Why Poetry Matters in Literacy

This is a blog post by Cyrus Armajani and Helen Christian.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, learners who joined our programs at Education and Literacy Services shared their poetry with us! Poetry celebrates the play of language and the perspective the poet brings to the world. Thus, poetry is a great way to also improve literacy skills.

Poetry has space for English Language Learners (ELLs). Because poems defy rules, they can be easily scaffolded and learners can find ways of expressing their voices with their existing vocabulary. Furthermore, poetry is universal. ELLs can learn about or read poetry in their primary language, helping them bridge worlds. Mimi says, “I wrote this poem when I was fifty years old. Through all these years, I have learned that mood will affect how I feel about myself and my surroundings. Try to stay calm. Life is so precious, we should take each day as a 'present'. I was inspired by Zhuang Zhou.”

Fifty Wisdom

by Mimi


Fifty years I earned

What is life to me today?

What wisdom I learned?

Not too happy Not too sad

Every day is a good day

For youth who are incarcerated poetry matters just as much. When students write, share their writings, and listen to the writings of their fellow writers, they find affirmation that their words and ideas matter — even when locked up, most importantly while locked up. Nate says, "Right now, I'm transitioning. Working towards my goals. I want to be financially secure. Poetry helps me think outside the box and put my thoughts on paper. I hope the reader can visualize where I'm from. I want some people to relate to the poem. I want it to be positive and to uplift people."

My City

by Nate


If you came to my city

you would think a tornado hit the streets

you would see trash and hear sirens

7 days a week

the aroma of weed in the air really wreaks.


Grocery stores, family markets and liquor stores

all have the same thing.

As you walk down the block you feel the hot sun

as you sleep at night you might wake up from the sounds of loud guns.


My city is my home, but I want another one, a home

where I can peacefully reside and go outside to have fun

where you can taste the culture it’s like it’s in the air

where you can touch the rails without it being germs or spit there.


If you came to my city I promise you would be scared

and if you see the homes you would wonder

who wants to live there.

Writing poems doesn’t necessarily change the material conditions of incarceration, but it can change one’s mind. Poetry gives the young writer another language, another tool to fight for freedom, to fight for a better world. Matthew says, "Right now, I feel alone and kind of stuck. Poetry helps distract me and express myself. Poetry challenges me by putting my emotions down on paper, rhyming, and being patient. When people read my poem I hope readers get inspired to keep going. Anything in the past that's holding them back keep striving. No matter how bad it gets."


by Matthew


If my shadow could show

my story it would show a

war all the drama all the

dark nights all the wrongs

all the fights.


My shadow would be hard

to see without any light just

struggle, pain, and lonely nights.


There were times when I

felt small but my shadow

still stood tall.

Let’s celebrate poetry for the voice, freedom, and presence it gives to people, not just as a form of expression, but also as a way to improve our skills, abilities, and ways to take on life’s challenges.