People and Poetry


“Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” from T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

One of my favorite things about getting American Libraries magazine over the years has been the superb posters for National Poetry Month. Great inspiration during my Peace Corps service, and fabulous conversation starters when people came over.

Having this month-long reminder reinvigorates my own reading into poetry. Like I’ll get inspired to go on what I call a “poetry cleanse” where I read a little bit of poetry each morning to start my day and, hopefully, get me to look around me with different eyes.

A recent John Green vblog succinctly sums up my thoughts, “that poetry is about trying to get us to pay attention.”

And sometimes we’re so busy that we forget to pay attention and think about things. Where is the poetry in our lives? What makes us pay attention?

I love bringing more awareness and appreciation to this oft passed-over form. It’s a great subject that works well across children’s, young adults, and adults service departments.

The poetry in children’s books is what initially brought me to youth services. That and wonderful colleague and mentor.

During a particularly harried day behind the circulation desk, the children’s librarian came to relieve me for my break and suggested that I find a book from the children’s room for company. I looked at some of the front-faced books on top of our picture book shelves and stopped on Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall’s I’m In Charge of Celebrations.

A sample of Parnall’s incredible illustrations for another Baylor book “The Way to Start a Day.”

I fell in love with this book and was introduced to the idea of children’s books like bits of poetry, their distillation of life into pungent bits. In this particular book, the young girl shares her days of celebrations. These are not regular decreed holidays (New Years is the first day of Spring, not the first day of dreary January), but more along the lines of those extraordinary moments we happen across in our everyday lives. For instance, her Time of Falling Stars celebration was “every time a streak of light goes shooting through the darkness” and she could “feel my heart shoot out of me.” And the illustrations: vibrant beautiful swaths of desert colors with a touch of the surreal as rocks meld into people that flow into sky – poetry for the eyes!

I returned from my break rejuvenated and ready to look at the world in a different light. The children’s librarian and I spoke about the power of these books, and how children appreciate and interpret these stories to make meaning in their own lives. Needless to say I was hooked, and thus began an immensely rich professional relationship between the children’s librarian and me.

Back to poetry. But this did connect; did you see? Seek out these books that might not be “normal” poetry. Introduce (or re-introduce as it were) adults both young and old to the wonders of the poetry in children’s books. Try out activities that aren’t so focused on having a formal poem format, but engage in observation and comparison in the world around us. Or listen and read poetry on unexpected subjects (Scieszka’s Science Verse anyone? Hilarious!).

There are so many incredible places to get inspired for activities and programs related to poetry. Here’s a few more ideas:

  • Scholastic, as usual, has some great resources, ideas, formats, and printables.
  • Pinterest query for poetry yields tons of fun ideas – I love the gumball poetry dispenser!
  • Host a festival or poetry slam, or hold a contest with a celebration for the big reveal! Get schools and social clubs involved. My town holds an annual haiku festival (I even got a honorable mention one year!) and it’s a wonderful time.

As Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet simply suggests on this year’s poster:

“Write about your sorrows, you wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful.” 

Pay attention to life around you. Your heart will know what to do.


Epic Meaning


Came across Jane McGonigal’s TedTalks “Gaming Can Make A Better World” in my Internet wanderings. McGonigal talks about the qualities that she sees in gaming that should be tapped:

  • Urgent  optimism – the desire to act immediately to tackle obstacles and the belief  that there is reasonable hope for success
  • Tight social fabric – the immediate bonds and trust that are developed between people all over the world to accomplish tasks together
  • Blissful social activity – the rewards/feel goods that come from leveling up, beating a boss, etc.
  • Epic meaning – this is created from the awe-inspiring worlds, story lines  and missions that occur in game worlds

She terms these people “Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals” and asks us to stretch our minds to a future that utilizes their virtuoso qualities to tackle real-world problems.

From McGonigal’s presentation:

“We don’t want to try and predict the future. What we want to do is make the future. We want to imagine the best-case scenario outcome and then we want to empower people to make that outcome a reality.

We want to imagine epic wins and then give people the means to achieve the epic win.”

Very creative and exciting ideas, and I feel that there is a lot here to explore and work with in terms of applications. Collaboration, creating inspiring goals to work towards, and providing meaningful feedback are some of the ideas we can think about with relation to gaming and libraries and gaming and teaching.

However, I agree with the post’s author Springer when he points out that McGonigal is glossing over the variety of skills that are developed based on the type of game played. The collaborative, social nature that McGonigal focuses on with games such as World of Warcraft are not the only types of games that people are playing. For example, while I have played various social games other the years, those are not my go-to games when I play. I look for games I can play individually and that do not continue in real-time when I am not playing because of personal time constraints and irregularity of play. But I game for awe-inspiring stories and love the epic meaning behind solving puzzles and questing!

Inspired as I am by McGonigal’s presentation, I hope that we can expand her vision a bit to include the power of individuals. Collaboration can encompass individual acts towards community goals. Perhaps I just missed this nuance in her presentation. I wanted to see more explicit acknowledgement of the range of skills developed and the variety of learning styles individuals bring to video game environments and their value in the real-world applications she was referencing. And when giving a short, general presentation I realize that might not be possible. However, I want to explore more, and I look forward to reading her book on the subject, “Reality Is Broken” and checking out the various games she mentioned.

Extending Our Reach


Screen caption of me on the left listening to a fellow volunteer during our outreach day at Straley House.

I attended “Librarian Outreach to the Homeless in Seattle: Midwinter Day of Caring” at this year’s American Libraries Association Midwinter Meeting – just a hop, skip, and jump from where I live in Northern California. It was exciting not only to see first-hand one of the organizations engaging with homeless persons in Seattle but to personally contribute a little bit to the awesome work they do!

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