Selling the Language of Poetry
It’s hard to persuade teenagers to read novels in their spare time but when it comes to poetry, it’s an even tougher sell. Each year I teach poetry research lessons to English classes. Though I try to make the genre sound appealing, my main purpose is helping them navigate the databases to find literary critiques of poets’ works and digital tools that create citations and organize findings.
Highlighting poetry for fun is not as direct. When I give book talks to students, I find it easy to spark interest; even if I don’t see teens checking out specific books right away, I notice their curiosity being awakened. When I share poems, however, I have to work harder to engage my adolescent audience. It’s almost as if I’m speaking a different language. In a sense, the verse and rhythm of poetry is a mysterious form of communication, one that has to be presented as a challenge whose solution will reap rewards.
Appealing to the Quick Fix Mentality of Teens
Given the short attention spans that apps like SnapChat, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram encourage in today’s youth, poetry is the perfect medium to get students reading. In fact, showing students that they can use these social media apps to consume poetry is a great way to meet them on their own ground. A quick #poetrymonth hashtag search on Instagram brings up 114,000 posts, including videos with poets reading their work. In the library world, teenagers’ need for instant gratification can be met by a quick read or digital sharing of short, powerful poems by traditional poets like Emily Dickinson or modern ones like Naomi Shihab Nye. Even poems that are relatively long contain lines that are more manageable than the dense prose of a novel. This gives high school students a unique chance to read without committing to an overwhelming work of fiction or nonfiction. And if they become used to reading poetry, they may begin to enjoy novels in verse, another accessible format that is often overlooked.
Incorporating Poetry into the School Fabric
This year, to replace the lack of physical interaction with students, I came up with some digital alternatives. I implemented these practices as a temporary fix, but I plan to continue them when our school goes back to in-person instruction:
- Sharing poetry resources in graphic organizer format
- Posting announcements on Canvas (our learning management system) with resources and short poems
- Putting poetry highlights in the monthly library newsletter
- Promoting school poetry contests sponsored by our literary magazine
- Creating poetry displays to photograph and send out digitally
Poetry Book Recommendations
According to the latest Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, 65 percent of children ages 6-17 would rather read a print book than an e-book (“Kids & Family” 2017). I’ve seen this research play out in my library, where students continually tell me they prefer print books over electronic ones. Offering a wide range of poetry books, especially those with vibrant, modern covers, is one way to entice teens to pick them up and browse. This year, I’ve been sharing digital photos of book covers and short poems from their pages, inviting students to check out the books.
Poetry month always reminds me how stimulating this versatile genre is. With perseverance and a little nudge, I hope we can all transfer at least a little of that enthusiasm to our students.
Scholastic. 2017. Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition. https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/KFRR/PastReports/KFRR2017_6th.pdf.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.