This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in 2013. Poem in Your Pocket Day is on April 24th.

Welcome to National Poem in your Pocket Day!  We’re delighted to welcome Wendy Saz to the site as part of our National Poetry Month line-up.  Wendy is the Branch Manager for Crozet Library in the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System in Charlottesville, where she launched a Poem in Your Pocket program that has become a huge outreach and PR initiative for the library– in addition to a wonderful way to share poetry with the community. Enjoy! ~Erinn

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  We are handing out poems because we believe in literature and words to create a dialogue between people, and poetry is the most musical way to do that. ~Wendy Saz, Branch Manager for Crozet Library, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): For our readers who don’t know, what IS Poem in Your Pocket Day?

Wendy Saz (WS): In 1996, The Academy of American Poets designated April as National Poetry Month to widen our attention to the art of poetry, and its importance in our culture. As part of this month-long celebration, the Academy established National Poem in Your Pocket Day– the idea is wonderfully simple: choose a poem you enjoy, and,on Poem in Your Pocket Day, carry it with you to share with people.

LAIP: What does Poem in Your Pocket Day mean to you? 

WS: I’m not a poet myself, but I’ve always had a deep respect for poets.  They take the elemental pieces of our language–words–and use them to build poems that can touch us, make us think, remember, and feel.

To share poetry, and have it spark a dialogue between people– to me, this is what Poem in Your Pocket Day is all about (And it’s so much fun!).

LAIP: How does Poem in Your Pocket Day fit into your work as a Librarian?  

WS: Poem in Your Pocket Day provides a perfect opportunity to foster dialogue between the library and local agencies and organizations, between the library and current and future patrons, and between individuals, whether at work, at home, in a restaurant, library or even the hospital. What an opportunity for outreach!

These are challenging times for libraries. As a public library, we feel the squeeze between the increased usage that comes with a tough economy, and  dwindling funds to keep our services and staffing intact. It is imperative to make sure that libraries are visibly valued by our communities– and in our press. Programs that help to market our services and foster good public relations in our communities are vital to our success and economic well-being.  For our library, Poem in Your Pocket Day has proven to be just such a program. Professionally and personally, I’m extremely proud to have initiated Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s Poem in Your Pocket Day effort.

LAIP: How long have you been doing Poem in Your Pocket Day at JMRL?

WS: This is Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s 5th year bringing our version of Poem in Your Pocket Day to the city of Charlottesville and surrounding counties. What started as a small in-house library ‘project’ has quickly grown into an eagerly anticipated event that is both library- AND community-driven.  That first celebration has grown exponentially,  spurred ton by the overwhelmingly positive response of people to poetry.

LAIP: Your version of Poem in Your Pocket Day is a counties-wide outreach effort– what all goes into preparing for the event?

WS: We’ve collected permissions from poets, literary agents and publishers to reproduce well over 100 poems (some for children, some for teens, and others for adults). These poems are typed, copied, and eventually rolled into scrolls by a large group of community partners: Library staff and volunteers, area high school and middle school students, University of Virginia students, Senior Citizens, and area poets have all assisted us by rolling poem scrolls.

This year, we expect over 8,000 poem scrolls will be distributed in and around Charlottesville, through the University of Virginia Hospital complex, our local Children’s Museum, all our public libraries, University of Virginia libraries, Charlottesville’s Senior Center, a nursing home, and numerous businesses in the Charlottesville area. Some of our poems will also be distributed by our dynamic street teams, which are made up of library staff, area students, seniors, poets, neighbors, and friends.  The street teams hand out poems along our historic pedestrian mall in downtown Charlottesville and at the Albemarle Square Shopping Center in Albemarle County.


Poem Scrolls

WS: If you were to come into my home this morning, you’d see boxes and boxes and bags and baskets of POEM SCROLLS.  Each scroll measures about 4inches tall, and ½ inch wide, and each one contains a special poem.

Each scroll is tied round with a colorful ribbon and affixed with a label that reads, “A Poem for Your Pocket, from Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.” These poem scrolls are rolled by library staff and many community volunteers, are all poised and just ‘waiting’ to find their way into someone’s hand, to be read and shared on Poem in Your Pocket Day.

LAIP:  One of the most compelling aspects of this program is the way it helped the library reach out to other institutions and businesses in the community.  Tell us about the new connections this project helped to forge.

WS: Through our Poem in Your Pocket Day effort, we’ve created a community dialogue with public and private schools, the University of Virginia’s Library System, the UVA Health System and English Department, local businesses, facilities for seniors, preschools, and the public each of these serve. With our dynamic street teams, we touched people who might not have otherwise crossed the threshold of our library buildings, or come in contact with library staff. We reached others in the community through our local news services, all of whom covered our events. Nationally, we’ve established relationships with numerous poets, publishing houses (one of which was so impressed with our program, they donated 10 books of poetry to our library system!), The Poetry Foundation, and The Academy of American Poets, who honored us by posting our video on their Facebook page and website.


LAIP:  JMRL’s program has been going a long time– how has it grown since your first effort?

WS: This year, in addition to handing out our poem scrolls, we’re extremely proud to be hosting two programs as part of our Poem in Your Pocket Celebration. We’ll kick off our celebration on the eve of Poem in Your Pocket Day with poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, Lisa Russ-Spaar, who will present “Poems Beget Poems: The Reading Poet,” during which Ms. Russ-Spaar will read and speak about how her reading inspires and is a main source for her poems.

We’ll then conclude our ‘poetry party’ at the end of Poem in Your Pocket Day with our second annual evening program, “Poetry on the Steps: an Open Mic Reading,” held, literally, on the steps of our Central Library, in downtown Charlottesville. During this program, people are encouraged to read original poems or favorite poems by other poets, or to be listening members of the audience and just enjoy the art of the spoken word.

Poetry on the Steps 2013

LAIP:  You’ve said that the response to this program has been overwhelmingly positive– can you share some of the reactions?

WS: For me, the very best part of this project is seeing the way people immediately respond to poetry. People have called and emailed the library to say how much their poem meant to them. Some people return to the establishments where they received their poem, asking for additional scrolls for co-workers, friends or family members.  Hospital volunteers have said that the poems are wonderful icebreakers, providing an entry point for conversations with patients and families and literally making a patient’s day.  People on the street have recited memorized poems to street team members–poems they memorized as school children.

One woman shared a fun story with us that I always remember: she’d received a poem scroll during her lunch at a small soup & sandwich shop, where she was eating alone. As people came in and started unrolling and reading their poems, they spontaneously began exchanging poems with other customers in the restaurant and talking about the poetry–she was thrilled to be among this group of strangers, who formed an impromptu discussion group! The minute you say to a passerby, “We’re with the library, celebrating National Poetry month by giving away free poems,” their faces light up, and they reach out to choose their poem. It’s simply the power of poetry!

And when you watch people after they’ve received a poem, you see that they will walk a distance past, then carefully untie the ribbon, unroll the scroll, pause in their steps, and take time to read their poem. Often, the next step is to turn and share the poem with someone, or to carefully re-roll the poem, and tuck it into their pocket, purse or backpack to keep and reread and, maybe, share. It’s an extremely rewarding experience!

LAIP:  What advice would you give to other librarians who want to share poetry with their communities during National Poetry Month?

WS: There are many ways to participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day – simply creating a display highlighting poetry books in your collection, putting out some poetry books and small slips of paper on an available table and encouraging people to copy poems which they find meaningful, posting poems around the building….  Our Poem in Your Pocket celebration started small, and now look at it!


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