Poetry Tips

What can we do to promote poetry in our libraries? Where do we start? Often it is just small things which make the difference. These practical tips have been suggested by the librarians working on Poetry On Loan. All the ideas can be adapted in any number of ways - you are welcome to try them out.

"Set up a poetry tracing service. This is simply a noticeboard where library users post up a fragment of poetry that they remember but cannot trace. Other users and staff try to find the source, and post it up on the board. Informal and effective."

"Produce a Poem of the Month in poster form to display around the library. This can be selected by members of staff or customers, and helps to introduce people to the huge variety of poems that have been written in all kinds of styles and moods. It can show people that poetry doesn't have to be serious or dull."

"Have at least one poetry poster in a very visible (if unorthodox) position in your library. Change it regularly, and change the location too."

"Poetry sharing - an evening or lunchtime event where people are asked to bring a favourite poem, or a poem they have written, to share."

"The importance of the visual: use posters, face-on displays, and photographs of readers with their favourite poetry collections."

"Competitions never fail - not necessarily poetry-writing competitions, but a competition where users are asked to write about why they like their favourite poem."

"Combine a poetry evening with wine-tasting."

"Start every staff training session or meeting with a poem. People enjoy having poetry read to them and it gets them on your side. Take plenty of time to select an appropriate poem."

"We found a very simple and successful way of promoting poetry was to put poems in the library lift! It's important to use either short poems or short extracts from longer poems so that people can finish reading them before they have to get out of the lift! It's also important to change them quite regularly so that people don't get tired of reading the same poems. We had lots of positive comments about poetry in the lift from both staff and customers."

"Always include poetry in the main book displays such as Humour, Armchair Travel, War, Childcare etc."

"One method which has had a good response is to put volumes of poetry into sealed paper bags in a bin on the library counter, and allow readers to make a random choice. Also include a small review card which allows the reader to let us (and other readers) know what they thought. This went down well with readers at a number of branches, including those who would not normally borrow poetry."

"It sounds obvious, but move all the modern poetry to the main counter with an accompanying display, or put some on spinners near to the desk, and watch issues increase - like sweets at the checkout."

"Start a display board of, say, 'Poems that changed my life!'. Get staff to start the ball rolling by pinning up their own personal mind-blowing favourites, with an explanatory sentence or two, and invite other staff and users to anonymously add their own contributions."

"Photocopy a poem and give it out as a bookmark."

"Set up a poetry trail. Display poems all round the library, finding suitable poems to put next to each section - cookery, romance, childcare, science etc. You could ask a local writers' or readers' group to select the poems."

"A poem exchange is simple and easy: a swap box where people put copies of poems they have read or written. You can take one out as long as you put one in."

"This creative reading display works well: choose a famous poem and ask a range of people to write a few lines about whether they like it or not, and why. Display the poem with responses from, for example, a local poet, a child, a member of staff, a local shopkeeper etc. Ask users to give their own responses to the poem and add these to the display."

"Make up a loose-leaf binder with copies of popular poems you get asked for a couple of times a year and can never find when you want them. Ours currently includes: The Lion and Albert, The Green Eye of the Yellow God, If, The Night Before Christmas, Funeral Blues, Death is Nothing At All, Desiderata, Christmas Day in the Workhouse, The Blind Men and the Elephant, Auld Lang Syne, For the Fallen, On the Ning Nang Nong, Jenny Kiss'd Me When We Met, Abu Ben Adhem, The Highwayman, For the Fallen, and more."

"Organise a monthly quotation quiz: short quotes from poems for readers to indentify. Complete the set and win a small prize."

"Make your Poetry Place as informal and approachable as possible, and encourage users to browse and take chances with their choices. Don't take it all too seriously!"

This article was written by Christine Bridgwood and the many 'poetry activists' from the consortium of 16 West Midlands Libraries in the Poetry on Loan project. This project was supported by the Arts Council of England (through Poetry Places) and West Midlands Arts.