The Terribly Irresponsible Art of Poetry

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Here’s our favorite new book at the Land Library — Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry, edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan. This is an inspiring mix of essays, interviews, and lessons plans on how we can share the joy of poetry with kids of all ages. The editors describe their intent in their introduction:
“A call to action for poets who want to teach poetry in their communities, Open the Door is also a practical guide for those interested in developing their pedagogical skills, or even in setting up community poetry programs of their own.”

Open the Door includes an invaluable roundtable discussion with leaders of grassroot poetry organizations across the country, including Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club, Megan McNamer of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, and Dave Eggers of 826 National, a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers that help students age six through eighteen to improve their writing skills.

The essay portion of Open the Door provides a jolt of new approaches as well, from authors such as Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and a poet we wrote about just last month. We are still stuck on the wonderful words of William Stafford:

Let’s face it, though — poetry will always be a wild animal. There is something about it that won’t yield to ordinary learning. When a poem catches you, it overwhelms, it surprises, it shakes you up. And often you can’t provide any usual explanation for its power.

For all of us in our careful role as educators, there is something humbling in the presence of the arts. There is no use thinking hard work and application and responsibility will capture poetry. It is something different. It cannot live in the atmosphere of competition, politics, business, advertising. Successful people cannot find poems. For you must kneel down and explore for them. They seep into the world all the time and lodge in odd corners almost anywhere, in your talk, in the conversation around you. They can be terribly irresponsible.” — William Stafford, from his essay The Door Called Poetry.

As the Land Library continues to plan for its urban learning center, Open the Door will remain close by. As will another idea-filled volume, Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities, edited by Katharine Coles (also pictured above).

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