5 Ways to Celebrate National Read Aloud Day with Poetry
February 1st marks National Read Aloud Day, an annual day that encourages readers to take their passion from silent to outspoken. You might typically read in your head, but National Read Aloud Day makes a case for the opposite: sharing your words with others.
Though we can benefit from reading all genres aloud, poetry just might be the best fit for this literary tradition. Pioneering figures like Shakespeare and John Milton wrote verse that was intended to be acted out in front of an audience, establishing poetry’s theatrical and communal roots. Furthermore, poetry’s particular focus on sound play—including devices like alliteration, assonance, meter, and many different types of rhyme—makes it rhythmic and pleasing to the ear. Think about the widespread popularity of poetry readings and the importance of having work read aloud in a workshop. Suddenly, it’s easy to see that poetry has always emphasized the importance of making your voice heard. Here are five ways to do just that.
- Go to an open mic night or slam poetry event.
Slam poetry and open minds bring a modern edge to the genre by infusing poetry with aspects of entertainment and performance. Spoken word poetry, which was popularized in the 20th century, allows listeners to hear and relate to the emotion behind a piece, whether that’s joy, despair, or rage. The art form also shows the political and social power of reading aloud, as performance poetry has often served as a catalyst to create social change. Find spoken word poetry events near you by using the search tool from the Academy of American Poets, scanning Facebook and Eventbrite, or just doing a quick Google search. From New York City to L.A. and everywhere in between, slam poetry communities have popped up in just about every U.S. city. Bonus: National Read Aloud Day is just the beginning. Check out our tips for improving your work and getting your start in the slam poetry community.
- Volunteer to read to kids, seniors, and others who need the power of words.
Studies show that not only does reading to a child enhance their cognitive abilities, but it also boosts their sense of empathy and their emotional well-being. And it doesn’t take long to achieve these results—just reading to a child for 30 minutes a day over time can lead to notable improvements. With this in mind, consider honoring the idea behind National Read Aloud Day by finding an opportunity near you to read to kids in schools, libraries, or at community events. Other populations—such as adults in literacy tutoring or seniors in a long-term care community—can also benefit from this type of volunteering.
- Host your own poetry book club or literary salon.
Taking time to read aloud with friends can be an intimate, affirming experience that deepens your bond. A poetry book club can take several different forms: Revisit a favorite collection, pull a recommendation from the National Book Awards list, or have everyone you invite bring a favorite poem that’s played a significant role in their life. Coming together to share these words takes the typically solitary experience of poetry and makes it more social. Plus, check out our list of poetry and cocktail pairings for a fun, themed twist.
- Participate in a writing workshop.
Workshopping a poem typically begins by reading it aloud yourself or hearing someone else read it aloud. This lets you know how each word is working or not working together to illustrate images, establish a rhythm, create the idea of a speaker, and more. Participating in a writing workshop to celebrate National Read Aloud Day will not only help you appreciate the beauty of your own poetry, but it will also help you enhance it.
- Surprise a friend or family member with a poetry-inspired voicemail.
The last suggestion on this list is simple and sweet, showcasing that you don’t need to have a lot of time to make the power of literature known. The previous poet laureate project Healing Verse Philly Poetry Line made national news by letting people call in and hear a 90-second poem each Monday. Focusing on poems with hopeful themes, this project inspired both Philly residents and poetry lovers throughout the country. Take inspiration from this and similar efforts by sharing a favorite poem on a friend or family member’s voicemail. Is there a poem that reminds you of them, or an encouraging message that you think they need to hear? A voicemail like this, in honor of National Read Aloud Day, can make a big and unexpected impact.
Though National Read Aloud Day is only one day out of the year, reading aloud can become a monthly, weekly, or even daily ritual. As the day wraps up, consider how reading aloud today felt differently than reading silently. How did it begin to transform your relationship to poetry?