Poetry is everywhere, says Stefania Gomez, the Education and Youth Services Assistant at Chicago’s Poetry Foundation Library — and she’s on a mission to share that message with young people.
“There is this idea that poetry is just something on the page that is locked on there, that it’s challenging or hard and that only some people can participate in it,” says Gomez. To help youngsters realize that poetry is, in fact, for everyone, the Poetry Foundation Library has launched a free asynchronous web series called Poetry Explorers geared toward children from pre-K to fifth grade. Gomez devises and hosts the online sessions, which include poetry readings, activities, thought-provoking questions to ponder, a downloadable worksheet and easy crafts made with materials found around the house.
Each episode lasts about 15 minutes and revolves around a specific theme such as nature. In one segment, children learn how to make a kaleidoscope and Gomez encourages them to think about how, with its swirling, ever-changing images, the optical instrument might be like a poem. Gomez has a low-key manner and dulcet speaking voice, so it’s easy to see how children can become mesmerized by the program, whether they are viewing with their family from home or in the more formal setting of a classroom.
Skills for seeing the wider world
In the Outside Perspectives episode, Gomez encourages participants to look outside and draw something they see, then write a story about it. “Think about all the different perspectives all around you,” she advises. “Now you can carry this skill with you everywhere you go, just like a poet might to always discover new stories that can be told.”
Upcoming segments will have kids making a snow globe with words and crafting a dream catcher, all while Gomez relates these activities to thinking about the world and appreciating poetry.
“My hope is that these can inspire or plant the seed that poetry is something you can use to see the world around you, that it’s about curiosity and wonder rather than a very specific idea,” Gomez says. “We’re hoping this series serves as an enrichment moment in the classroom and for parents needing activities for little ones at home. We want young people to feel like they can participate in the world of poetry.”
Immersive in-person events, too
The Poetry Foundation houses a 30,000-volume poetry library, an exhibition gallery, performance space for an extensive roster of public events (pandemic permitting) and the offices of Poetry magazine. The facility at 61 West Superior Street is hoping to reopen to the public on April 4 after being closed due to COVID-19.
Among the planned in-person activities this spring is Young People’s Poetry Day on May 14. Author Pat Mora will read and a workshop will explore making cartoneras, a Latin-American DIY-publishing technique that uses cardboard and other recycled materials.
Anyone can participate in poetry
Demystifying poetry will make young people realize that it is easily incorporated into their everyday lives, Gomez says. “People assume poetry is something that you have to have a certain amount of education or familiarity to engage with, but I think anyone can participate in it. People have all kinds of preconceived notions of what poetry looks like and who is it for. We are showing that it is a really exciting world, a world of discovery and enrichment.”
Learn more about Poetry Foundation at poetryfoundation.org.