Poem a Day Project Breathes New Life into Poetry
Poetry isn’t dead, it’s just been beaten into submission. That seems to be the fear of poet Billy Collins in his poem “Introduction to Poetry.” To breathe life into poetry, Collins and the Library of Congress have developed Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools.
The goal of the site is to make poetry “an active part of the daily experience of American high school students.” As Collins explains, the name Poetry 180 comes not only from the 180-day school year, but also from a desire to have American students turn back to poetry. Teachers are invited to visit the site each day, print out a poem, and read it to their students.
Poetry 180 features poems by current U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic and other modern poets: William Stafford, Geraldine Connolly, Robert Bly, Donald Justice, Carol Snow, Wislawa Szymborska and many others.
Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” leads off the collection:
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Clearly, Collins is worried about the way poems are taught in schools today. The Poetry 180 project is not about analyzing poems in an academic sense; instead, it aims at simply giving students the chance to listen to poetry on a regular basis, to make poetry part of everyday life.
How to Use the Poems
Collins gives the following suggestions for participating in the Poetry 180 project:
- Read a poem each day during morning or afternoon announcements. Collins emphasizes the “most important thing is that the poems be read and listened to without any academic requirements.”
- “At the end of each week, a packet of the week’s poems could be made available for interested students to take home.”
It’s a fantastic idea, and I think Collins and the Library of Congress have chosen some engaging poems for students to hear. The Poetry 180 site also has a brief but useful page on “How to Read a Poem Out Loud.”
If you’re passionate about poetry and you want your students to be, visit Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools.