Sunday, July 13, 2008

Party Planning Ideas

A) Plan a Birthday Reading for your favorite poet. Find a venue and invite your friends. Announce the event to the general public. Have a discussion or plan ahead to have specific readers and poems with minimal comments. Have a great time!

1) Get ideas for your occasion at

1A) See examples of excerpts and poems gathered for each occasion for the purpose of getting discussion started by clicking on the "Blasts from the Past" feature to the right of the screen. Feel free to use these at your own celebrations!

2) If you are a teacher, refer to the Lesson Plan for a Poetry Calendar at the website of the National Education Association (NEA).

B) Host an ongoing series of your own Poets Birthday Readings. For this, you'll want to have one or two other people who, like yourself, are not only interested in poetry but who are willing to make time for it. If you're not willing to host events once or twice a month, this isn't going to work well for you. How much time is needed? We tend to go for an hour and a half, and sometimes longer. Prep time will vary according to your interest and your desire to do your best. No one can ask for more than that, and no one will expect anything less. Specifically, what you'll want to do is:
  • Decide where you will to meet. We like Barnes & Noble because they stay open til 10 o'clock. We tend to linger and shmooze a bit after we finish reading, and sometimes we don't begin until 7:15 or later because people are still trickling in and because we like to say hello and catch up a bit before getting started. Another reason we like to meet at Barnes & Noble is the management there has welcomed us with open arms. They set up chairs for our group, they put up a little sign that says 'Reserved for the River Junction Poets at 7pm,' the store fliers they print up monthly always mention our events, and sometimes they print up stand-alone poster-sized announcements just for our events. They even sometimes turn the store music down for us (which we like best). I like to think they're responding to our enthusiasm, but I may be reading into things a bit much there. They have also occasionally brought samples of Frappuccinos to our group.
  • Have one person in your group act as the contact with the manager of the place where you will be meeting. The contact person in your group exchanges phone numbers and e-mail addresses with that manager.
  • Invite your local paper's Arts Editor to your event. If the Editor can't make it to the first one, invite them to the second and third and fourth until they come. Make it clear that everyone is welcome.
Once you have a few people to meet with and a place and time to meet, you're ready to go.
Prepare for your meeting.
  • Bring a short biographical sketch of the poet.
  • Read a few poems ahead of time.
  • Bring a book of poems with you.
  • Bring as many books as you can. Share them.
  • Have a few poems bookmarked and be ready to read them.
During your event:
  • Share your love of poetry. Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • If you know what you like about a particular poem, say so. Be specific about what you like. Point out what you think has been done well in the poem.
  • If someone in your group says what they like about a particular poem, respect that.
  • Accept what is said and engage in dialogue. If you want to disagree with what was said, find a gracious way to do so. You don't want to send people away feeling hurt. You want them to come back another night, preferably with a friend.
What we have found from our experience with these events is that we enjoy
  • learning of the poet's life and looking to see what, if anything, we can find of their biography in their poems.
  • discussing what makes a difficult poet difficult. We didn't read many poems by John Ashberry when we met on his birthday but we did enjoy a memorable discussion of why his poems were so difficult for us to understand. His poems after 1980 or so we found to be much more difficult to interpret than his earlier poems.
  • 'accessible' poetry by, for instance, Mary Oliver, David Budbill, Linda Pastan and Wendell Berry.
  • finding poets who are new to us, recommended by others within our own group.
  • meeting people who show up just because they happen to like that particular poet.
  • signing and sending birthday cards along with the store Newsletter that mentions our event to the living poets whose poems we read at our events.
  • receiving responses from the poets we celebrate at our events and then send a birthday card to. For example, we've heard from Rita Dove, Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, David Budbill, Kay Ryan, Tess Gallagher, Wendell Berry, Lisel Mueller and Richard Wilbur, among others.
  • believing that poetry matters to everyone.

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