Poetry for all ages

"The Letter P" by Peter Blake

One of my favorite poems was written by my daughter, Lizabeth, after she received a poetry assignment in an English class.

She’s been writing poetry for pleasure almost since she was old enough to write — but the suggestion that she produce poetry on demand wasn’t well received.

The resulting poem, on writing for another rather than oneself, was biting but brilliant.

I’m guessing she never turned it in — fearing her teacher wouldn’t understand her dispassion for poetry prompts. She read it to me just once, and I haven’t seen it since. I certainly hope it still exists somewhere because I found it truly breathtaking. I was equally prolific in writing poetry as a teen, but not nearly as talented.

So my interest was piqued when I learned of poetry writing courses offered by the Piper Writers Studio at the ASU Virgina G. Piper Center for Creative Writing in Tempe. It just so happens there’s an eight week session starting Sept 27. It meets at the Piper Writers House on the Tempe ASU campus.

The poetry session, “Eight Poems in Eight Weeks” with instructor Leah Soderberg, runs Sept 27 to Nov 15 with classes on Monday nights from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Overachievers can make dinner, write their little hearts out and still be home for storytime. The rest of us will simply relish being missed one night each week.

The studio also offers online sessions and one-day classes — including “Coloring [Inside] the Lines: The Practice of Poetry” with instructor Elizabeth A. Hiscox (online starting in October) and “The Conjugation of Breath” with instructor Jessica Burnquist (Oct 1).

The University of Arizona has a Poetry Center, which is currently celebrating its 50th year. Center programming includes readings, lectures, classes, workshops, discussions, book club meetings, art exhibitions and more.

Upcoming offerings include a library exhibition honoring the center’s founder, Ruth Stephan, and an art exhibition honoring the center’s first director, LaVerne Harrell Clark (both opening Sept 27). On Oct 4 they’ll present “Shop Talk: The Poetry of Gary Snyder.” The center describes Snyder as “a writer, Buddhist, and bioregionalist” whose interests include the environment and eastern philosophy.

For the 4- to 10-year old set, they offer the “Poetry Joeys” program. “Poetry Joeys” features teaching artists inspiring love of language through creative movement, reading and writing poetry. The next event takes place this Saturday, Sept 25, from 10am-11am at the U of A Poetry Center in Tucson.

I adored taking my children to similar events when they were younger not just because they were fun, but because they always inspired me to more creative uses of language and the arts with my children at home.

High school teachers eager to encourage poetry appreciation can register to participate in an annual program called “Poetry Out Loud,” a free national program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

The program is administered in Arizona by the Arizona Commission on the Arts in collaboration with two regional partners — the ASU Young Writers Program and the U of A Poetry Center.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts notes that the program “encourages youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance, which help students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary heritage.”

Schools interested in participating must register with the Arizona Commission on the Arts by Oct 15. Participating teachers receive free multimedia curriculm materials including a poetry anthology, audio guide, teachers’ guide, posters and more.

Students who win recitation contests at participating schools can compete to advance to regional, state and national levels. In 2010, Poetry Out Loud awarded more than $100,000 in prizes to students and schools at the state and national levels, according to the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Plenty of other poetry resources exist throughout the Valley and state, so keep an eye out for poetry-related events and opportunities offered by your local museums, libraries, book stores, performing arts venues and youth organizations.

Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, for example, offers a 7pm “First Friday Poetry Night” each month, which features “a local or national poet reading original work (published or not) followed by open reading.”

Remember too that fostering an early love of poetry can be as simple as reading daily with your child, including books of poetry among your family’s reading collection, and having paper and pencil (or crayons) at the ready when your child feels inspired to write.


Note: Thanks to my hubby James for sharing a link to “The Paris Review” — which has an exceptional ‘interview’ section currently featuring “Five Playwrights on the Art of Theater.” Featured playwrights include Arthur Miller, Eugene Ionesco, August Wilson, Lillian Hellman and Harold Pinter. It’s a “must read” for writers and theater folk.

Coming up: A film every parent should see, My “Lucky Stiff” riff, Weekend events featuring arts fundraisers