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Professor Lindsay Illich Brings Contemporary Poetry to High School English Students with New Book, “Teach Living Poets”

Professor Lindsay Illich Brings Contemporary Poetry to High School English Students with New Book, “Teach Living Poets”
March 24, 2021


Faculty Accomplishments

Outside of her work teaching creative writing and leading Curry's Writing Program, Professor Lindsay Illich is a published poet. Her most recent poetry collection, Fingerspell, was published by Black Lawrence Press in November. 

This month, she's released a new book with the National Council of Teachers of English to help high school teachers integrate contemporary poetry within their English curriculum. "Even for English teachers, poetry is a little intimidating, and we wanted to write this book to inspire and support them." 

Moreover, Illich was motivated to write the new book to help inspire a love for literature and language among young students and hopes they discover the treasure of contemporary poetry, a joy she found only as a college student. "Being introduced to the world of contemporary poetry as an undergraduate and graduate student was a revelation. I remember thinking that it was unfair that this secret had been kept from me," says Illich. 

"The work that was being published contemporaneously was exciting: it was written in familiar language about the world that I recognized as my own. As a creative writing professor, I make sure to include lots of contemporary poetry for this reason,” she adds. “I want students to see what writers are doing with the language at this moment in time. And generally, the reaction from students is similar to my own as an undergraduate: why have we been kept from the good stuff?"

As co-author of the new book, Teach Living Poets, Illich is bringing the 'good stuff' to high school English students across the country. A significant part of NCTE's service to its 35,000 members is its program of books and journals. 

"To make these publications possible, NCTE relies on the voluntary investment of time and knowledge by committed professionals like Professor Illich across the nation. We are thus very grateful for her efforts in making this book a valuable contribution to the profession," says Bonny Graham, senior editor, books program, NCTE. 

The new book opens up the world of contemporary poetry to secondary teachers, giving advice on reading contemporary poetry, discovering new poets, and inviting living poets into the classroom, as well as sharing sample lessons, writing prompts, and ways to become an engaged member of a professional learning community. The #TeachLivingPoets approach, which has grown out of the vibrant movement and community founded by high school teacher Melissa Alter Smith and has been co-developed by Illich, offers rich opportunities for students to improve critical reading and writing, opportunities for self-expression and social-emotional learning, and, perhaps the most desirable outcome, the opportunity to fall in love with language and discover (or renew) their love of reading.

"Beyond engagement and opportunities for expression, contemporary poetry better reflects the diverse culture we live in," says Illich. "Including the work of contemporary poets in the curriculum offers more students the opportunity to see themselves represented in the texts they read. Our book is part of a larger movement, a burgeoning network of anti-racist educators who have made it their mission to bring more contemporary literature into the classroom."

More than anything, Illich is grateful for the opportunity to share her joy for contemporary poetry with others.

"I enjoyed curating the poems and writing the chapters on reading contemporary poetry," adds Illich. "Working on this book, I felt the joy that comes when you watch years of study and thought become a thing in the world, the joy of using your gifts to shape the world for the better. It's the joy of sharing what you love with others."