This is the 10th year for the event, which was postponed and then held virtually last year due to the pandemic. But this current occasion will be very much an in-person experience, with a wealth of activities that celebrate poetry in its many forms. And, like all the Poetry Foundation’s programming, it is completely free of charge.
“One of the reasons we created this event is because we want people to feel comfortable with poetry in the same way they might take their young people to a street fair or other event where there are lots of different things to do,” says Katherine Litwin, the Foundation’s library director and exhibitions co-curator. “People can come and go as they choose. It’s all very interactive — and very festive.”
Many ways to celebrate poetry
The event for children and their caretakers runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and includes something for just about everyone — whether or not they consider themselves poets. “Everyone is already experiencing and enjoying poetry in their lives right now, but many don’t think of it that way,” notes Litwin. “Since many children’s books are in rhyme, parents are already reading lines of poetry to their kids all the time. That’s also true for many of the songs we sing.”
Youngsters, Litwin says, are naturally receptive to rhythm and rhyme and playfulness in language. “There are lots of studies that show exposing young people to poetry has all kinds of benefits,” she says. “Poetry has many qualities that build speaking skills. Poems are containers for complexity, because in a poem, two different things can be true at the same time. One of the things that defines a poem is that it doesn’t have to have only one meaning. Reading a poem is an opportunity to ask questions and to learn that there isn’t just one way to interpret it.”
Young People’s Poetry Day activities include poetry-writing activities, crafts and a poetry scavenger hunt. At 2 p.m., Pat Mora, the author of numerous books for young readers and the winner of the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement, gives a kid-friendly reading.
Attendees can also learn to make hand-crafted books of cardboard and recycled materials called cartoneras. “This is a publishing tradition that started in South America in the last 20 years in which people make new books out of recycled materials,” Litwin explains. “It’s a way to reuse things that are not normally reused. We’ll have two artists leading the workshop and families can also take the materials and make them at home if they want.”
Inspiration to read, write and create
While the event’s “sweet spot” is children ages 7 to 12, the day is designed to entertain families with multiple members. “We usually see children of all different ages so we have stuff for all the ages,” Litwin says. “Even the really little ones who are not even reading and writing can do things like coloring and crafting. If a family comes in with three kids of all different ages, there will be something for each of them to do. And it’s an open house so folks can come and go at any point.”
Young People’s Poetry Day is just one of the many ways the Foundation reaches out to children. “We took the opportunity during the pandemic to expand our programming for young people,” Litwin says. That includes a web series called Poetry Explorers that includes readings, activities and crafts; and Reading for Young People, in which children’s authors do just that in online videos.
The Poetry Foundation includes a 30,000-volume poetry library, an exhibition gallery, numerous public events and the offices of Poetry magazine. Litwin is thrilled they are once again welcoming visitors. (Visit PoetryFoundation.org for COVID-19 vaccination and masking requirements.)
“I would love for people who never visited to come in and experience it for the first time,” says Litwin. “We have over 3,000 books just for young people. And after visiting, we hope families will be motivated to come back for our programming. I tell parents to give it a try — you might be surprised by how much fun you will have in our space and how much your children will enjoy it.”
The Poetry Foundation is located at 61 West Superior Street in downtown Chicago. Visit poetryfoundation.org or call (312) 787-7070. Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 14, 2022 and attend Young People’s Poetry Day.