Great Programs with Poets and Poetry @ Your Library
Colleen Barbus | July 13, 2009
What a great way to spend a Sunday morning—discussing the possibilities of poetry for libraries! This morning at Annual, we joined representatives from the ALA Public Programs Office, the Academy of American Poets, the Greensboro Public Library, and award-winning poet Jane Hirshfield for a discussion of best practices in poetry programming for public audiences.
Mary Davis Fournier, of the ALA Public Programs Office (PPO), kicked off the program highlighting the generosity of the National Endowment of the Arts, allowing the PPO to host the LIVE! @ your Library reading stage—featuring live readings from authors and poets at the conference—as well as this morning’s program. In addition, she highlighted the opportunity for talented librarians to submit their original poetry to a program sponsored by Consortium Books, titled Voices from the Stacks, to be published as an e-book in time for next year’s Annual Conference. For more information on this opportunity visit Consortium’s Facebook page.
Jane Hirshfield then treated the audience to a reading of both her own original poems and a poem from Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, titled “And Yet the Books”—a lovely ode to books and the endurance of their ideas over time. She then chose many of her own poems along natural themes, encompassing the permanence, largess, and resilience of nature, all with the lush wording and thoughtful delivery we’ve come to expect from Ms. Hirshfield.
Next up was Billy Merrill, Web Development Coordinator of the award-winning Poets.org at the Academy of American Poets (AAP) and author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir. He spoke of the AAP’s many efforts to put poetry in a larger spotlight, including “Poetry for Every Occasion,” meant to emphasize the power of poetry in every day life, not just during National Poetry Month. Merrill also highlighted other AAP initiatives, including “Poem in Your Pocket Day” and “Poems on the Pavement.” Merrill particularly entertained the audience with a story from one librarian about teenagers delighting in photocopying various poems and then placing them in books on the same topic throughout the library. For more information on the many available resources and programming ideas from the American Academy of Poets, please visit Poets.org.
Steve Sumerford, Assistant Director of the Greensboro (N.C.) Public Library and Director of Poetry GSO was next to speak. The Greensboro Public Library began in 2002 to place a serious emphasis on poetry programming, and Sumerford spoke about audience development for poetry readings and discussion, offering several pointers based on the successes and failures of his own library’s past poetry programming efforts.
One point of emphasis that Sumerford placed on growing an audience for poetry programming is the open mic night—he described this as a great way to get a consistent weekly or monthly audience at your library, and to develop an interest in poetry among regular patrons. He also recommended trying different venues for poetry programs—including art galleries, dog parks, film screenings, and nursing homes. This method extends a library’s outreach, allowing different audiences to discover for themselves the potential and power of poetry. Lastly, Sumerford discussed the opportunities of local events to “democratize” poetry reading, creating themed poetry programming around the events in order to spark discussions and grow audiences. He discussed his goal of creating a poetry audience that reaches all demographics, and represents all of the individuals within it.
Jane Hirshfield then took the mic again, in order to offer reflections on her experience as a poet in library programming. She discussed the rapid change of literature, illustrated by the loss of independent bookstores, emphasizing further the importance of the free resources available at a library. She discussed the idea of “inreach,” emphasizing the importance of community support for libraries in line with a library’s outreach to the same community, and of the willingness of many poets to read at local libraries for less than their usual fees. Hirshfield encouraged the audience to reach out to their local literary community, despite their budgets, describing a joined community of poets and librarians as one that “loves words,” illustrating the potential for a strong bond and continuing partnership between the two to create a stronger literary presence for the public to take advantage of.
Colleen Barbus is an Administrative Assistant for the ALA Public Programs Office.