National Poetry Month activities at WSU Libraries

By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries

Poetry-open-mic-100PULLMAN, Wash. – One of Lorena O’English’s favorite poems from her “misspent youth” is a cautionary tale about two maiden sisters, one of whom falls under the spell of goblin merchants selling fruit too good to be true. Only the strength of her sister’s love saves her.

Creepiness factor aside, “Goblin Market,” composed by English poet Christina Rossetti and published in 1862, is partly why O’English, social services librarian at Washington State University Libraries, has helped to organize events that celebrate National Poetry Month every April for eight years.

“We’re celebrating poets as creators,” O’English said. “So we want students and others facing the stress of finals and the end of the school year to stop, take a break and be creative too.”

Poetry open mic reading in Terrell Atrium in 2009. (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)

O’English, instruction librarian Holly Luetkenhaus, humanities librarian Erica Nicol and graphic designer Amy Grey have planned three poetry-related activities for the rest of the month and early May: Poem in Your Pocket Day on Wednesday, April 23; Dada Poem Day on Wednesday, April 30; and Spine Poetry Day on Wednesday, May 7. All events take place in the WSU Libraries’ new book area on the Terrell Atrium first floor.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Poem in Your Pocket Day started in New York City in 2002 as a way for people to copy and share short poems with one another, O’English said. The Academy of American Poets picked it up in 2008. When O’English noticed a full-page ad for the event in the New York Times in 2006, she decided to bring the celebration to the WSU Libraries.

“I print out ‘poems to go’ and make them available at the Holland and Terrell libraries, along with a selection of poetry from our collection,” she said. “The libraries has an excellent collection of poetry – chapbooks, anthologies and long-form works, such as Seamus Heaney’s widely admired translation of ‘Beowulf.’ I always try to make sure a few poems connected to the academic experience are also included.”

Poem in Your Pocket Day also affords an opportunity to see the collection of former WSU English professor Ruth Slonim, a poet who strongly advocated for literature on campus and helped bring in many notable writers to lecture, O’English said.

To get the most out of the day, O’English suggests the following: take two poems for your pocket and that of a friend; post a poem on Twitter (#pocketpoem); write or photocopy a poem and leave copies anonymously all over campus; and leave a copy of your favorite poem in the dullest book you can find as a treat for the next reader.

Dada Poetry Day

The Dada or Dadaist poem sprang from the European avant-garde art movement of the early 20th century. A reaction to the horrors of World War I, the movement embraced all things nonsensical, experimental and surreal. Writing a Dada poem is an exercise in randomness.

O’English has introduced library users to the Dada poem by pointing them to writing instructions ( created by Dadaism co-founder/Romanian poet Tristan Tzara and posting patrons’ own efforts on the libraries’ Facebook page (

A Dada poem, if done properly (or improperly), “…will resemble you,” Tzara wrote in his instructions. “And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.”

Spine Poetry Day

O’English expanded National Poetry Month activities last year with the addition of spine poetry, or photographs of poems created from book titles on the spines of a small tower of books. Examples of spine poetry can be found on Tumblr at

Spine poem by Holly Luetkenhaus, WSU Libraries instruction librarian.

Spine poetry first appeared in 1993 as part of American artist Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project, according to a Book Riot article.

Luetkenhaus, entering into the spirit of the day early, posted her own spine poem on the WSU Libraries’ Facebook page: “Half the Battle/In Quest and Crisis/Moving Out Into the World/Feeling Like Crap.”

A last stanza

“Goblin Market,” that long-ago poem that helped to forge a lifetime love of poetry for O’English, may be a tribute to the bonds of sisterhood, but one stanza could very well apply to poetry:

For there is no friend like a sister (poem)
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
Lorena O’English, WSU Libraries social sciences librarian, 509-335-2695,
Holly Luetkenhaus, WSU Libraries instruction librarian, 509-335-4667,
Erica Nicol, WSU Libraries humanities librarian, 509-335-8614,
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744,


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