Two Summer Programs Available for Teachers

Our Program Director Laurin Macios announces two programs for teachers this summer. If you are a teacher or if you know someone who is and might benefit from these two programs, let them know about  the professional development seminar in poetry at UMass Boston and about the twelfth annual Poetry Institute for Educators at Boston University.

Our Professional Development Summer Seminar is back!

McDonough and DietzEarn 15 PD Points in two days with Jill McDonough and Maggie Dietz as you study and practice the teaching of poetry writing.

August 4-5, 2014
9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
UMass Boston

$50 total, for both days, if you register by July 1.

Seminar limited to 30 teachers.

[Read more…]

Aimee Nezhukumatathil: To Be Featured at the Student Day of Poetry

Aimee NezhukumatathilOn March 21 students in the Commonwealth will have the opportunity to hear and work with an amazing poet who has won many national prizes, including at least one prize for each of the three books she has published in the last eleven years.  The latest, Lucky Fish, published by Massachusetts-based Tupelo Press, won the gold medal in Poetry for the Independent Publishers Book Awards and was featured in the New York Times and on the PBS NewsHour ArtsBeat.  Her honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Teachers, time is running out, but you can still register for Student Day of Poetry, which will be held at U Mass Boston. The last day for registration is this Friday — the 7th of March. [Read more…]

Report on a Student Day of Poetry: "Every single kid is engaged!"

Lisa Stott, who teaches at the Wetherbee School in Lawrence and organized a Student Day of Poetry, contributed the following story.

Lately it seems that Lawrence has been in the news only to highlight the state’s designation of the Public School System’s “underperforming status” and announcement of its newly appointed receiver.  But on January 10, 2012, over 275 middle school students and teachers at the Emily G. Wetherbee School certainly defied the recent tag name and caught a break from all the talk of what to do to raise the test scores of a 22% English language learner population when they gathered in the school’s auditorium for a day of student poetry.  The event was hosted by Associate Dean of Students at Brandeis University and slam poet, Jamele Adams aka Harlym 125.

Students packed the theater in anticipation of the film, Louder Than A Bomb, a documentary that tells the story of four Chicago high school poetry teams as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest youth slam.  After the 99 minute film, students’ eyes were glued to Harlym 125 as he made his way down the aisle while performing his own poetry.   He spit words of truth that students could understand – words in which they found identification, hope and most of all, inspiration.

He taught them about public speaking, the importance of holding one’s head up, and projecting voice.  When taking questions from the audience, he asked students to stand.  He came at them with questions of his own including, “What is 4 times 8? Now multiply that by 10.  And who was the sixteenth president?”  It was certainly an interdisciplinary lesson and the kids never saw it coming.  They just went with it.

The next forty minutes involved students writing on their own.   They were given an assignment to reflect on the previous five years and then to add a line for future advice which stated, “Because in the next ten years…”  Students scattered around the auditorium, on stage, in corners and into the foyer.  They sat on window sills and congregated in small groups, pairs, or chose to write independently.  School principal, Colleen Lennon looked around and was thrilled.  “Look at that group of 8th grade boys writing. Every single kid is engaged,” she said.

Lou Bernieri of Phillips Academy and the Andover Teachers Breadloaf Network added, “Eighth grade boys writing passionately…that’s worth the price of admission.  Excuse me, where were the discipline problems in that room full of cheering youth?  I couldn’t find them.”  

The student sharing in the form of open mic was the most powerful part of the day.  The respect and love the kids showed each other, the enthusiasm and joy everyone shared and the prodigious amount of writing done in a short time were all unforgettable.  All of this came as a result of the four hour literacy event scheduled by veteran teacher, Lisa Stott.   What a long way it went in terms of enriching the lives and experiences of all who attended.    There was nothing scripted, no talk of standardized tests or how to maximize learning time.  It was, in the words of Harlym125, “a writing evolution.” And to think, it was led by students.

Here are poems written by Wetherbee students:  Jeremy Duran, Marisah Colon, Chanlennys Perez. Chantal Perez, and Abigail Heredia. These students are in the fifth through eighth grade.


By Jeremy Duran

I explode like a toxic bomb
Dropping on every one I don’t like
Toxic gases inhaled by my enemies
Dodging bullets as they shoot
Two shots fired

Those two bullets penetrate my enemy’s head
He collapses to his knees
Suffers trying to yell for help
While blood gushes out of his mouth

We are now in a slaughter house
Bombs dropping
Shots fired at me
Penetrating my shoulders

Thirty seconds after
I wake up from this dream
Back to a life
Of safety
Wake up
With eyes opened wide
And my heart racing at 100 miles per hour


Saving Grace

By Marisah Colon

I want you to do me a favor
All I want is for you to listen
I want you to know

That He is here
Here to help you
Here to love you
Here to make things o.k.
And this “He”

I call many names, such as
Holy Spirit.
And more
And I know
He is here

He has helped me
Helped me live my life
Get through the divorce of my parents
And when my mom wasn’t talking to me

When I accepted Him in my life
Everything got better
Very slowly,
She started talking to me again
I can now set aside my problems

And help you see Him
Pray to Him
Talk to Him
So that you can see that
He is a life saver

And yes,
He may take away your family
Only to put them in a better place


By Abigail Heredia

My heart pumps
As tears drip down his face
What’s wrong I wonder?
He would not answer

I wiped away his tears
But he still would not answer

I looked into his eyes
And someone died

I saw right through him
He would not stop crying
I was worried

Someone passed away…


Love is Truthful

By Chanlennys Perez

Love is hard to believe and
To trust in
Love is just a four letter word
That comes back and forth
To your heart

If you think the love inside you
Has gone away
Well it hasn’t

Don’t get me wrong
I know what love is
Just the thing that pops
Into your head
And when people ask you,
Simply say, “I love you.”


My God

By Chantal Perez

When I look up in the sky
I see a bright light
I remember the day that
I was born
The time that He created me

Also, when He helped me through
The bad times and the good times
And the worst of seeing my mom leave

When my mom walked out
Tears ran down my face
He wiped them off
Made me smile
His name is God

CommonThreads: Poems for national poetry month


Back by popular demand, Mass Poetry offers its second annual Common Threads group reading and discussion program for April, National Poetry Month.

The texts of the poems, videos of the poets reading their own work and poems from those no longer with us, plus a discussion guide, questions, and links will be available on our website in early March. So start planning your April discussion soon. We urge libraries, schools, churches, senior organizations, colleges, bookstores, book clubs and individuals to plan a reading and discussion of these poems.

Our 2012 selections:

  • “The Author to Her Book” – Anne Bradstreet ( 2012 is the 400th anniversary of her birth)
  • “The Fire of Drift-Wood”- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Poem 1129 – Emily Dickinson ( tell it slant)
  • “For the Union Dead” – Robert Lowell
  • “The Hardness Scale” – Joyce Peseroff
  • “Horseface” – Sam Cornish
  • “if see no end in is” – Frank Bidart
  • “Out at Lanesville”- David Ferry
  • “Baseball” – Gail Mazur

This rich and varied, yet interconnected collection of poets from our Commonwealth will lend themselves to great discussions and enjoyment. Though they are interconnected, they span very different forms.

Plan for potluck and poetry

Make sure you plan to organize a group discussion. For those of you not in organized groups, plan to have 10 friends over for a National Poetry Month potluck—with poetry as the main course.

As a highlight of the Mass Poetry Festival, the five Common Threads poets who are alive will read and discuss their works at a Saturday session.


Louder Than a Bomb: a slam festival that expands on Student Day of Poetry


Friday March 30th through Sunday April 1st Massachusetts Institute of Technology will play host to Massachusetts’ first Louder Than a Bomb festival. The festival, founded by Anna West and Kevin Coval in 2001, originated in Chicago. It is the largest youth poetry slam in the world. The Louder Than a Bomb festival allows youths to showcase their talent through spoken word in the form of a friendly competition. The festival also allows diverse and distant communities to appreciate their differences and similarities as the students listen to their peers express themselves. The Chicago Louder Than a Bomb festival is the subjects of a feature length documentary which captures the inspirational force of the festival.

Louder Than a Bomb expands from Student Day of Poetry

This year, Mass Poetry and Mass L.E.A.P. are teaming up to present the first Louder Than a Bomb festival in Massachusetts. The slam festival expands on the annual Student Day of Poetry, which is separate this year from Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem. Teachers wishing to take their classes to the MIT-hosted Student Day of Poetry on March 30, register here. The Louder Than a Bomb festival requires a separate registration (see below).

Louder Than a Bomb will bring together over 20 teams from across the state. Each team will be comprised of four to six students between the ages of 14-19 who will perform their original poetry without musical accompaniment or props. Teams will perform a mix of individual and group poems which will be scored by judges based on the writing, content and performance. Though the slam festival is home to a competition, it is not the soul of the festival. The focus of the festival is inspiring youth poets to feel empowered by their own voices, as well as to foster a creative community.

The Louder Than a Bomb Massachusetts slam festival will engage students in a number of events. On March 30th from 8-3pm, teams will participatie in an opening ceremony and writing workshops, which will create an open and creative atmosphere for the festival. The workshops will be led by talented poets and performers. Students will also get a chance to share their own poetry and stories during an open mic session MIT’s Kresge Theater.! The festival has a great series of performances set up for participants, including an exciting preview performance by Hoop Suite, which is set to premiere this summer in the Boston area. Hoop Suite is an interdisciplinary act that combines music, dance and spoken word to create a unique performance.  You won’t want to miss this exclusive preview.

The cut-off day for registration is January 31st. Teams interested in registering should sign up immediately. To register go to Teams who have already successfully registered should start rehearsing. There’s no time like the present!  Get inspired by watching and listening to other spoken word poets. Start brainstorming together about the poetry and performances. Have fun with this process, let the creativity flow and remember that the goal of the festival is to have participants feel empowered and creative through spoken word and the community it creates.

Louder Than A Bomb Mass Festival Dates

Friday, March 30th (11:15am – 2:00pm)

Crossing the Street (runs concurrently with and as part of Student Day of Poetry)

Workshops and community building just for registered LTAB teams

Saturday, March 31st (10:00am – 6:00pm)


All LTAB teams compete twice

Sunday, April 1st (12:00 – 6:00pm)


The 8 teams with the highest Preliminary scores compete

Friday, April 13th (6:30 – 9pm)

Finals. The top 4 teams to win Semi-Finals compete for the title of Mass Slam Champion.

Volunteers needed

Interested in participating in the festival behind the scenes? Volunteers can sign up at the website mentioned above. Many people contribute to the success of the festival: from planning and promoting it, to helping facilitate activities on the actual day. Volunteers can register participants, sell tickets, and keep score among other tasks.

Among those volunteering with Louder Than a Bomb are Eve Ewing and Amanda Torres. Both Eve and Amanda are alumni, former coaches of the Chicago Louder Than a Bomb festival. Eve says of the Chicago festival, “Alumni traditionally return year after year to help organize the festival. That’s partially how we build community from year to year, and part of what makes LTAB special!” It is our hope that Massachusetts can produce such an inspiring community around poetry.

Spoken word — the durability of a universal tradition

We have presented several stories about the value of spoken word poetry including Dr. Susan Weinstein’s study of the literacy value of spoken word and Nicole L Rodriguez’s President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work in schools as a spoken word poet. Here is a story about what MassPoetry is doing in that area.

Spoken word – the durability of a universal tradition

Amanda Torres is passionate about spoken word poetry. “Before we had writing, we told stories. Spoken word dates back to the griots who would travel and continue to travel, passing stories down from generation to generation.” In addition to the spoken word performers of Africa, Torres might have added the troubadours of western tradition and the oud players of the Muslim and Jewish worlds. Performance seems a universal when it comes to the history of poetry.

Torres, who is School Programs Coordinator at MassPoetry, the co-coordinator of Louder than a Bomb and an organizer of Mass LEAP, believes, “Spoken word poetry is poetry that moves. It is the moment when the written, the spoken, and the seen converge on a stage.” MassPoetry is sponsoring several activities that spur interest in spoken word poetry in Massachusetts schools, including Mass LEAP (Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective).

Torres says, “By supporting Mass LEAP, we are supporting the thousands of young people’s voices who are not immediately inspired by Dickens or Poe but instead by a beat they can ride and make all their own.” Mass LEAP is reaching out to youth in the hope of bringing together communities of different classes, ethnic backgrounds and race. “A huge part of the history of this state is educational equity, and we are continuing that tradition using poetry.”

MassPoetry current projects

Torres lists the projects MassPoetry is supporting. “Currently, we have teachers working in middle and elementary schools in Revere, Roslindale and Roxbury. Through Citizen Schools, we have teachers working in the Garfield Middle School, the Irving Middle School, and Orchard Gardens K-8 School.”

The current outreach is a beginning point. “We hope to send teaching artists to high schools around the state to help teachers prepare their spoken word teams for the first ever Louder than a Bomb slam event in Massachusetts, which will be kicking off this spring.” See the dates below. Louder than a Bomb is a national slam movement that began in Chicago and generated, through a prize winning documentary film, much excitement at last year’s Student Day of Poetry and at the MassPoetry Festival.

“Next year,” says Torres, “we plan to work closely with twice as many middle and high schools in under-resourced areas. Access to poetry should be a right everywhere and not a privilege.”

Public programs planned

Here are the public programs planned by MassPoetry for the coming year:

Friday, March 30th: Student Day of Poetry & Crossing The Street @ MIT (8-3pm) 30 classrooms + Kresge Hall + Student Center Cafeteria

Saturday, March 31st: Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) Preliminaries @ MIT Student Center (9-6pm) Various bout spaces in the Student Center throughout the day

Sunday, April 1st: LTAB Semi-Finals @ MIT Kresge Little Theater (10-5pm) Both semi-finals will be staggered in the Little Theater

Friday, April 13th: LTAB FINALS @ Venue TBA (6-9pm)

We’ll have more about these programs in the coming year. So stay tuned!

Performance is key to getting students hooked on writing poetry


MassPoetry is sponsoring school programs to promote poetry, especially spoken word poetry. This interview with Dr. Susan Weinstein is the first of a series of stories on the benefits of spoken word poetry in the classroom. Dr. Weinstein is an associate professor of English and Director of the Secondary English Concentration at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.


Dr. Susan Weinstein believes there are many ways to successfully teach students to write poetry, but she is convinced there is one crucial element that can’t be left out: performance. “It doesn’t have to be open mic or a slam contest. It can simply be having all the students read their poems aloud to each other.” Weinstein, an associate professor of English and Director of the Secondary English Concentration at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, has a counterintuitive reason for believing performance us crucial. She believes there is a personal risk in reading your poetry to your peers, but for that reason in a classroom that establishes respect for risk, reading aloud instills confidence and a concept of self to a degree not available in others areas of education.


And what is it about poetry that allows Weinstein to make this claim? “The teens are years when young people are trying to find their place in the world. They are looking at themselves and trying to figure out their place in their family, their race and their gender.” Writing poems almost begs students to take on those subjects.


Experiencing is believing

Weinstein admits that her categorical claim for poetry out loud may sound suspicious to those who haven’t witnessed it. But she has. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods and in Bolivia before she got her Ph.D. As a teenager she was an obsessive writer, and she brought that obsession to her pupils. Now at LSU she works with students who want to be English teachers and shares with them her enthusiasm. “Nothing convinces people of the value of sharing poetry like experiencing its effect on students.”


Which is a problem. Today as students take MCAS tests and the career of teachers can rise or fall based on the performance of their students in those tests, establishing the validity of spoken word poetry is falling to people like Weinstein. “The spoken word movement is not that old. It began about ten years ago and only in the last few years have educators begun to think about measuring the success of the movement.”

Establishing the validity of spoken word poetry

Weinstein is one of the first to look at ways of measurement. “So far the evidence is antidotal, which doesn’t lend itself immediately to comparison to the stark numbers of test scores. But we are diving into those antidotes with the tools of an ethnographer.” Ethnographers use a qualitative method aimed at learning and understanding cultural phenomena that reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group. Ethnography, or field study as it is called in sociology, depends on what Weinstein calls “describing the hell out of the situation.” She emphasizes that interviewing students is critical. “Students bring their own stories and emphasize how writing poetry has given them a sense of themselves and has inspired them to push harder to communicate their lives to their peers.
In the process, they have opened up to writing and have begun to see themselves as writers, an identity that gives them confidence.”


Though Weinstein says there are many routes to making students enthusiasm about writing and sharing poetry, she describes a typical workshop. “Start first with a poem and talk about which lines stand out for them, which images are striking. Don’t go into analysis or make the poem a puzzle, but ask them what they noticed. Pull some of the strong images from the poem and brainstorm about how they
could use that image as a starting point for their own poem.”


She adds, “A teacher may also use a video to start the lesson. There are any number of poetry readings to choose from on the web. Then the workshop leader asks which lines stand out, what images do they remember from the video – the same process as with a printed poem “


But a crucial experience of the class should be the relationship between the teacher and the student. “The room should feel like a family,.” she says.  Like reciting a poem, a close relationship is crucial. “The teacher doesn’t have to be charismatic, but the workshop leader
has to really care about the students as people, and the students have to feel that care. The care has to be authentic.”


Field trips to share poetry

Another critical element of the workshop is getting students to know other students from, perhaps, other schools. Weinstein says, “After Katrina, Anna West, a co-founder of the Chicago group Louder than a Bomb and native of Louisiana, brought a group of students to meet other students in Baton Rouge. Meeting a group outside the classroom and sharing their poetry motivated both teams.” Although there was competition between the teams, there was also camaraderie and an excited sharing of something both groups had grown to love.


Further help for teachers

For teachers wanting to incorporate spoken word poetry into the curriculum, Weinstein suggests reading a young adult novel by Nikki Grimes called Bronx Masquerade about a classroom in the Bronx with spoken word poetry. In the story students realize the misjudgments they made when they listen to each other’s poetry. And there is a useful book by Maisha Fisher called Writing in Rhythm,
which examines how literacy learning can be expanded and redefined using the medium of spoken word poetry. The author tells the story of a passionate Language Arts teacher and his work with The Power Writers, an after-school writing community of Latino and African American students.

Also look for Dr. Weinstein’s book on the benefits of spoken word poetry, which she is now in the process of researching and writing.