Each May, City College hosts an Annual Spring Poetry Festival, an event that over the years has attracted approximately 10,000 elementary school children, an equal number of high school students, and thousands from the college and neighboring community. This Festival is the celebratory event of City College's Poetry Outreach Center. Festival Day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; it engages hundreds of shy, bold and enthusiastic school children and adults, who gather at CCNY's Aaron Davis Hall to read their poems and listen to their contemporaries. This event is the culmination of a year-long series of activities meant to encourage the act of writing poetry among the broadest range of people.
The day's events consist of a morning of readings by young children, ranging from first grade through junior high. As they and their families and friends leave, the winners of the CCNY sponsored citywide High School Poetry Contest and their peers file in. This is a contest that inspires literally over 3,000 poetry entries from over 60 high schools in all five boroughs. The winners read their prize-winning poems and then receive prizes from the featured guest poet, including signed copies of the poet's books. The list of honored guests reads very much like a Who's Who of American Poetry: Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jane Cortez, Donald Hall, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Galway Kinnell, Sonia Sanchez, Billy Collins, and Amiri Baraka have been but a few of our past featured poets.
Next, various persons read--college students, professionals and amateurs, including visiting writers from Europe and Latin America. Poets currently teaching at the college participate, as do distinguished alumni and past faculty. Many young readers from the past have returned as adults; one teacher brings her class of second graders and remembers when she herself was a child reading at the Festival. The atmosphere, the many voices heard throughout the day, is an amplification and microcosm of our widespread outreach activities.
Six months after the Festival we publish Poetry in Performance, a commemorative book that contains one poem by each reader. This is distributed throughout the schools of N.Y.C. and has been used by schools in Europe and as far off as Lagos, Nigeria. Many teachers have communicated that the book is an effective teaching tool for the various age groups within it.
The Poetry Center's "Outreach" into the City
Central to our activities is the encouragement we bring to poetry at all levels of education. Poets from CCNY's creative writing staff, along with teaching assistants and graduate students, go into the schools to set up poetry units, and present readings and workshops in public school class rooms. In addition, we also have made contact with various community organizations in Harlem, including the Harlem Y and Harlem Tours. Local poetry groups such as those run through the Writer's Voice also send representatives. The objective is always to help set up a structure and an atmosphere where original, creative writing -- and an appreciation for the power of poetry-- can take place. We unreservedly believe that poetry contributes to the larger culture and the process of becoming and maintaining a civilization.
The principal poetry organizations located in New York are all involved with our efforts. The Poetry Society of America helps honor our high school winners with guest memberships and gift books. Teachers & Writers, Inc. sends a representative to help judge the annual high school poetry contest*. Poets House, a gracious setting for the enjoyment of poetry, has opened its doors to our participants and made its extensive poetry library available. It has also hosted receptions for the high school poets who have been recognized by our poetry contest. We continue to reach out to even more students than before. The public schools are more eager than ever for outside programs as arts and aesthetic education especially have been largely eliminated by government budget cuts.
In closing, the work of the poetry Outreach Center is one of City College's most effective teaching and outreach programs. Its work engages the talents of City's students and faculty who in turn impact the lives of thousands of public school children. Moreover, the Center is a demonstration of City College's too often overlooked human talent, and the contribution that talent makes to the city of New York.
- Encourage the appreciation and writing of poetry at all levels of education, including "special education" classes in the New York City public schools. A focus on general literacy is necessary for such appreciation.
- Present workshops in public schools.
- Publicly read and listen to the poetry created by public school students on Festival Day.
- Maintain continuity for interested alumni in the literary activities and outreach efforts of CCNY.
- Maintain a written record of these activities through Poetry in Performance.
- Reach out through the art of poetry to various NYC community centers.
- Maintain ties with professional poetry institutions such as the Poetry Society of America, Poets House, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and The Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y.
* Please note that Knopf/Random House provides funding for our high school winners on a yearly basis.
2012 SEED Grant
The purpose of a Seed Grant is to 1) Provide internal funding for the initial stages of a new interdisciplinary and collaborative work that will generate date to facilitate the development of external grant applications to government agencies or private foundations by investigators or 2) Facilitate the development of a new and novel direction of creative work and scholarship that will enhance the national and international reputation of CUNY.
In 2012, Poetry Outreach received a SEED grant in collaboration with Elizabeth Rorschach from the School of Education. The purpose of this grant is to fund an expansion of the Poetry Outreach Center into more NYC schools, and to forge a stronger partnership between the Center and the School of Education. An additional goal is to establish, though publications, conferences and other means of dissemination, the Poetry Outreach Center as a consultative and training resource for local and regional colleges.