Blogger Chelsey Roos

Poetry Programs for the Reluctant Poet

April is National Poetry Month! Many people find poetry intimidating. Between meter, rhyme scheme, teachers overly focused on anything written prior to 1900, and words like “troche” and “anaphora,” the language of poetry can seem complex. But it is not too late – or too hard – to unlock your inner poet. Consider adding one of the following poetry programs to your calendar. They all use common library or household supplies, take no special knowledge or skill to lead, and can be put together in an hour or less. Gather ye thine quills and parchment!

Spine Poetry

Supplies: a huge number of books you don’t mind reshelving, a camera.

For this one we’re building our poem by stacking books flat in a tower and reading the spines. You’ll get the best results if you pull a wide variety of books. Some with funny titles, some with serious, and titles with simple nouns and pronouns. Let participants stack and rearrange until their poem is perfected, or very silly. Take photos of completed stacks to preserve the poem and then turn the books loose again to create more.

The spines of this poem read: I hope / I’m not missing / the longest journey / I’ll go and come back / we are better together
Four books are stacked on their side on top of a book shelf, to make a poem out of their titles.
The spines of this poem read: Hey, little ant / Will you be my friend? / I’m sorry / I just ate my friend

Invisible Ink Poetry

Supplies: Lemon juice, cotton swabs, paper, pencils, and a warm light source like a table lamp or lightbulb.

This is a STEM/poetry combo! Kids will write a short poem that they want just one person to read. It will be their secret poem message. They might want to write to a family member, a friend, or a pet. Younger kids can update a short and sweet classic, using “Roses are red…” as a starter; older kids can borrow William Carlos Williams “This Is Just to Say.” Confident writers may want to make up their own! Poems can be sincere, as in: roses are red / violets are blue / without my dog, I don’t know what I’d do. Poems can also be silly: roses are red / the sun is bright / Mom, can we have pizza tonight? Or: This is just to say / I have taken your Switch / to soccer practice / and accidentally erased your Zelda game.

Once they have drafted their poem, they can grab a cotton swab and some lemon juice and inscribe their poem in invisible ink! Once the paper dries, they can hold it up to a table lamp or warm lightbulb to reveal their secret poem.

Blackout Poetry

Supplies: Pages from discarded books, markers.

The concept of blackout poetry is simple: you take a page full of text, and then you remove words until all you have left is a poem. There are a couple of different ways to do this. The most common way is to black out words you don’t like, CIA-style. You can also cover up the unwanted words with drawings related to your poem – color a water-themed poem blue and add waves, for example. You can also convert this into a secret messages program for a more thrilling marketing angle. Plan your poem, but don’t black anything out. Instead, take a second piece of paper and cut away small spaces to reveal the words of your poem when you place your cut-up paper on top of your original text. Only someone with the cut-up paper will be able to see the poem beneath!

A torn-out page from Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. The majority of the page is blacked out, leaving just a few words behind to make a poem.
This poem is made from a damaged copy of Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and reads: Did he tell her that he was sorry / Not exactly. / shook / sagged / It would be easy to say / rushed / rendered / run / resolve / never say it / never / worst fears / that year, the early hours / back down. / bottom. / It was quite a sight

Found Poetry

Supplies: those old magazines and newspapers you were going to recycle anyway, scissors, glue sticks, paper.

Here we’re building our poems by cutting out headlines and other text from magazines and newspapers and arranging them anew. If you have extra time and some teen volunteers, they can do some program preparation by cutting out fun and funny phrases to have ready in advance (give them some guidance to keep things G-rated, if the program is for younger kids). Bigger fonts found in headlines and quotes will be easier to cut out and read than teeny tiny newsprint type. Just like with spine poetry, be on the lookout for phrases with easy building block words like pronouns and simple verbs, in addition to the silly or descriptive pieces. Arrange your found pieces until you get something you like (or something you don’t hate! The bar can be low!) and glue down.

Do you find poetry intimidating? What are your favorite poetry programs for growing writers? And if you’re looking for more poetry ideas, check out this post for help building your poetry display, and this one with lots of book recommendations and resources.

Blogger Chelsey Roos, a white librarian with short hair and glasses.

Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is a Children’s Librarian for Santa Clara County Library. All images in this post were taken or created by the author.

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of III. Programming Skills.

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