Poetry 180 is a project of two-time U.S. Poet Laureate (2002-2003) Billy Collins. The Poetry Foundation describes Mr. Collins, “Dubbed ‘the most popular poet in America’ by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.” In an October, 2002 webcast discussing Poetry 180, Mr. Collins described his vision to get modern, diverse poetry into American high schools:
In my high school we were reading poetry that was mostly written by dead white bearded males with three names. . . . One of the aims of Poetry 180 was to put up on the website 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, all of which were clear, contemporary, cool, easy to get on the first reading, and to encourage schools to make those poems part of the daily announcements so that in the morning you would hear over the loudspeaker, perhaps, the softball team practices at 3:30 and the stamp club has been disbanded and here’s the poem of the day.
As stated on the Poetry 180 website, “Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race.” Think about it. How can you incorporate more poetry into the daily lives of your students? Below are some suggestions for school-wide recitations.
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 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.
If reciting a poem over the school loudspeaker isn’t possible, what about beginning class with a recitation? As the teacher, you can model how to read a poem aloud. Then students could take over. These student-read poems could be live or recorded. You might also enlist the help of the school librarian, if you are lucky enough to have one, to help with recording student poem recitations. Links to the recordings could be posted using QR codes at the bottom of the written poems.
If a poetry reading every day doesn’t work, you might try “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.” You might even consider posting the poem of the day on the bulletin board, or a link on the class website, class blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account.
No matter what, we hope educators and students will take advantage of this wonderful resource to connect with poetry and learn more about the fabulous featured poets. Access the complete list of all 180 poems.