Poet Laureate Projects from the Library of Congress

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

This week WOW Currents makes a slight change from featuring resources available from independent publishers to featuring Poet Laureate Projects sponsored by the Library of Congress. Teachers and families can access poetry projects and interactive ideas from eight Poet Laureates including Tracy K. Smith, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Joy Harjo, the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

A Very Brief History of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Position

In 1937, Congress established the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Twenty-nine poets served as Consultants from 1937 until 1985. In 1985, by an act of Congress, the title was changed to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. There have been 23 Poet Laureate Consultants since that time.

While not required, several Poet Laureates have undertaken a signature project. Each Poet Laureate Project is unique in the way the Poet Laureate goes about raising awareness and enjoyment of the genre. Several projects include resources that teachers and families can adapt and use for instructional purposes in their virtual learning spaces. Let’s take a closer look at two Poet Laureate Projects.

Living Nations, Living Words

For her signature project, Joy Harjo created Living Nations, Living Words. A Map of First Peoples Poetry to showcase Native American poets from the United States. Currently, Harjo’s project features 47 poets, each represented with a location marker on a topographical world map. Each poet’s poem addresses the theme of “place and displacement [] with four touchpoints in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance, and acknowledgment” (Library of Congress, n.d.). At present, teachers and families can access a photo of each poet along with the text of their poem. An audio recording and transcript of the poet reading and discussing their poem is also available.

Harjo continues to add to the Living Nations, Living Words project during her time as Poet Laureate Consultant. For updates on the educator toolkit for Harjo’’s project set to be release in early spring 2021, send an email to Kathleen McGuigan at kmcg@loc.gov.

La Casa de Colores

In 2015, Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed the 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Herrera’s signature project, La Casa de Colores features La Familia, an “epic poem of all our voices and styles and experiences” (Library of Congress, n.d.). Even though the project ended along with Herrera’s appointment in 2017, teachers and families can easily replicate the La Familia project in their own virtual learning spaces.

To begin:
Select a theme for an epic poem. Possible themes include Journeys, La Familia, Overcoming Obstacles, or Coming of Age.

Create subthemes by generating a list of words or phrases that come to mind when thinking about the theme. For example, subthemes for Journeys might be daydreaming, travels with family and achieving personal goals.

Decide how you will introduce the epic poem to students and families. Include in the introduction, the theme, subthemes, timelines, word or character length for contributions and how to submit a poem.

Write the first stanza of the poem and publish it for students and families to read. Publish their contributions as they are submitted to create the epic poem.

At a time when many are feeling disconnected, an epic poem might be one way to connect teachers, students, and families in a virtual learning space. If teachers or families engage in an epic poem project, WOW Currents would enjoy hearing about those experiences and reading the epic poems.

The Poet Laureate Projects are just one of the many free educational resources available from the Library of Congress. Teachers and family members would do well to browse through the website to find additional high-quality resources that will enhance their literacy instruction in virtual learning spaces. And as readers browse, please remember to stay safe, stay healthy and be kind to each other.

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