This is a copy of the handout I used for an August 1999 YA Showcase presentation about Teen Poetry Night:

You Too Can Make Your Meeting Room into a Cool Coffeehouse for a Teen Poetry Night Program!

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I had worked with three other staff members for 2 years advising our young adult library board, and during that time I had read an article in the April 1998 issue of VOYA about a Teen Poetry Night held in a library in Maryland. The poetry night came to mind when I became responsible for creating programming for the teens and I thought it would be even more fun if we held it in a coffeehouse atmosphere. I presented the coffeehouse poetry reading idea to the YA board and they immediately loved it and brainstormed with me how it should look. The best timing was National Poetry Month in April but we were celebrating National Library Week that month with programs in other departments, so the logical thing was to let this program celebrate both events for the teen patrons.


One of my objectives in our county was to get more interaction between the schools and the public library, so I contacted the school librarians with the letter inside your handout packet. They had been helpful with a previous program, seeing that the right teachers got the information. Included was a letter to the English teachers and a bookmark master, also in your packet. In the letter to the teachers, I suggested offering extra credit for attendance and or reading, and decided that the teens could read their own original poetry or a favorite poem, so teens that didn‘t feel they could write could still participate. I made page sized posters that would fit on bulletin boards in classrooms and school libraries easily. Members of the YA board wrote and read ads on the school announcements. I also displayed a poster and bookmarks at the main desk and in the YA room. After the initial contact with the schools to get the publicity started, I worked on creating a coffeehouse atmosphere.


Small tables were important to get a café look , so I borrowed card tables from staff and YA board members. I spent some time thinking on tablecloths but when I found rolls of brown Kraft paper in our library display materials and had received a large supply of markers in a Naeir* shipment, a flash of inspiration struck me that the tables would make a good doodling and writing surface. We also had a box of little candles from Naeir and it took just a few minutes to wrap twine around each to make them match the table coverings. Other things that enhanced the coffee shop idea were a menu of beverages, a coffee mug for the markers, a poetry book, napkins, and mechanical pencil favors (also from Naeir). The table art the teens created was too interesting to throw away so I cut around the artwork and applied it to the counter in the YA room with contact paper, with a label saying it was art from Teen Poetry Night. This has sparked more interest in the program from other teens.


The next thing was how to treat the walls. We had a stack of ALA’s celebrity READ posters so I hung 10 of those up and used them for door prizes. The teens loved them. One of the teen board members knew where she could borrow a black photographer’s curtain, so we suspended that on dowels from the ceiling to create a backdrop for the readers. I also hung page size posters of familiar lines of poetry on the walls.

*NAEIR is a nonprofit organization that collects and processes donations of new, top quality merchandise from American corporations, then redistributes those goods to qualified schools and nonprofits across the United States.


We played jazz CDs when the teens were arriving and during a break for restroom and beverage refills. A YA board teen asked a fellow band member at her school who played bongos to come and provide a little beatnik atmosphere.


I used a portable display board and a table to show internet sites, library books, handouts and bookmarks about writing and publishing poetry. The handouts with internet sites are included in your packet.


The idea for a poetry board I gleaned from last spring’s conference and is a variation on the popular magnetic poetry sets. To adapt for the space I have available, I used a piece of plywood with spare carpet tacked on and bookbinder tape around the edges. This made a portable but sturdy board to use at the program and to move into the YA room afterwards. The words I typed up on the computer in a large Comic sans font, cut apart, and laminated with contact paper and stuck the hook side of velcro on the back. The poetry board has had some thoughtful poems and also some funny phrases on it from day to day and was a fun activity at the program.


The Friends of the Library donated $50 for refreshments but I spent only $30. on individual packets of cappuccino, coffees, teas, cocoas, and flavored creamers, whipped cream, and styrofoam cups. Napkins and paper plates came from Naeir. I brewed one pot of plain coffee so they could try the flavored creamers. I used a big coffeemaker for hot water for the packets. The refrigerator was stocked with sodas. The YA board signed up at a meeting to provide an assortment of cookies. The teens served themselves in the meeting room kitchen, rummaging through a basket of assorted packets, the refrigerator and the cookie trays.


As the teens arrived, I asked them to sign in on a numbered list on a clipboard with their name, grade, teacher and school. This list served several purposes. It was a record of who was there so I could send notes to the teachers for the students to get their extra credit. They could get a beverage, wander around looking at the displays, play with the poetry board and visit before we all settled down to listen when I turned off the music. I took a few minutes to welcome everyone, explain how I was drawing numbers for their turns, and we started. I had prepared numbered slips ahead of time, which I drew randomly for order of reading so no one was put on the spot to volunteer. As I drew a number, I referred to the list to call a name. No one was required to read, but over half the teens did and much of it was original poetry. The audience was so quiet and respectful of the readers and applauded generously with clapping and finger snapping for each reader. The numbers were all thrown back in for the door prize drawing at the end.


44 of the 48 teens that attended were high school students, largely due to the extra credit their teachers offered. When the program was over, many kids asked for a coffeehouse every month! A teacher called the next afternoon and said he couldn’t administer a test because his students were so excited and chatty about the coffeehouse. The only changes I will make for the next one is to provide more sodas and skip the teas. It turned out to be a warm evening and while the cappuccinos and flavored coffees were popular, the sodas were all gone by the end of the program. I am now planning a coffeehouse for Teen Read Week with a music talent show for the Reading Rocks theme. I will follow this same basic plan, contacting the choir and band directors and displaying music books and internet sites.

More poetry night ideas from Teen Poetry Night 2001...

Poetry Machine
Make alphabet cards (one letter on each card) and pass around 2 or more to each player. Write the first line of a poem on a flip chart for all to see. The teens at each table work together to add a line to the poem using words that begin with the letters on their cards. You may add whatever rules you like for form and rhyme, adding free articles and conjunctions, etc. I numbered the tables and drew the numbers to decide which table went next so it was very impromtu. You can write the last line if you need to make the number of lines even. Our poem began Twas Teen Poetry Night at the library... and had to rhyme in couplets. Expect major silliness!

Name That Poet
Gather portraits of classical poets and mount them in a collage on a poster. Number each picture. Make a form with the name of each poet and a blank before each name to write the number of the portrait. The object is to match the face with the name. Have the teens exchange forms for "grading" and hand out prizes for the most correct answers. I had saved portraits from the vertical file but you can also download them from the Internet. Coffee mugs were popular prizes.

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©2012, 2001 RoseMary Honnold.