Area kids at wheel of the 'Poetry Bug'

The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 08, 1999

A Volkswagen Beetle adorned with magnetic poetry was the first sign that Monday wasn't an ordinary afternoon on College Green. Elementary and middle school students running around playing "poetry tag" was another.

Kelly Writers House, in conjunction with the Center for Community Partnerships and a volunteer group called the Goldsmith Coordinators, held a poetry day for local schools Monday to celebrate National Poetry Month.

About 100 first, third and fourth grade students from Samuel Powel Elementary School, Charles Drew School, and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw Middle School had the chance to learn about poetry beyond the classroom as the "Poetry Bug," a Volkswagen making a national tour sponsored by Magnetic Poetry, made its first Philadelphia stop.

"Instead of sitting in a classroom they can run around and play with words," said College senior Karyn Daley, an assistant at the Writers House.

The sponsors of the event divided College Green into four stations at which the students took turns participating in poetry activities, including forming poems out of the magnetic words that covered the white Volkswagen Beetle.

Penn's campus is only one of the stops the "Poetry Bug" will make. Two employees sporting white lab coats and calling themselves Emergency Metaphor Technicians are taking the bug on a tour of the Northeast and then to Canada. The EMTs also led many of the poetry activities with the students.

After writing poems like, "The butterfly flew through the night," on the car, students then played poetry tag, a game in which they had to scream out an adjective and a noun before getting caught.

At a third station, students sat down to listen to Puerto Rican poet Victor Hernandez Cruz, who read a few poems from his books Red Beans and Panoramas before helping the students write poems of their own.

"I tried to read poems with strong images rather than conceptual poems," Cruz said. "These poems are better for this age group."

The final event was called "Hodgy Podgy," in which students clapped their hands and took turns adding words to jointly create a poem.

"So far my favorite thing was Hodgy Podgy," said Montanee Pornmukda, a Powel fourth grader. "We got to make up poems and they let us say wacky words."

The students also received poetry tattoos, snacks and goodie bags as they left. The University Bookstore even donated enough picture books for every student who took part in the event.

"This activity was a nice way to bind the community and the University," said Paula Benner, site coordinator of the Powel School.

Other organizers pointed to the potential benefits for the youngsters themselves.

"I think this event is a great way for the kids to have fun with language and fun with words," Kelly Writers House Director Kerry Sherin said. "I see them growing up to be undergraduate writers who will work with other kids."