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Blog Round-Up: Primary Sources and Poetry

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T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month. William Carlos Williams thought it was the saddest. Longfellow and Ogden Nash said they loved it, and Emily Dickinson was ambivalent, so far as I can tell.

"O Captain! My Captain!" page with Whitman’s handwritten corrections, 1888
“O Captain! My Captain!” page with Whitman’s handwritten corrections, 1888

There’s at least one thing about April that they might all appreciate, though: It’s National Poetry Month, an opportunity for teachers, librarians, and readers everywhere to celebrate poetry and its vital role in U.S. culture.

Primary sources from the Library of Congress can be a powerful entry point into poetry, and the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog has published a number of posts highlighting poetry resources and providing teaching strategies.

Exploring Other Eras

Throughout U.S. history, poets have used verse to illuminate public issues as well as private ones. Poems about voting, about battles, and about new technologies have always taken their place alongside poems about matters of the heart. Reading these poems can help students see the culture of another era through the eyes of its writers. In addition, reading them as they first appeared, whether in newspapers, on song sheets, or posted on a wall in broadsides, provides clues about the ways in which poetry permeated the physical environment of another day.

Two blog posts can help students get started:

Soldiers’ Poems of World War I in Newspapers: Personal Responses in Public Media

A Historical Tour of Poetry and Song: Lyrical Legacy

The first draft of "Ballad of Booker T." by Langston Hughes. May 3, 1941
The first draft of “Ballad of Booker T.” by Langston Hughes. May 3, 1941

Examining the Creative Process

Other primary sources allow students to peer over the shoulders of poets at work, and to watch them struggle with ideas and their expression. Looking at poets’ rough drafts can help students see that even the greatest of artists still have to slog through the process of authorship and revision, and also can provide an opportunity to think about how a well-known poem might have been different in the revision process had ended earlier.

Langston Hughes’ Drafts of “Ballad of Booker T.”: Exploring the Creative Process

Former Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish asks: What is a Poem?

Sparking Creativity in Students

Poetry is, of course, a living art, and primary sources can help students discover the poets within themselves.

Making Connections Through Poetry: Finding the Heart in History

Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month

Poetry in the School Library

For more ideas, search for “poetry” in our blog archives.

Also, please check our sibling blog from the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, From the Catbird Seat.




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