Poetry 180 / A Poem a Day for American High Schools
Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003
More About This Program
From Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, to the high school teachers of America:
I want to acquaint you with a program for making poetry an active part of the daily experience of American high school students. The program is called Poetry 180 and offers a poem for every day of the approximately 180-day school year. But there is another reason I chose that name.
A 180-degree turn implies a turning back -- in this case, to poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country. How the program is applied is completely up to each high school. Following are guidelines for implementing Poetry 180. I have tried to keep the program as flexible as possible so that it can be easily adapted to the needs of your school and especially to your particular school calendar.
How does a school take part in Poetry 180?
All you need to do is print out one of the poems from this Web site, numbered from 1 through 180, and have it read to the school in a public forum, such as at the end of the day's announcements. You may want to print out a new poem every day or it may be easier to print out several at a time, for a week or even a month.
What do we do with the poems?
Select someone to read a poem to the school each day. Or, better still, give prospective readers the opportunity to look at the next few weeks' worth of poems and let them choose a poem they want to read. The daily poem may be read aloud by any member of the school community: a student, a teacher, an administrator or a staff person. Students with literary inclinations might be the most eager to read, but teachers should aim at creating a broad spectrum of readers to encourage the notion that poetry belongs to everyone. Ideally, the editor of the student literary magazine would read one day and the volleyball coach the next day; a member of the grounds crew might be followed by the principal. The program should be as democratic as possible and not the property of one group. Wide participation might even increase the overall sense of community in the school.
The goal is to give students a chance to listen to a poem each day. The best time for the reading would be at the end of the daily announcements, whether they are delivered over a public address system, at an assembly in an auditorium or by teachers in their individual homerooms. The hope is that poetry will become a part of the daily life of students in addition to being a subject that is part of the school curriculum.
Unless students really want to discuss the poem, there is no need to do so. The most important thing is that the poems be read and listened to without any academic requirements.
How should the poems be presented?
Whoever is going to read the poem can simply say, for example, "Today's poem is by John Smith and it is titled 'In Memory of My Father.'" For the sake of clarity, some of the poems on the Web site will come with brief introductory comment, which should be read first. Afterward, the reader might close by saying, "That was a poem by John Smith called 'In Memory of My Father.'"
When do we start?
You can begin at any time. You might want to start on the first day of class or you might prefer to wait a week or so to give students a chance to settle into their daily routines. Just keep track of where your school is in the sequence of the 180 poems. If there is not time for a poem every day, feel free to limit your participation to a poem every other day or a poem only on Fridays or one to start the week on Monday. A little participation is better than no participation at all. The point is to expose students to some of the fresh voices in contemporary poetry; it is not necessary that all schools read the same poem every day. Also, you may skip a poem for any reason. The poems have been chosen with high school age students in mind, but if you feel a certain poem is inappropriate, skip it.
What else can we do with the poems?
You could post the day's poem on a bulletin board with a Poetry 180 heading. At the end of each week, a packet of the week's poems could be made available for interested students to take home. School libraries can take part in a number of ways, including: posting the day's reading, keeping an archive of previous readings, and offering resources responding to student interests in the specific poets or poetry in general.
What shouldn't I do with the poems without obtaining
Because the poems are protected by copyright law, use of the poems beyond what is contemplated by Poetry 180 (for example, making additional copies and distributing them outside the school environment, or recording someone reading the poems and then distributing the tapes) may require the written permission of the copyright owner. In this case, the copyright owner is either the publisher or the author. View contact information to obtain all permissions you deem necessary. For further background, you may wish to review our "Legal Notices and Permissions Statement" as well.
Why Poetry 180?
Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written, contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience.
I hope you will try Poetry 180, at least on a trial basis. It is easy to implement and free. I have a feeling it is likely to catch on, that your students will look forward to their daily poetry reading and that it will become an enriching part of your school's day.
If you have comments or questions, feel free to contact us.