By BARBARA BRYANT
In Virginia they're beaming poetry across to classrooms across the country by satellite. In Vermont lawyers are invited to explain legal issues and literature -- for example, the social contract as represented in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" -- to schoolchildren. Iowa librarians are producing a musical revue on the dangers of book censorship.
These are just a few of the events several state centers for the book have organized to promote books and reading among an increasingly high-tech, variety-seeking public.
The fifth grade Albemarle County, Va., class (from Greer Elementary School) that joined Poet Laureate Rita Dove in the dome of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia included the poet's daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn. Another group of fifth graders, visible on a television screen, participated from their classroom at Norton Elementary School in Wise, Va.
Students in hundreds of classrooms in Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado and other states watched the program, which was publicized through DAX, a consortium of public television stations.
To learn more about the students and assess their skills, the Ms. Dove assigned several exercises in advance, asking students, for example, to imagine that they had a third eye that could see what normal eyes could not. She asked them to write a poem about what they saw and what they wished they didn't see. "Tell them to let their fantasies go wild," Ms. Dove urged the teachers in her instructions. "Be crazy!"
During the class Ms. Dove asked children to list "loud," "soft" and "noisy" words. "I wanted the kids to get the feeling that poetry is physical, not just intellectual, to feel the palpable pleasure in hearing those words roll off their tongues," she explained. The students also wrote several poems on the spot, including one of apology for something they had taken without permission. Several students read their poems on camera.
"I came away with an incredible respect for children's power of concentration and imagination," Ms. Dove recalled. "They were working under genuinely adverse conditions; doing timed exercises and, in the Rotunda, with cameras looming over their shoulders. When I told them that the program would be beamed across the U.S., it didn't phase them a bit."
Beverly Bagan, coordinator of the Virginia Center for the Book, invited Ms. Dove to conduct the class after reading an article that mentioned the poet's interest in teleconferenced events. "We leveraged a variety of local resources to bring this about," Ms. Bagan said. "The University of Virginia organized the event and we got additional support from the Virginia State Library and Archives and WCYB-TV, an NBC television affiliate in Bristol, Va., which provided much of the necessary equipment. With our limited funds, we count on being able to leverage resources to pull off such an ambitious project and we got enormous help from everyone involved."
In April 1993 the Virginia center held a teleconference program featuring a question-and-answer session with children's writer Virginia Hamilton and her husband, poet Arnold Adolff. The center also hosted poet Nikki Giovanni's April visit to Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. Ms. Giovanni has agreed to conduct a teleconferencing program in the spring of 1994.
Based on these and other achievements, the center was one of 50 libraries and related organizations recognized by the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust, which salutes exemplary programs and services for youth. The winning organizations will be profiled in a book to be published by the American Library Association that describes the 50 nationwide winners of the contest. A videocassette of Ms. Dove's teleconferenced class is for sale for $20 from the Virginia Center for the Book. For more information, contact: Beverly Bagan, Virginia Center for the Book, Virginia State Library and Archives, 11th Street at Capitol Square, Richmond, VA 23219-3491. Telephone: (804) 371- 6493.
The Vermont Center for the Book hopes to offer a series of attorney-led book discussions, "The Law in Fiction and in Fact." The center worked with the Vermont Council on the Humanities, the state's Bar Association and Department of Education to develop this program, which will teach 70 attorneys and 270 teachers to coordinate law-related education programs drawing on works of fiction and original source material.
Approximately 1,800 eighth- and ninth-grade students throughout Vermont will learn about the social contract through discussions of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Sara Corrin, Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and the Declaration of Independence.
"The broad goal of "The Law in Fiction and in Fact" is to provide Vermont students and teachers with legal knowledge and understanding, and skills to implement this knowledge, so that they may feel comfortable becoming active participants in the civic arena," explained Sally Anderson. "We want to build a cadre of teachers who are committed to programs which introduce discussions about law and legal knowledge and create links between local attorneys and public schools."
The Vermont center is seeking grants to fund the program.
In 1992 the Iowa Center for the Book commissioned the writing and production of "Freedom for Me but Not for Thee," a cabaret-revue on censorship. Featuring such songs as "Bleeding Heart Liberal" and "Fugue for Rednecks," the play was created by a group of Des Moines performers who, according to the playbill "have 'banned' together to expose the righteous right and the leftist left, to praise the right to learn, the right to create and the right to be different."
The revue debuted at the Public Library of Des Moines and will be presented in various locations throughout the region.
"The national Center for the Book looks to our state affiliates for promotion ideas that work at the local level," said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Barbara Bryant is on the staff of the Public Affairs Office.