April 26, 2022
April is National Poetry Month! Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month reminds the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services awards Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding to State Library Administrative Agencies for statewide projects and grants to local libraries to promote literacy, education, and lifelong learning, among other priorities. Many local libraries are using part of these grants to honor the importance of poetry in our lives by hosting meaningful events that raise awareness and appreciation of poetry in their communities. Below are their stories.
In 2021, due to the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, several IMLS grantees utilized LSTA grants to help pivot their annual activities into engaging and uplifting virtual events.
The Arkansas State Library and the Arkansas Center for the Book used a 2020 LSTA grant to further their work on collaborations that concentrate on aspects of reading that are not as strongly addressed in other Arkansas Center for the Book activities—namely, poetry, illustration, and the book arts. As the COVID-19 pandemic persisted, the Arkansas Center for the Book continued to adjust programming, especially regarding virtual activities.
In February, the Center collaborated with the Poet Laureate of Arkansas, Jo McDougall, on a highly successful poetry program, “In Conversation with Jericho Brown.” The live virtual program was a combination of poetry reading and conversation with Dr. Brown on his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, “The Tradition.” Dr. Brown and McDougall, as well as Arkansas poet Kai Coggin, discussed the writing of particular poems, and methods for teaching young poets. Lastly, four Arkansas high school students from rural, urban, and suburban areas asked Dr. Brown questions about writing. The program was held on Zoom and simultaneously livestreamed on YouTube.
The State Library of Louisiana used a 2020 LSTA grant to help pivot their annual in-person Louisiana Book Festival to engaging and informative virtual programs. In April 2021, they hosted “Just Listen to Yourself: The Louisiana Poet Laureate Presents Louisiana Poets” featuring Louisiana Poet Laureate John Warner Smith and six poets from across the state. In addition, Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque, who first conceived of the event, hosted “Just Listen to Yourself: A Retrospective,” featuring readings from other poet laureates who have hosted the event over the past decade, including Julie Kane, Ava Leavell Haymon, Peter Cooley, Jack B. Bedell, and John Warner Smith.
The Rhode Island Center for the Book used a 2020 LSTA grant to expand a partnership with Reading Across Rhode Island (RARI). Rhode Islanders were invited to join in the reading of “Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. The program ran from January to June with readers joining intergenerational discussions and participating in local events such as lectures and dramatic interpretations. Statewide events in the 2021 RARI program included a virtual kick-off, a “Stamped in Rhode Island” live webinar series for educators in partnership with RI PBS, a poetry reading inspired by themes from “Stamped,” and live virtual author events with Tochi Onyebuchi, Brit Bennett, and Jason Reynolds.
To support this program, the Center distributed 2,800 free copies of “Stamped” to 84 schools and libraries, including underserved communities in Providence, West Warwick, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket, and Newport. They also provided books to the RI Adult Correctional Institution, Wyatt Detention Center, and the juvenile Training School.
The Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, Georgia’s talking book and braille library, continued to offer adaptive library programming to its patrons including a spoken word event where participants read aloud their own works such as poetry or short stories or read from their favorite authors, iPhone classes, peer support groups, and a variety of phone-based books clubs.
The Library of Virginia used grant funds to host a virtual conversation with poet, literary historian, and editor Kim Roberts on her book “By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital.” The comprehensive anthology features poems by both well-known and overlooked poets working and living in Washington, DC, from the city's founding in 1800 to 1930. Within the book, Roberts expertly presents the work of 132 poets, including poems by celebrated DC writers such as Francis Scott Key, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ambrose Bierce, Henry Adams, and James Weldon Johnson, as well as the work of lesser-known poets—especially women, writers of color, and working-class writers. A significant number of the poems are by writers who were born enslaved, such as Fanny Jackson Coppin, T. Thomas Fortune, and John Sella Martin.
In addition to these wonderful programs, many other libraries across the country often host poetry contests or programs that encourage youth to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of poetry.
For the past 17 years, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs has hosted Poetry Out Loud, a poetry recitation competition that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. Recently, the state competition was hosted virtually, and the winner will represent New Mexico in the national finals of Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest in May.
Meanwhile, in addition to several workshops and events throughout the year, Dayton Metro Library, Milwaukee Public Library, and White Pine County Library in Nevada host annual poetry contests that coincide with National Poetry Month.
These libraries and many more are searching out ways to serve their communities and help bring people together through poetry. To learn more about the IMLS Grants to States program, visit the IMLS website.