Poetry from the Library of Congress: A Conversation with Experts

Inside the Library's Poetry and Literature Center

April has been set aside as a time to celebrate and explore the rich and varied legacy of poetry. The last in a series of three posts to explore resources for reading, writing and studying poetry, this entry focuses on where to find online poetry resources at the Library of Congress. I went to the Poetry and Literature Center to tap into the expertise of Peter Armenti, Digital Reference Specialist, and Rob Casper, Director of the Poetry and Literature Center. Below are excerpts from our conversation. For more of their insights into poetry and literature, visit the blog From the Catbird Seat.

What is your role and the role of the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center?

Rob: The Center is the home to the Poet Laureate and it sponsors a few awards for the poet laureate consultancy. It has a website and I also help with public programs, working with other divisions of the Library. Many of these events are later posted as webcasts, so you can experience it even if you can’t go to the actual event.

What is your role as a Digital Reference Specialist?

Peter: As the poetry specialist for the Library’s Digital Reference Section, much of my time is spent responding to poetry-related inquiries submitted to the Library’s Ask a Librarian service, creating online guides to poetry materials available through the Library’s Web site, and leading video conferences and webinars on topics such as Civil War poetry and the history of the position of U.S. Poet Laureate.

What online resources does the Library have on poetry?

Peter: Poetry 180 is a great resource developed by Poet Laureate Billy Collins in 2001. He selected 180 poems, one for each day of the school year. Poetry 180 presents mostly contemporary poems as a way for students to listen and enjoy and easily come back later.

Peter: One of the most exciting projects that I’ve been part of is the Poet and the Poem. These interviews with poets (including Poets Laureate Billy Collins, Rita Dove, and Robert Pinsky, among others) are published as podcasts, which can bring the poets’ own voices into a classroom!




Nineteenth Century Song Sheet



Is there a place for poetry outside the English classroom?

Peter: Poetry sometimes gets locked in the English classroom, but I also see historical connections. American Memory offers many examples of Civil War poetry. You can see citizens’ thinking and trace the ways in which poems swayed public opinion and persuaded people to think a certain way politically.

Peter: The Stars and Stripes newspaper from World War I includes poetry in every issue, much of it written by soldiers. They comment on their daily experiences and life in the trenches. For more examples of poetry in newspapers, search in Chronicling America Historic Newspapers on “poem” or the name of a favorite poet for more examples of poetry’s function in past times.

What is at the heart of a poem to you?

Rob: I think poems help us think through language and feel through language. Students now are immersed in rap music, for example.

Peter: I believe even British Poet Laureate [Andrew Motion] wrote a rap poem to celebrate Prince William’s 21st birthday

Rob: Students are immersed in lyrical language. They are writing tweets; they are writing with concision. Although we don’t call it poetic, they understand the value of writing in that way. With this knowledge teachers can then work toward Shakespeare. We must take students into a whimsical system where creativity happens.

Here are some ideas for teaching with poetry in your classroom:

  • Assign students a sample of poems from The Stars and Stripes, or let them select their own and identify what the soldiers wrote about. Find more ideas for teaching about poetry (and other topics) from this newspaper collection.
  • Poetry is often set to popular tunes. One example is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Study examples and then ask students to write a poem about a historical or current event and sing it to a familiar tune.

What are some ways you use poetry in your teaching? Please let us know in the comments!

Reactions from ASCD

It seems that the Library of Congress has something for everyone, including teachers of all levels. These are just a few snippets from the rich conversations that the Library’s education specialists had last weekend at the ASCD conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Library of Congress at ASCD, March 24-26

Are you heading to the ASCD annual conference in Philadelphia?  The Library’s K-12 education specialists will be in the exhibit hall in booth 803. Come visit us and learn more about the Library’s professional development opportunities and online resources for teachers, suggest ideas for blog topics, or just drop by to say hello.

The Library of Congress at NAESP, March 22-24 in Seattle

Are you heading to the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Seattle, Washington?  The Library’s K-12 education specialists will be in the exhibit hall in booth 721. Come visit us and learn more about the Library’s professional development opportunities and online resources for teachers, suggest ideas for blog topics or just drop by to …

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