Short on time and money, we found a quick and inexpensive way to celebrate National Poetry Month : offering patrons a poem to take home every day in the month of April.
We created a large display table with books, DVDs and other materials for all ages, and we displayed free signs from the Poetry Foundation. We also created a sign that read, “Don’t forget to get your poem a day!”
Among the materials, I placed brightly colored half sheets of paper printed with a different poem every day.
I wanted to do something for National Poetry Month, which is in April. I didn’t plan ahead far enough or have a budget to do something more expensive. The previous year we had hosted a talk with an Oklahoma poet laureate, but as the system had “paused” programming to review it, I lacked funds. Plus, the time was short, so I couldn’t really market such a program.
I emailed library staff and asked them to send me their favorite poems. Some did. The only limitations I put were “rated G or PG,” able to fit on a 4-by-7 sheet of paper (although I did use front and back for a couple of long ones), and able to be distributed, either by giving appropriate author credit or because the poem is in the public domain.
I sent our local NPR station this message: "In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, get a poem a day! Each day at Ralph Ellison Library in the month of April, you can get a copy of a poem featuring different poets, eras and on various subjects." Fortunately, they read it on the air.
I also had someone from our marketing department put a similar notice on Twitter and the library's website.
This was an inexpensive program. The main costs were paper/computer ink and staff time in selecting 30 poems.
The initial set-up was simply creating the display and having the first poem ready to put out. I always prepared poems a few days in advance, so if I was not available, other staff could put them out.
I was surprised how popular this program was. I thought only a couple of people would take the poems, so I only printed five of each to start. As the month progressed I noticed that some of the papers were disappearing, and people were coming in specifically to get that day’s poem. I kept an eye on the stack and reprinted more as needed throughout the day.
Picking the poems was a lot of fun. On each poem I included a brief blurb about the poet and the source for the poem. Our library serves a lot of African American patrons, and I wanted to pick poets to celebrate that. I also wanted a variety to appeal to all ages and interests.
I selected classic poems and children’s poems, including Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Mother Goose. Since it was April, I picked more poems related to spring and warmer weather. I wasn’t surprised that a Tupac Shakur poem was popular, but so was one called “The Early Bird.” 
Initially, I thought I could keep track of the poems just by seeing what I printed, but I realized I needed a master list. That way I could review what we used, so we could have a good mix.
I have found that people are more likely to pick up something bright and colorful, so I used either colored paper or white paper with colorful illustrations.
One of the most exciting aspects of the event was I had two poems from the community — one from a customer who asked if we’d be interested in her haiku (yes) and one award-winning poem from my nephew. I hope to get more patron-submitted poems next spring. We have a poetry group that meets monthly, and I hope to get them to submit some poems.
Do it! If you're interested in poetry at all, it will be fun thinking of a poem for the day and researching a little about the poet. You can involve staff and community members who want to share their picks.
If you have any other programs during National Poetry Month, this is a nice add-on, or it can be a stand-alone passive program. It is a good chance to create a display to promote your poetry materials for all ages.
About This Library
The Ralph Ellison Library is in northeast Oklahoma City, one of 19 locations part of the Metropolitan Library System. The library opened its current location in 1975 and is named after author Ralph Ellison, who lived in the neighborhood as a boy. This library is located in one of Oklahoma’s historically black neighborhoods and serves a largely African American community. There is heavy computer use as many people in the area lack internet service. The library is middle-sized for the system, with a staff of 14. Circulation of titles is limited, but there are many visitors to the library every day.