A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Level: High School and College
Time for Activity: 4 to 6 weeks. Can be broken up throughout an entire creative writing semester, but the two weeks of group interaction should be consecutive.
Materials Needed:
  • Location for group reading. This might take some advance research and planning.
  • Means of copying and mailing (or emailing) press releases and flyers/broadsides.
  • Plentiful supply of current cultural, arts, and news-oriented magazines, to distribute among the groups while they. re forming.


Poetry communities have been among the most vital, creatively, and intellectually stimulating groups in any given society for nearly 3,000 years. They provide vision, context, perspective and new uses of the language, inspiring movements, schools of thought, events, and people around them. The objective of this lesson is to give students the experience of forming a poetry community, staging an event, publishing their work and watching to see how it affects fellow students, teachers, friends, and even parents.

As your students prepare their reading, encourage them to experiment with their technique of delivering poems to an audience. They can create strange puppets to read the poems through, or they can even sit among the poetry listeners. At the end of the semester, discuss the various experiments and their effectiveness along with the general challenges of delivering poems to an audience.

Action Steps:

  1. Prepare a talk or lecture, on the purpose of poetic communities and movements in society, and their contributions to literary history. Use this exhibit, and reference the nodemap of poetic forms and regions to show how many expressions came out of very specific periods of time, in specific regions–a sure sign of thriving movements and communities.
  2. Open an entire classroom period for group discussion on poetry movements and communities. Try to achieve a collective understanding of their value and vitality and how, at any time, new communities can form organically with gatherings of two or more. Spur students to talk about social, political, spiritual, emotional, or environmental causes that they. re passionate about. Use the recent hip-hop and techno-poetic movements as examples of movements that formed from social issues or developments.
  3. Ask your students to divide into groups of four or five. Let the students form their own groups, as their sense of comfort and confidentiality will be important.
  4. Have the students share ideas on what types of poems they want to create, and what type of message or purpose they envision for their newly-formed communities.
  5. Engage the students in writing poems that reflect their movement or community. Keep them in their groups for two weeks, with occasional "rest" days for open discussion on how the groups are interacting, what they. re discussing, and the work that. s developing.
  6. After each group has developed a small body of work–a minimum of 12 poems per group–ask the students to define their groups. Create a name. Create a mission statement. If they have core values, principles, visions, or goals, then state them. Discuss the purpose of the poetry, and how they think it would impact others if it were published and distributed.
  7. Contact a local coffeehouse, bookstore, or public library–or a campus events center if the students are in college. Schedule a series of readings for two of your community-groups at a time.
  8. Have the students write press releases to submit to local newspapers. Guide them to local alternative newspapers and radio stations, and distribute releases there. Have them create simple one-page flyers or broadsides, and distribute them to fellow students, bookstores, libraries, cafes, and other places frequented by potential listeners. Include the name of the "community," event date and time, names of members of the "community," and a brief description of their poetic themes.
  9. Stage the events. Give each reader at least 10 minutes to read two or three poems, and talk about the "community" or the back stories of his or her poems.