Trinidad Sanchez, S.J.
Author of Why Am I So Brown?
In my twenty-five years of attending numerous readings and listening to other poets tell their story, I can not ever recall a poet describing that his or her inspiration to write poetry happened at his or her high school or university. Generally the inspiration to be a poet or to write poetry came from listening to their parents or grandparents reading poetry to them. One or two have mentioned their being inspired by their professors.
How sad that in our “centers of education” poetry rarely “inspire” students to become poets.
My premise for drafting this “Poetry in School Libraries” article is to challenge school staff to have some fun by providing “safe places” in school libraries for poetry readings by students and staff.
Recently, I ended a twelve weeks of teaching at two middle school students to write poetry for a program with Gemini Ink, San Antonio. The final session that we had together was a “poetry reading” in the library. Each of the students in turn stepped up to the microphone and podium to read one of the poems they had written during the sessions of the program.
The reading was a success and I could feel that the students felt surprised at what they had accomplished, a reading of their writing in a more public place than the classroom. In their own words some students in their evaluations stated that having to perform their poetry classroom helped them to deal with their fear of standing in front of their peers and reciting their poetry; while it was difficult, each felt better having had the chance to perform their poetry.
Another class was to be present but there was a change of schedule and could not be present . . .
I think it made the reading a little easier on the ones reading. Parents were told of the event and a few that could did show up to be part of the audience.
As we went to the routine of students being called up the students introduced themselves by name and some bio information.
The idea occurred to me how great it would be if librarians would be willing to schedule “Regular Poetry Readings” in the library, for students who write poetry, during lunch periods or as an after school activity. The library would be a “safe” place for students to begin practicing giving voice to their words.
The day and time of the poetry readings could be announced in the mornings with other announcements and students would have to sign up to read. If increments of 5 minutes were given to each student, at most 12 to 15 students could sign up to read. The reading would last for 45 minutes or one hour, depending on the lunch schedule of the students.
Once the routine is developed, I would encourage one or two students being asked to be the “MC” (master of ceremony) for this event.
It would be helpful if one of the teachers or library staff could act as a coach for the reading, making sure that everyone keeps to the allotted time and encouraging the students listening to applaud the poet. Eventually this would be a responsibility of the MC.
This might be an activity that could be planned for special occasions, e.g. Parent Night, or school assemblies, allowing two or three students to open up the event with a reading of their poetry. I know for a fact that some of the students have their work memorized so it would be an excellent opportunity for students to showcase their talent.
Singing allowed? At Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center & Cafe in Denver, in place of reciting a poem, occasionally someone from the audience would want to share by singing a song or two and this was allowed and encouraged as part of the “poetry reading” The transformation of these individuals as well as the audience was amazing.
Maya Angelou once said: “If you like Music, you like poetry!” Keeping this truth in mind, yes, I would allow space and time for students who might want to sing rather then read their poem.
Does the poetry read have to be original? While this is to be encouraged and preferable, students may want to recite a poem that they have learned by someone else and this should be permissible only it the student introduces the writer/author of the poem they are presenting and possibly informing the audience where they found the poem.
These suggestions are drafted and I would be happy to hear from any librarians or teachers who have possibly organized successful poetry readings in their schools, so that we can learn from one another.