We’re delighted to welcome Rebecca Dunn, a Youth Services Librarian Assistant at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS to the Library as Incubator Project! For National Poetry Month, Lawrence Public Library collaborated with the Lawrence Arts Center to create a month of poetry-focused activities, titled “Poetry Off the Page.” Rebecca worked with other LPL staff to create weekly poetry activities for kids, and this interactive PoeTree struck us as a wonderful example of “proactive” programming.

Tell us a little bit about how you developed the PoeTree installation and how it fits in with LPL’s National Poetry Month programming.

The PoeTree is meant to represent a growing understanding and appreciation of poetry.

The Lawrence Public Library programs librarian, Rachel Smalter Hall, teamed up with the Lawrence Arts Center to offer a variety of events free to the public throughout April in celebration of National Poetry Month. I worked on a variety of poetry-related youth events scheduled throughout April, and creating a PoeTree was simple way for the children of the library to be represented during National Poetry Month.

The PoeTree installation was inspired by the “Poet’s Tree,” a poem by Shel Silverstein. I created the tree in our library’s lobby using branches donated from Kansas Tree Care, sand, twine, and a library trashcan. With a co-worker’s help, we tied the branches with twine and then I held the branches in the trashcan while he poured almost 60 pounds of sand into the trashcan.

For each week in April, I also designed Sunday afternoon storytimes that celebrate poetry for children of all ages. Few children know that many of the picture books they love to read are poetry. Nor do they know that they’ve been reciting poetry since a very young age whenever they sing old English nursery rhymes such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Hey Diddle, Diddle.” My goal is for kids to realize they already have a familiarity with poetry that they can build on and also to demonstrate how approachable poetry is.

After the “Poetry is FUN” storytime on April 1st, I invited the kids who attended to make a poem leaf that would decorate the PoeTree. Using old stationary cards found in the library basement, fabric, ribbon, and poems, the children made poem leaves that now decorate the PoeTree. (You can read more about how Rebecca created the leaves here.)

The PoeTree is meant to represent a growing understanding and appreciation of poetry. Even though the children of Sunday’s storytime created a large portion of the leaves, patrons who did not attend storytime are encouraged to help” grow” the Poetree by adding more leaves.

How did you promote the PoeTree and encourage your patrons to contribute?

Word of mouth. We’re always talking to patrons about the different activities we offer. Social media is also key. Throughout the month, we post pictures on our Facebook page and tweet a #poemaday on Twitter (@LawrenceLibrary) in order to keep National Poetry Month and our “Poetry Off the Page” activities in the spotlight.  We also created a flyer to hand out at the deak and to post around town, advertizing all of the events we planned:

There are also a couple of staff members who write personal blog posts about the activities the library offers:

  • Youth Services Library Assistant Rebecca Dunn’s blog, Sturdy for Common Things: “Poetry is FUN”

What were the results? Are you planning to expand the program?

When Poem In Your Pocket Day rolls around, the plan is to put a sign on the PoeTree prompting passersby to take a leaf poem home with them.

What was the response from the community?

The children who made the leaves enjoy seeing them on display as do the patrons coming in and out of the library. It truly came to life. The PoeTree as well as the “Poetry Off the Page” program has had a very positive response. I feel fortunate to live and work in a community that responds to and thrives on creativity. The people of Lawrence, Kansas are special in that way, devotees of the arts and their public library.

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