PORTLAND, Maine — Maine teens throughout the state could soon learn how to write poetry from an ideal model — other Maine teens.
A new anthology of poems compiled by student graduates of the Telling Room, a Portland-based literary arts education nonprofit, will be sent to Maine public high schools by April. The youth poetry volume, published last fall under the title “A New Land,” contains 30 original poems by Maine youth graduates of the Telling Room’s writing programs.
With an endorsement from Gov. Janet Mills, the state Department of Education hopes the Maine publication can spur teachers to use poetry in classrooms more often. The agency is providing professional development to Maine teachers to encourage them “to use poetry regularly, not just during April, in their instructional units,” said Morgan Dunton, an English Language Arts specialist with the Maine DOE.
“A New Land” is a sort of “best of collection,” said Molly McGrath, publications director with the Telling Room. Chosen with the help of Maine poet laureate Stuart Kestenbaum and local poets Megan Grumbling, Kifah Abdullah, Gibson Fay-Leblanc and others, it pulls from the nonprofit’s 15 year-history of writing programs in Portland, many of which serve immigrant young people new to Maine, and offers teaching tools and writing prompts after each poem. The volume also contains an introduction by Presidential Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman.
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McGrath has fielded requests from Maine teachers “for years” asking for a poetry anthology. The nonprofit releases an anthology every year, collecting fiction, nonfiction and poetry, but those “are not the most helpful classroom tool for a teacher,” McGrath said.
“Although it’s lovely to have our books in bookstores, our real market is students. To get to them we need to get to their teachers,” McGrath said.
The poetry volume is already inspiring creative use. Ben David Richmond, a music director at the Maine Central Institute, an independent high school in Pittsfield, has assigned “A New Land” as source material for an opt-in competition for hundreds of students composing beat poetry and songwriting. Students will create audio interpretations of the poems.
Richmond said the diverse voices collected in the anthology resonated with him as a teacher at MCI, where “diversity and being a global citizen are key elements” of the school’s guiding philosophy.
In February, a Telling Room writing program for students from diverse international backgrounds received a surprise virtual visit from former President Barack Obama, who told students that “embrac[ing] all the differing parts of their identities…makes you a better writer,” according to Telling Room teacher and alumna Hipai Pamba.