Ever since Billy Collins introduced the concept of Poetry 180: A Poem A Day for American High Schools over a decade ago, I've wanted to make a "poem a day" routine in my classroom a reality. This year, I took advantage of a change in grade levels to finally take the plunge. Poetry is short enough to afford us opportunities for close reading every day, varied enough to resonate with different groups and individuals throughout the year, and complex enough to propel them to comprehension of more complicated syntax.
Of course the first challenge is to refrain from overteaching it. We must resist the urge to tie a poem to a chair and "begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means," as Billy Collins so affectionately puts it. The second challenge is finding the right poems to fit your students.
For the first obstacle, I recommend reading "Introduction to Poetry" -- and a dose of self-discipline. For the second obstacle, I recommend the following five resources to help you scour the web for the best poems to share with your students.
1. Poetry App from the Poetry Foundation
Poetry-related apps abound, but this one features the right combination of whimsy and challenge to engage students in helping you find poems to share with the entire class. It's also useful to help students find a poem to share for Poem in Your Pocket Day.
You can use the app to spin two wheels. As you spin them, fun combinations emerge. Are you in the mood for a poem about "Frustration" and "Youth"? (There are 55 recommendations.) Or perhaps "Humor" and "Family" suits your disposition (with 32 recommendations). Within seconds, these spinning wheels generate poems ranging from those published in ancient Greece to recent issues of Poetry Magazine that will keep you laughing or crying or raging. The wheels can also be useful in helping you to find daily poems that match the core literature or historical era you teach.
2.The Writer’s Almanac
Embarking on my expedition into the world of daily poetry, The Writer’s Almanac has provided me with more poems by contemporary, living poets than any other resource in this post. Every day, along with some facts from literary history, this podcast by Garrison Keillor features a different poem, often lesser known but rich in language and meaning. There is an email subscription option that allows you to receive a new poem each morning. It has helped me to discover and share poems like "The Patience of Ordinary Things" and "Chinese Restaurant" that reveal the profound in the mundane. An audio feature lets you listen to the poem read aloud, another feature your students might enjoy.
3. Magnetic Poetry
Sure, we've all seen the kits, and you may even own one or two, but did you know you can play Magnetic Poetry online for free? This resource allows kids to explore the entertaining world of poetry writing, weighing the value of individual words as they write. While this site will not provide previously published poems, it will allow students to create their own, which can then be emailed to you and shared as a special feature of your daily poetry routine.
4. Poetry Out Loud
Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Whether or not you choose to invite your students to participate in your local contest, the site features videos of poems performed well by young people, teaching resources, and an excellent "Find A Poem" feature that will help you discover new gems to share each day. For those of us who struggle to find the time to fit in a daily poem, why not try the "25 Lines and Fewer" search feature to discover brief poems for tight spaces of time?
5. Poetry 180
The year 2004 just called again, and it's still got something to tell you: sometimes the original is still the best. As U.S. Poet Laureate at the start of the new century, Billy Collins promoted daily poetry readings in class -- without analysis, just for exposure to the language and cadence of the genre. He published printable copies of 180 poems -- one for each school day -- through the Library of Congress' Poetry 180 website, and while the site does lack some of the Web 2.0 features of the others in this post, the poems are almost all by living poets, people your students can email or tweet. They aren't easy poems, but they are approachable on the first read, inviting students into a genre with open arms.
Will National Poetry Month 2014 be the time for you to start a daily poetry routine? Why not try it for just a month, and see if this idea grows roots in your classroom? It's finally spring, after all, so those roots just might take hold. These five resources will give you the seeds to make it happen.
Is poetry a daily feature of your classroom? Please tell us about it in the comments section below.