Poetry in The Branches: An Introduction to the Model

Broadsides, Poetry, Poetry NYC

Poetry in The Branches (PITB) is an integrated, multi-layered approach to creating a complete poetry environment in community libraries. The initiative includes a range of complementary pieces within one package. By increasing poetry acquisitions at each site within a context of librarian training and site-specific poetry events, Poetry in The Branches cultivates many different poetry audiences within a neighborhood.

We are living through a golden age for poetry. The revolution in computer technology and desktop publishing has significantly increased the number of self-publishers and small and independent presses. Consequently, there are more poetry books being produced annually than at any other time in our history, with a greater range of voices appearing in print. For example, the Poets House Showcase, our annual barometer of poetry publishing, displayed over 2,000 titles from 767 presses in 2011. There are more poetry readers, and there are more attendees of readings, in a wide range of venues from bars and nightclubs to libraries. National Poetry Month raises the visibility for the art and pique interest around the country annually. Social networking has increased the ability of poets to connect to audiences. We live at a time in which poetry thrives.

Poetry in The Branches serves general readers in new communities, extending the reach of poetry programs that have proved successful at Poets House to other libraries. Poets House designed PITB in 1994 and benefited from the partnership of The New York Public Library (NYPL). In 1995, we received a major grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund to implement it. During the first year in the three original NYPL target sites, Poetry in The Branches caused poetry circulation to triple.

After that small start, Poetry in The Branches expanded in various forms to all three New York City library systems (New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library System), was the subject of several major pre-conferences and panel discussions at American Library Association Conferences, and has gone national. This has been accomplished by the establishment of the Poetry in the Branches National Institute, bringing librarians from around the country to Poets House for a weekend-long poetry intensive. Poets House staff and poets have also frequently been invited to train librarians in their own home states, sponsored by their library systems, often with additional funding from businesses and state Arts and Humanities Councils.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

Poetry in The Branches assists library sites in creating a synergy between books, events, writing workshops and professional training. All of these elements, working together, create multiple audiences at a site. In the original program, Poets House provided the following services at each site annually:

  • at least three public programs for adult patrons;
  • two after-school poetry workshops for young adults (multiple sessions);
  • support services and publicity;
  • a “special needs” budget for each site;
  • assistance in collection development and display; and
  • evaluation.

The program was matched by a commitment on the part of the participating library system to acquire and display new poetry books at each site. Each new site purchased at least $1,000 worth of poetry titles during the course of a project year. Participating sites also agreed to aggressively display poetry books from the collection throughout the project year. Poets House gathered a one-time "seed collection" of forty selected titles at the beginning of the program to create an immediate poetry presence complementary to the initial live events.

In addition, Poets House:

  • provided extensive planning assistance to branch sites;
  • created a name-capture mechanism, building a poetry mailing list for each location;
  • developed support resource materials, project reports and evaluation materials; and
  • facilitated system-wide training for librarians.

The importance of system-wide training for librarians cannot be overemphasized. In this way, PITB librarians become mentors to their peers, and the poetic wealth and learning spread throughout each participating library system.

PROJECT EVALUATION

Whether you work with a literary partner such as Poets House or use this guidebook to tailor services to your own site, evaluation is a critical element in the model. Through rigorous evaluation, you become your own best teacher and learn to adjust the program elements to your site. You also document a track record, which may in turn create deeper support for all your efforts.

In our New York program, quantitative and qualitative evaluations were always integral to Poetry in The Branches. Partners from branch sites submitted two progress reports annually, compiled circulation statistics, and evaluated each poetry event they presented.

SUMMARY

Poetry in The Branches has documented a dramatic relationship between poetry program delivery and readership. And it has also marked a felicitous joining of forces. Through this program Poets House has matched its love for the art of poetry and its expertise in creating a complete poetry environment with the resources of our nation's libraries. This Source Book can be a valuable tool in expanding poetry audiences in your community. And it can provide entrée into a growing national community of poets and librarians who work together to, in the words of Homer, “lift the great song again.”

Questions about Poetry in The Branches can be directed to Reggie Harris at (212) 431-7920 x2842 or reggie@poetshouse.org