Lessons learned and resources shared: National Poetry Month

PoetryMonthGraphic1Special thanks to outreach coordinator Brittany Wilson of Chatham County Public Libraries in North Carolina for sharing her amazing resources. You’ll find a PDF at the end of this article with all of the materials she generously provided. Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due should you use her awesome resources.

April is National Poetry Month.
Me, myself:
I’m partial to poetry.
The limitations and line breaks/
seeing something true,
the smack of rhythm,
the bite of word choice,
But many,
many people are not
so hot

about a poem.
“Don’t want it near my eyes.
Don’t want it in my pocket.
Don’t want it on my lips.
Don’t want it in my notebook.
Don’t want it shooting out my pen, no how.
Leave the poetry,
to the April Fools
Who like poetry.”

In summary: If you dive into the world of promoting poetry for purely for poetry’s sake, I think that you may find that some haters gon’ hate.  Yes, some people love, love, love it! But there are quite a number out there who very passionately hate it.  This makes planning for National Poetry Month a bit discouraging.  I was warned about this, that our patrons haven’t really bitten the poetry bait in the past, but I moved forward with my plans for National Poetry Month anyhow, feeling brave and optimistic despite what my well-meaning colleagues had told me.

You see, I am new to my Outreach post.  And because I don’t have a degree in library sciences, I might have been a bit disillusioned about how the game of library programming goes.  For that, I’ll blame my background in teaching.  Any “programming” you plan in the classroom results in at least two dozen, mid-sized humans who show up, no matter what.  Period.

Libraries are different.  I don’t have a committed following or a listserv of people yet.  Therefore, National Poetry Month, as my library colleagues had gently predicted, did not garner the participation or the success that I had hoped it would.

But then again, in what ways can you measure the success of a program?  Admittedly, part of that success must be measured in numbers of participants, which I have to say in our case, was underwhelming.  But then again, the people who came to the poetry even and entered their poetry into our contests seemed to really have enjoyed themselves.

All in all, the three poetry contests/events that we offered squeezed fifteen poems out of our patrons.  Ten of the poems were Haiku Book Reviews.  Three were from a poetry program I put on here at the library in collaboration with a local assisted living facility.  Two were “Where I’m From” poems submitted by patrons, modeled after a poem of the same name by George Ella Lyons.

Was it worth it?   In terms of the ratio of my work input to the patron poetry output, maybe not.  But overall, I am going to have to say, “Yes.  Yes, it was worth it.”

I would like to see it this way: As libraries, our commitment is to “be an integral part of the community by encouraging reading, lifelong learning and community engagement, and by providing opportunities for people to connect, learn, and grow.”

Yes, I stole that directly from our library’s mission statement.

For National Poetry Month, our library offered a chance for patrons to engage with literacy in a hands-on way, gave a chance for patrons to express their creativity. It gave people a platform to share their reflections about a book that they’ve read.  They had space give us a glimpse into their past, a chance to reflect on where they have come from, ranging from the names of plants and places in their childhood, to the relatives who were “half a bubble off plumb”, to the baby bulldog one patron’s dad saved that actually turned out to be a mouse.

Poetry is a dance
of mind and memory,
of images triggered,
of your life, distilled,
wrung out on the page.

And I love it!

So much that it blinded me a bit during the planning process.  Honestly, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew better than to expect fabulous attendance or participation for these poetry events.  Our patrons are busy.  Plus, there are some people who have some serious, unsettled beef with Poetry as a genre.  Plus, I am just learning the ropes about the programming marketing side of things.  How and where to advertise?  With flyers, signup sheets, online calendars, listserves, Facebook, twitter?  And how far in advance should I put the information out there?  All of these things contributed to smaller numbers.

All in all, I would say that for a first attempt, it was a successful month.  Those poems made me happy.  The process of them being born on paper seems to have made some of our patrons happy, too.

Was it worth it?  15 poems.  15 glimpses into another person’s brain and heart.  15 ways in which the Pro-Poetry People, though their numbers are few, can say they have triumphed once more.  Yeah, I’d say that it was worth it.

Here are a few of the resources I planned and gathered.  Feel free to steal, use, or change these to suit your library’s situation: National Poetry Month resources

3 responses to “Lessons learned and resources shared: National Poetry Month

  1. Welcome to Outreach! I also have a background in teaching and have been doing Outreach for 3 years now, so this post really nailed a lot of my feelings on the head. Poetry is tough- people have very strong opinions about it. We had some success this year doing “Blackout Poetry” with the teens using newspapers. It wasn’t an organized event- it was a drop in and do it anytime throughout the month, which I think helps.

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