Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Turn Back to Poetry with Poetry 180

We have one last blog to share from our April celebration of Poetry Month.

During his tenure as the Poet Laureate of the United States (2001-2003), Billy Collins dedicated much time and energy to his conviction that poetry should be a part of people’s daily lives. With this in mind, he developed and publicized a project called Poetry 180. His plan: that students hear a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year to derive both enrichment and pleasure from relevant, contemporary poets. In a statement introducing his project, Collins writes, “By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.”

The poems Collins selected, which include work from poets like Philip Levine, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Paul Zimmer, Lucille Clifton, and Collins himself, can be purchased as a collection (Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry), but the collection is also available for free on the Library of Congress’s website. While many of the poems would be appropriate for a wide range of ages, Collins selected the poems with high school students in mind. They are meant to be read to students, and the website includes a helpful link containing tips on reading poetry aloud. Collins was so pleased with the success and impact of Poetry 180 that he assembled a second collection, called 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, which is also available in bookstores.

Whether or not they encounter it in school, Poetry 180 is a fantastic collection for young people. The language is both frank and beautiful and the themes are varied and germane. Students who groan at the prospect of having to dissect yet another ancient sonnet will find Poetry 180 to be a breath of fresh air. Do not miss this collection, whether you read one poem a day or devour the whole thing in just a few sittings.

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