If you think of poems as flowers, then the Aguilar Poetry Fest was an exercise in charming cross-pollination. Sharing was the thing. Students were seated in groups of about 6, where they read their chosen poems to each other and then intermixed with other tables to multiply the fun. Poets included Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, Naomi Shihab Nye, Shel Silverstein, Douglas Florian (on Silverstein’s wavelength), Billy Collins, some haiku poets, and a smattering of others.
Students and tutors clearly enjoyed their double role of takers and givers — listening carefully to a wide variety of poems, commenting on them, and reading their own out loud. For students, the experience of reading the same poem to group after group built confidence and made for an experience that was public but still somewhat intimate.
The value of this poetry celebration started weeks before the actual event. Staff displayed a tableful of poems (xeroxed sheets and books) which were chosen for a range of reading skills and themes — and also for visual appeal, which is important for newcomers to poetry. Tutors began by scheduling class time around the poetry display table; with their help, students discussed poets and themes, chose a poem or two, and then prepared for their public reading.
Preparation involved delving into a poem's meaning, writing it out by hand, and learning to read it fluently and with expression. By the end of this process, students genuinely felt that a chosen poem was "theirs."
The Poetry Fest is just one more way Aguilar students are building their reading skills, but more importantly, their enjoyment of reading!