Billy Collins
Biographies for poets, as well as a “Rights & Access” tab, are now included on Poetry 180 poem pages. Screen capture of Poem 001, “Introduction to Poetry,” by Billy Collins

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 poemsone for every day of the school yearand 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 Poetryif 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!

Comments (8)

  1. I have been using Poetry 180 since 2006. I love it, and my students do too. How do I know the teenagers in front of me like it? When I sometimes to forget to recite the poem, inevitably, one student (or more) will remark, “Ms. Rowley, what about the poem of the day?”. My favorite part about Poetry 180 is the culture of quiet and listening it has fostered in my room. I introduce the Poem of the Day on the first day, and I spend time in September working on quieting our minds, bodies, and spirits while the poem is spoken. I even let students know they can daydream during the Poem of the Day. By October, when I get ready to recite the poem, the entire room quiets down. Papers stop shuffling; students raise fingers to their lips to gain silence; heads rest on desks; shoulders straighten; and, the melodious sounds of poetry fill our room for a few brief minutes. Sometimes, those brief moments even feel a bit magical, like something sacred is taking place: poetry.

  2. I love this program — it is such a fabulous way to start my day. Even though I have now read all the poems once a year for years, they reappear daily like visits from old friends.

  3. please add me to your poem for the day list.

  4. I just completed a class on poetry last semester. While it was focused mostly on structure (or in my case, stubbornly free writing to my heart’s content) we spoke about this project a lot.

  5. I had not heard of this scheme until now but it seems like a wonderful way to introduce poetry into daily life. So many times students complain at the mere mention of the word poem, not realising that poems are as beautiful, individual and inspiring as they are themselves. I think the most important thing is to let the poems speak for themselves without ramming analysis at them – simply reading poems every day helps appreciation for them grow.

  6. I gotta bookmark this web site it seems invaluable very

  7. Awesome write-up. I’m a normal visitor of your blog and appreciate you taking the time to maintain the nice site. I will be a frequent visitor for a really long time

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