Building a Poem Place

I struggle with how to get more poetry in the hands of kids. Why? It all starts with my hope that others can have what I have. For me, poetry provides a place to slow down and see what is often unseen, to fill what might be empty, to hear a murmur in a world that shouts. In my hubris, I believe others might be like me in this regard.

Somehow I found out about Seattle’s Poetry on a Bus project. The project seeks to put poetry into the daily lives of people. Here is an example from this week’s featured poet.

from Poetry on a Bus. Click on the link to take you to see the archive.

from Poetry on a Bus. Click on the link to take you to see the archive.

But it is more than just poems on buses; it is also about fostering a city-wide poetic reflection on the theme of “home” as experienced by the citizens of the many home places that make up the people of Seattle. Poets fanned out into neighborhoods to teach workshops on how to write poetry. They met in community centers, churches, schools, businesses, wherever the people of that neighborhood met. Then they wrote poems. The poems on the buses are written by the people from the neighborhoods, regular people who have a story to tell, an image to share.

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To build interest in poetry, one idea I had was to create a publically shared Poem Place outside my classroom where others could stop by and read as they went about their daily activities, kind of like a stationary bus, I guess.  At first, I would just put up poems that struck me or seemed to fit the time of year. Since I am inclined to look to the natural world and we live in a rural part of a rural state (Iowa), probably some of these would be connected to what students might see around them. I might also couple these with a short informational piece written by either me or by someone I found online, sort of like what Joyce Sidman has done in many of her wonderful books.

Since we recently moved to a 1:1 digital learning environment, I thought I could link the informational text(s) via that method as well.

So, maybe something like this, coupled with informational text on the history of tomatoes.

CherryTomatoes_Higgins

Poem is from the Writer’s Almanac. Click on the image to go to that page. (Made with Google Draw.)

Or this one since the bats are out at night, coupled with some short text/video about bats.

From Valerie Worth, Animal Poems. (Made with Google Draw.)

From Valerie Worth, Animal Poems. (Made with Google Draw.)

Or this one, since dogs are always so interesting to kids, then coupled with something on the history of dogs, or the science of anxiety.

From Mary Oliver, Dog Songs. (Made with Canva.)

From Mary Oliver, Dog Songs. (Made with Canva.)

My plan is to post these outside my room and online in a section of my classroom website. While I will be curating and publishing many of these early in the year, I hope that some students will begin to take over the job of finding poems and turning them into posters.

Maybe these poems and informational texts will foster conversations among students, between parents and children? Who knows?

Ideally, we might actually move toward something like what Poetry on a Bus does, which is to hold poetry writing workshops and gather poems from the students themselves. (I think I know some 7th and 8th graders who might be interested in that part!) But even if we don’t get that far this year, or ever, I think the project might be worth trying anyway.

I will keep you posted on how it goes as the year goes along.

6 thoughts on “Building a Poem Place

  1. I love this idea, and I especially love that kids can take this over. I am going to add this idea to my list of things to try in my new 5th grade classroom!

    • Julie! Thank you for stopping by to comment. I am curious to see what you do with your new 5th grade classroom. Last year was my first year in 5th (after some time in 3rd and 4th). Love it, but, truth be told, I loved the other grades, too. Best for this year!

  2. I’m a retired teacher who runs an after school book club. Now I’m wondering where we might host a permanent poetry place. Maybe something in the lunchroom where kids stand in line every day? Are you familiar with Joyce Sidman’s book, The World According to Dog? Dog poems by her and essays by teens. I love these lines from your post: “For me, poetry provides a place to slow down and see what is often unseen, to fill what might be empty, to hear a murmur in a world that shouts.”

    • Ramona,
      Thank you so much for the reference to Sidman’s book on dogs. I love her poetry, but was not aware of the World According to Dog. I am curious to see what you do with a permanent place for poetry. I had thought of a lunch line spot, too. It tickled me that this would be the reverse of poems on a bus: it’s the people who move through the lunch line, and the poem stays still! Do you have a place to put a special corkboard on the wall? A rollout TV? I’m thinking along the same lines as you. My small space near my classroom is a small step…

      If you do try some stuff, please email me and let me know what you did and how you did it!

    • Thanks, Mary Lee! I have a website up now and am having some fun fitting non-fiction with the poetry, and creating poster. Not sure if any kids will be that interested, but…I know of a few. Maybe that’s okay? I think they’ll take over after awhile, if the interest doesn’t wane. Middle school after all. 🙂

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