Iowa City Public Library hosts events for National Poetry Month geared at teens

The Iowa City Public Library’s staff will continue their mission to connect readers this April as they host events each week for National Poetry Month to get young people engaged and interested in poetry.


Jeff Sigmund

The Iowa City Public Library is seen on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.

Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter

Libraries are fundamental to the culture of any city, and the Iowa City Public Library prides itself on reflecting its community and engaging the public with reading. This month, its mission is no different as the library celebrates National Poetry Month with new events for teens each week throughout April.

As the library’s Community and Access Services Coordinator Sam Helmick described, the library doesn’t always host events that correlate directly to a national holiday.

“On any given day, you can check our calendar on our website, and we probably have five different events going on to engage with the community,” Helmick said. “We’ll have pride events in November just because that’s what we feel our community will interact with.”

The library hosted readings and documentary screenings in March by female authors and filmmakers to commemorate Women’s History Month. The library is cognizant of its role in Iowa City’s vast community of readers.

The library’s efforts to connect to the community extend past current readers for National Poetry Month. Each week, different events are hosted in the library’s Teen Center, with the specific goal of connecting teens to poetry.

“There’s been a trend, in young people especially, not reading a lot of poetry,” Iowa City Public Library Teen Librarian Victoria Fernandez said.

The staff of the library has set up staff picks shelves around the library to promote their favorite poetry collections or writers in hopes of spreading an appreciation for poetry for reluctant readers and those who don’t have the time to find specific poetry selections, Fernandez said. She noted that because many staff members are enthusiastic about poetry, their selections are mutually beneficial for library workers as well.

James Grimm is an Iowa City Public Library employee collaborating with Fernandez on teen poetry activities. Grimm said the library wants people to leave with something they made.

“Each week there’s a discussion and maybe a quick presentation about an aspect of poetry, then people get to make their own poems,” Grimm said. “There are snacks too, of course. I brought ramen one week.”

While the activities are informational, Grimm said he also wants to make them enjoyable, especially for young attendees just discovering poetry.

“[I want] to spread awareness that poetry is more than Shakespeare,” Grimm said.

In the first week of April, the theme of the activity was music, as it would allow a more everyday encounter with poetry because music is a widely consumed poetic medium. In the coming weeks, other themes include classic “poetry for nerds,” a night focused specifically on storytelling within poems, and a session on how to express oneself through poetry.

Hernandez described poetry as one of the most widely studied and analyzed forms of literature around the world but added that it is often unfairly left out of casual reading selections.

“Poetry is like little novels, right? Microcosms of stories that capture so much with so little,” Hernandez said.

There is clearly a lot of love for the medium around the library, not only for the power of poetry but for its versatility. Helmick described the subgenre of blackout poetry, which involves inking out or covering words from a pre-existing text to make a new poem.

“It’s like upcycling art — creating something new,” Helmick said.

Helmick also noted the importance of poetry’s collaborative nature as a medium, noting that it is meant to be shared.

Engaging with the community and encouraging people to write their own poetry and share with others is a central goal of ICPL’s poetry events, Helmick said. Hernandez echoed Helmick’s sentiment and said the library aims to give people a way to express themselves through the medium.

“That’s why connecting to teens was the main priority. During a time of people’s lives where they may be struggling to express themselves, poetry is a great way to express what is on your mind,” Helmick said. “Teen stories matter.”

National Poetry Month isn’t just for teens, though. Hernandez made sure to reiterate the activities are multifaceted and accessible for anyone, including both those familiar and those new to poetry.

Helmick said the library ultimately hopes its teen poetry events will get more people interested in poetry.

“Poetry is just a lot of fun,” Helmick said.