From Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, to the
high school teachers of America:
I want to acquaint you with a new program for making
poetry an active part of the daily experience of American
high school students. The program is called Poetry 180 and
offers a poem for every day of the approximately 180-day
school year. But there is another reason I chose that name.
A 180-degree turn implies a turning back -- in this case, to
poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a
poem read each day to the students of American high
schools across the country. How the program is applied is
completely up to each high school. Following are guidelines
for implementing Poetry 180. I have tried to keep the
program as flexible as possible so that it can be easily
adapted to the needs of your school and especially to your
particular school calendar.
How does a school take part in Poetry 180?
All you need to do is print out one of the poems from this Web site,
numbered from 1 through 180, and have it read to the school in a
public forum, such as at the end of the day's announcements. You
may want to print out a new poem every day or it may be easier to
print out several at a time, for a week or even a month.
What do we do with the poems?
Select someone to read a poem to the school each day.
Or, better still, give prospective readers the opportunity to look at the next
few weeks' worth of poems and let them choose a poem they want to
read. The daily poem day may be read aloud by any member of the
school community: a student, a teacher, an administrator or
a staff person. Students with literary inclinations might be
the most eager to read, but teachers should aim at creating a
broad spectrum of readers to encourage the notion that
poetry belongs to everyone. Ideally, the editor of the
student literary magazine would read one day and the
volleyball coach the next day; a member of the grounds
crew might by followed by the principal. The program
should be as democratic as possible and not the property of
one group. Wide participation might even increase the
overall sense of community in the school.
The goal is to give students a chance to listen to a poem
each day. The best time for the reading would be at the end
of the daily announcements, whether they are delivered
over a public address system, at an assembly in an
auditorium or by teachers in their individual homerooms.
The hope is that poetry will become a part of the daily life
of students in addition to being a subject that is part of the
Unless students really want to discuss the poem, there is
no need to do so. The most important thing is that the
poems be read and listened to without any academic
How should the poems be presented?
Whoever is going to read the poem can simply say, for
example, "Today's poem is by John Smith and it is titled 'In
Memory of My Father.'" For the sake of clarity, some of
the poems on the Web site will come with brief
introductory comment, which should be read first.
Afterward, the reader might close by saying, "That was a
poem by John Smith called 'In Memory of My Father.'"
When do we start?
You can begin at any time.
You might want to start on the first day of class or you
might prefer to wait a week or so to give students a chance
to settle into their daily routines. Just keep track of where
your school is in the sequence of the 180 poems. If there is
not time for a poem every day, feel free to limit your
participation to a poem every other day or a poem only on
Fridays or one to start the week on Monday. A little
participation is better than no participation at all. The
point is to expose students to some of the fresh voices in
contemporary poetry; it is not necessary that all schools
read the same poem every day. Also, you may skip a
poem for any reason. The poems have been chosen with
high school age students in mind, but if you feel a certain
poem is inappropriate, skip it.
What else can we do with the poems?
You could post the day's poem on a bulletin board with a Poetry 180 heading. At the end of each week, a packet of
the week's poems could be made available for interested
students to take home. School libraries can take part in a number of ways,
including: posting the day's reading, keeping an archive of previous readings,
and offering resources responding to student interests in the specific poets or poetry in general.
What shouldn't I do with the poems without obtaining
Because the poems are protected by copyright law, use of
the poems beyond what is contemplated by Poetry 180 (for
example, making additional copies and distributing them
outside the school environment, or recording someone
reading the poems and then distributing the tapes) may
require the written permission of the copyright owner. In
this case, the copyright owner is either the publisher or the
author. Click here for contact information to obtain all permissions you deem necessary. For further background, you may wish to review
our "Legal Notices and Permissions Statement" as well.
Why Poetry 180?
Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written,
contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze,
might convince students that poetry can be an
understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their
I hope you will try Poetry 180, at least on a trial basis. It is easy to implement and free. I have a feeling it is likely to
catch on, that your students will look forward to their daily
poetry reading and that it will become an enriching part of
your school's day.
If you have comments or questions, feel free to contact us.
The Library of Congress
Contact Us (2/18/2004)