National Poem in Your Pocket Day

Did you know there’s a holiday called National Poem in Your Pocket Day? Until yesterday, I had no idea. But today, I’m so glad for it. After hearing of the mini-holiday from a colleague and from this NPR story, I decided to celebrate it in my classroom. Never mind that I wore an outfit with no pockets. I still had poems.

From what I can see, the purpose of Poem in Your Pocket Day is to celebrate the joy of sharing a favorite poem. For me, the poem that first came to mind was Billy Collins’ “On Turning Ten,” which is as follows:

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins always gets me with a surprise punch in the stomach. That last stanza just kills me!

And while “On Turning Ten” is one of my favorite poems, this video of 3-year-old Samuel Chelpka reciting Collins’ poem “Litany” will probably be my favorite poetry performance until I die. Or until I have a child of my own who willingly recites poetry. Whichever comes first.

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As a follow-up to Poem in Your Pocket Day, I’m hoping to have my students collaborate on a “Litany”-style poem. Each student will list an image or sensory experience that makes life wonderful for them — something simple such as “the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine.” From there we will arrange the students’ lines into a poem that follows the format of Collins’ “Litany.” While it won’t be the most original poem in the world, I am hoping it will be beautiful in a way that surprises students who are quick to say, “Poetry? I don’t like it.”

Related reading: “Love of words brings child, poet together

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One response to “National Poem in Your Pocket Day

  1. I have to watch the video immediately and I love the Billy Collins poem! You, my friend, are one fine teacher (in every sense)!

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