by Laura Damon-Moore

Amy Tingle (left) and Maya Stein work on tandem poetry during the Eager Free Public Library's Poetry Picnic.

Amy Tingle (left) and Maya Stein work on tandem poetry during the Eager Free Public Library’s Poetry Picnic.

This spring I was presented with a unique opportunity in my capacity as Assistant Director (with a focus on programming and outreach) for the small-but-mighty Eager Free Public Library in Evansville, Wisconsin. In 2013-2014 Evansville became home to fifteen Little Free Libraries as part of a family literacy partnership of the Evansville Community School District, Eager Free Public Library, and our local Boy Scout troop. Evansville’s influx of little libraries, plus our proximity to Madison and Beloit, Wisconsin, made the town – and, as it would turn out, the big brick-and-mortar library – a prime spot for a stop on the Type Rider II Tandem Poetry Tour.

This was obviously a fabulous opportunity to present a special event at Eager Free, to celebrate poetry over the summer when usually we’re in the throes of whatever summer library program theme is on the ticket that year. But what to do? July in Wisconsin…hit or miss weather-wise. Poetry in general…also hit or miss – could we make it accessible for kids and the general public? Too niche? So, clearly, the answer was to do a poetry-focused event outside! The Poetry Picnic was born.

This ended up being a really meaningful community event. I am a huge fan of activity stations, and so we set up the picnic as a drop-in family/all ages event with several activities set up around the library’s lawn, on tables and on borrowed picnic blankets.

Our activities included:

  • Block poetry, which an awesome library patron made for us using label stickers and an old Duplo set that was ready for donation. We get to keep the set for future use at the library.
  • Black-out poetry, a really neat exercise for older kids, young adults, and adults.
  • Hidden poetry, which I prepped in advance using short poems from our library’s collection of kids’ poetry books.
  • Type Rider II tandem poems, essentially an art installation where Amy and Maya, the Type Riders, set up a table and their typewriters and create two poems for people out of one word. Mine? Library of course!
  • This was a picnic, of course, so that meant we had a number of picnic blankets spread out on the lawn. On these we put out the Traveling Library, a miniature book collection (with 500 books!) that Type Rider II brought with them. We also were fortunate enough to have several typewriters that the Type Riders brought with them, and a couple from one of our patrons, that the kids could just go to town on.
  • And what would a picnic be without snacks? We ended up tying our treats in with our summer library program theme, Fizz Boom Read! by setting up a Cosmic Cafe that one of our library staff members ran during the event.

We gambled on the weather, and it ended up being the perfect afternoon. We had a lot of helpers, including local writers, artists, and teachers, each of whom was assigned a station to lead. The crowd ebbed and flowed, as drop-in programs will, but several families stayed almost the full two hours. The air was filled with the click-clacking of manual typewriter keys, as professional poets and burgeoning young poets worked side by side on the lawn.

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