April 10, 2013

Review: Open the Door: How to Excite Young People about Poetry

Open the Door Edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan
"Poets in the World" series editor Ilya Kaminsky, director of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute
Contributions by Jim Trelease, Matthea Harvey, Jack Collom, James Kass, Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, Theodore Roethke, Eileen Myles, Phillip Lopate, Jesse Nathan, Jordan Davis, William Stafford, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Karen Volkman, Dorothea Lasky, Dave Eggers, Bertha Rogers, Michael Cirelli, Amy Swauger, Martin Farawell, Terry Blackhawk, Megan McNamer, Terri Glass, Pamela Michael, Kevin Coval, Jeff Kass, Matt Mason and Andrew Ek,  Patrick Oliver, Bob Holman, Robin Reagler, Susan Grigsby, Mimi Herman, Michael Dickman, Elizabeth Bradfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Meghan and Liam O'Rourke, Eric Baus, Valzhyna Mort, Alex Dimitrov, Anthony McCann, Michael McGriff, Katie Ford, Matthew Zapruder, Debora Landau, Christina Davis, Dara Wier, Travis Nichols, Laura Solomon, CAConrad, Vicki VĂ©rtiz, Adam O'Riordan, Qurayash Ali Lansana and Georgia A. Popoff, Rebecca Lindenberg, Harriet Levin, Emilie Coulson, Stephen Burt
Available April 23, 2013 from McSweeney's and The Poetry Foundation
Ebook available here
Review copy

"How wonderful the struggle with language is." - Theodore Roethke

April, as you may know, is National Poetry Month.  You might follow Savvy Verse & Wit's blog tour and keep an eye out for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves Novel in Verse Week starting April 21.  This month two books are being released in a partnership between McSweeney's Books and The Poetry Foundation.  OPEN THE DOOR: How to Excite Young People about Poetry is the one that first caught my eye.  The blurb promises that it will be "useful for first-time and veteran teachers, as well as parents, babysitters, MFAs with no job, and anyone else with an interest in poetry's place in the lives of our younger citizens."  I count myself in a few of those groups and decided to give it a chance.

OPEN THE DOOR is divided into three sections:  essays, roundtable discussion, and lesson plans.  The essays are a mix of new and reprinted material about experiences working with children focusing on what worked and what didn't.  This section comes first and is the best place to start - it's very motivating.  One idea that came up more than once and made quite a bit of sense to me is to not force children to focus on spelling or grammar when writing poetry.  Get them to write and then help them to revise after.  Focusing too much on rules limits them.  Plus, there's value in revision.

The second section, the roundtable discussion, is a question and answer session with several people working in nonprofits providing poetry programs for children and teens.  The advice within will be most useful for people looking to start poetry programs, but I found it surprisingly interesting.  I particularly liked one answer that refutes OPEN THE DOOR's subtitle:
I'm not interested in exciting students about poetry so much as I am in giving them experiences of genuine substance and in helping them investigate the emotional turmoil of adolescence, which will allow them to mature into adults whose inner lives are rich enough to endure difficulties, challenges, and even tragedies . . . They have plenty of diversions in their lives . . . They have enough excitement . . . What they need is something that helps them not to turn away, but rather to turn toward the conflicts they face in their everyday lives.  This is what art, what poetry, does.  - 237, ARC, Amy Swauger
The third section is self explanatory.  The lesson plans included are short but sweet.  The majority provide a reading and a writing portion, although some suggest pieces of music or such instead of readings.  I think this section is of more use to teachers than the layman, although some guardians who want to bring poetry to their kids might prefer such clear guides.  All in all I think that OPEN THE DOOR will appeal most to teachers, but I don't think the blurb is wrong.  There is wide appeal here.

OPEN THE DOOR presents a wide range of perspectives.  Most of the contributors are American, but not all.  They are women and men of many sexualities, races, and social classes.  It's nice to hear a range of voices in a discussion of how to empower others to use their voice.

I also like that OPEN THE DOOR provides clear answers to what to do next.  There are suggestions of other books and poets to read and organizations to investigate in addition to the exercises provided within the pages.  It's a terrific starting point for anyone who wants to share poetry with the young.  I think OPEN THE DOOR does a wonderful job of accomplishing its goals.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. Certainly good for teachers, but I do think it would have a wider appeal as well...like you said. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It was! I read it in little bits, which I think helped.


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