Reading & Literacy

U.S. Poet Laureate Promotes ‘Poem a Day’ Plan for Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — October 24, 2001 1 min read
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The hope of the new U.S. poet laureate is simple but profound: On every day of the school year, in every school in America, children will hear one poem read aloud.

Billy Collins, who was appointed to the post of poet laureate consultant in poetry last summer by the librarian of Congress, planned to announce his new program, “Poetry 180,” this week at his inaugural reading as the country’s poetry guide and adviser.

The idea of the program, named for the average number of days in a school year, is to expose children to the beauty and power of language through poetry, unburdened by analysis.

“It could be a student, or a teacher, or coach reading a poem every day,” Mr. Collins said in an interview last week. “No study, just listening.”

Jill D. Brett, a spokeswoman for the Library of Congress, where Mr. Collins is in residence during his eight- month appointment, said the library envisions having 180 poems posted on its Web site, available for any teacher or administrator who wants to use them, by January, the intended start of the program.

Library officials hoped to have the first 20 poems loaded onto the site by this week, along with an introduction by Mr. Collins, who is a professor of English at the City University of New York’s Herbert H. Lehman College.

Love of Language

“The library hopes to inspire kids to develop a love of language,” Ms. Brett said. “When poems are read aloud, the reading becomes a community event.”

Ms. Brett said Library of Congress officials also hope Mr. Collins’ program will bring more students and teachers to the library’s Web site—already a popular site, with 1 billion visits last year—where they can find other useful classroom resources.

The idea for “Poetry 180" came from Mr. Collins, whose poetry is known for its accessibility and for combining humor with reflections on ordinary life. He will choose the works that are included, Ms. Brett said.

Other poet laureates have tried to spread a love of poetry to schoolchildren. In the past six to eight years, laureates such as Rita Dove have made it a priority to conduct outreach programs to schools, Ms. Brett noted.

But this is the first time a poet laureate has used the Internet for outreach, she said.

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