field experience

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
—      Audre Lorde

Typewriter, Typing, Black And White

Poetry Collection Evaluation: Fallon Memorial (June 2021)

I evaluated the poetry section (call no. 811) of Fallon Memorial Elementary School’s library, where I am the librarian.  I reviewed the section for age, relevance, diversity, author, and condition, and current kid appeal.  On first look, the poetry section is dusty, and looks old and outdated. Not much has been checked out in the past couple years and I can see why.  Most of the materials are from the nineties and a few newer titles have been added here and there.  A couple of the more popular titles, such as Where the Sidewalk Ends, are in tattered disrepair and I had pulled them a while back to hopefully someday replace. There are of course the classic authors like Shel Silverstein, as well as Jack Prelutsky, and Tomie dePaola. There are ample anthologies (in the spirit of picture books (Horning) and poetry one is titled I Read to You, and You Read to Me). and a series of Poetry for Young People including famous poets like Frost, Dickinson, and Walt Whitman.   Looking past the dust, there are some real gems, that if properly promoted, could enthuse kids today.  This includes texts noted by Vardell such as Visiting Langston, Insectlopedia, and Harlem by the Myers father-son duo. The section also has literary bios of authors who were popular when I was in elementary school but are still somewhat read, including the much tattered and repaired tenfold The Spider and the fly by Mary Botham Howitt.  I am excited to look further and incorporate into lessons Abecedarian titles like Zoomrimes: Poetry About Things That Go and Arches to Zigzags: An Architecture ABC as well as the recently added Hidden City: poems of Urban Wildlife. Interspersed throughout the collection beyond the 811 call number are picture books and biographies written as poems. Titles elsewhere in the collection that could be considered poetry include Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer – The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and Schomburg: The Man Who Built the Library, both by Carole Boston Weatherford. The titles Imagine by Juan Felipe Hererra and The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander are both poems extended over the length of the picture book.  Recently I have sought to likewise add more fictional novels in verse, in the vein of Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog, such as Aida Salazar’s Land of the Cranes and David Bowles’s They call me Guero: a border kid’s poems.  Like graphic novels, I see novels in verse as a gateway to reading longer novels for kids.  I have been attempting to diversify the collection culturally as a whole and will make a point to prioritize poetry (a simple feat according to Vardel, pg 114l), to add more bilingual poetry (including the title reviewed here, Talking with Mother Earth/ Hablando con Madre Tierra)  and poetry collections that reflect diverse and #OwnVoices. I am also on the scourge for titles that make me uncomfortable (Vardell) and are culturally inappropriate or obsolete (read racist).  On this evaluation I have weeded out a couple, including Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (with hopes to replace it with this Native authored story, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker as offered up in first thoughts by Debbie Reese here) as well as a book about Harriet Tubman, which although authored by a black man, has illustrations and prose about her enslavement that make my skin crawl and would never want to hand to a child.

I am hopeful to use some of the collection in lessons, and to try some of the ideas purported by Vardell and the Librarians in Action from that chapter.  I would love, for example, to have three minutes of poetry a day. Perhaps I could ask a fourth or fifth grader to volunteer each day to read a poem over the intercom to the whole school.  Once I find an especially juicy collection (at the moment I’m considering the new acquisition, Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet), I’d like to include a poem every time I read a picture book aloud. This year in a couple of lessons I did choral readings with Kindergarteners and first graders and they really enjoyed it, so I would like to build on that.  Hopefully incorporating lessons like that, as well as having a display of poetry books and calling attention to them during check out will lead to more circulation of the titles already there.  At my former public library teen space, we had a poet-tree during poetry month. Now, the tree sits in my living room with some of the poems still hanging off. If and when kids are back to Fallon library, I hope to revive the poet-tree with them!