Hands on Stanzas

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About the Program | Testimonials | Poets in Residence


About the Program

Watch this video to learn more about our program, and to meet our team and our students, and read more below.


Hands On Stanzas is our creative literacy residency program in Chicago Public Schools. We hire Chicago poets/teaching artists (Poets In Residence) to teach year-long residencies. The poets meet with their classrooms weekly, and publish student work after each session on our Hands On Stanzas school blogs. Each week our poet and students read, write, discuss, and perform poetry. The program improves reading and writing skills, builds confidence, and affirms the voices of young Chicagoans.

Each year, our students show not only an increase in literacy and comprehension, but they self-report increased confidence in reading, writing, and self-expression. Weekly publications of their work help students see the value in their creative thinking and allow them to share their poems with family, teachers, and the community.

Our program provides a number of creative cultural opportunities outside of the classroom as well. Recent opportunities include: our TEAM Englewood students performing in a Teen Poetry Reading at CPL’s beautiful Harold Washington Library, a year-long collaboration the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including out students performing live at the CSO, and a collaboration with the Gwendolyn Brook Centennial celebration.

Every year, we honor our talented students at the All Schools Reading, a final celebration of a year of poetry well done. One student from each residency classroom reads in a beautiful room at the Chicago Cultural Center. Please join us and see our program in action! This year the All Schools Reading happens Wednesday, May 31st, at the Poetry Foundation. (Stay tuned for final details!)


The skeleton of a ladybug.
An elaborate garbage chute leading
to nowhere. Atlantis without
people. My thoughts when I do
my homework. A planet with
1,000,000 moons. A bird with
only wings. An ocean
in the night sky. 10,000
bugs farting under water.
Black ice with veins.
A headless woman wearing
a see-through dress. My hair
at six in the morning. My
dad when I broke his prize possession.

by Jack, 4th Grader, Hands on Stanzas student
(poem inspired by inkblot)

To enquire about Hands On Stanzas in your school, send us a note at info@poetrycenter.org



From the students:

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
Buenda D.

“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
Oscar S.

“Before Hands on Stanzas, I thought poetry was only for rich people and fancy people. Now I think poetry is for all kinds of people. Reading poetry makes me feel like a queen reading a new law. The best part of poetry is when I’m reading to my class, I feel like I’m reading to the whole world.”
Esther C.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
Jessica M

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education:
“Reading the students’ fine and expressive poems is very satisfying. It is so important that our students have the opportunity to experience the challenge and rewards of creative writing. The [Hands on Stanzas] program gives our students a reason to want to write. Thank you for everything you are doing on behalf of our students.”

Dana Gioia, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts: 
“Your organization plays an important role in the arts, especially in arts education with under-resourced schools and neighborhoods. The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to have been able to award a grant toward those programs this year.”

Layla Erzrumly, Teacher, Smyser Elementary:
“I have observed an improvement in [my students’] understanding and better use of voice and figurative language in their writing, as well as in their thinking during class discussions. Thank you for providing us with such a rich program and enthusiastic teaching!”

Jennifer Radosevich, MCLT, Burroughs Elementary:
“The program is helping our students become comfortable and confident among their peers through sharing aloud and poem collaboration, even though many of them are bilingual.”


Poets in Residence

Bryant Cross
Bryant Cross is a teaching artist, mentor, and performance poet based in Chicago, IL. He co-­founded the Transpoetic Playground, an open mic that encourages the intersectionality of identities through the art of poetry. His M.A. in Communications from Southern Illinois University focused on performance and pedagogy, finding ways to align narrative therapy with mentoring young black men on campus. Cross organized The 500 Campaign, a social media campaign which raised awareness of the citizens murdered in the city from gun violence. In 2014, Cross became Chicago’s poetry slam champion and a finalist at the 49th National Poetry Slam. He has been featured twice by Russell Simmons for All Def Poetry and has opened for Saul Williams, Dick Gregory, and more. Bryant Cross continues to use poetry & creative writing to mentor at­-risk youth and train educators in the city of Chicago. His first book is Out of the Asphalt Jungle Smelling like Mild Sauce.

Timothy David Rey
Timothy David Rey is a Chicago-based writer and performer. He attended Indiana University, Bloomington, on The Most Outstanding Author scholarship, from IU’s Department of English where he studied poetry under Pulitzer Prize winner, Yusef Komunyakaa. He is a 2015 Semi-Finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award, and one of the winners of Project Exploration (The Poetry Center of Chicago 2004). He is the co-founder of the LBGT Solo Performance Showcase, Solo Homo (2002-2011). Timothy’s plays and performances pieces have been seen and heard at venues throughout Chicago as well as out of state and he has been interviewed on WBEZ regarding his work. He has taught writing and its performance throughout the city of Chicago and his book of poetry and performance, Little Victories, was published in 2012 by NewTown Writers Press. Among his performance experiences, Timothy has performed locally, in New York City (Fringe, 2004) as well The Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts.

Larry O. Dean
Larry O. Dean was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won three Hopwood Awards in Creative Writing, and Murray State University’s low-residency MFA program. His most recent books include Brief Nudity (Salmon Poetry, 2013), Basic Cable Couplets (Silkworms Ink, 2012), abbrev (Beard of Bees, 2011), and About the Author (Mindmade Books, 2011). Selected magazine publications include Berkeley Poetry Review, Passages North, Big Bridge, Keyhole, OCHO, Heavy Feather Review, and Artichoke Haircut. Also a critically-acclaimed songwriter, Dean has numerous releases to his credit, including Fables in Slang (2001) with Post Office, Gentrification Is Theft (2002) with The Me Decade, and Fun with a Purpose (2009) with The Injured Parties. He was a 2004 recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Award. www.larryodean.com

Rachel Javellana
Rachel Javellana is a poet and teaching artist in the city of Chicago. A Michigan native, she attended Kalamazoo College where she received her degree in English and Creative Writing, and also studied Theater. Rachel facilitates workshops in poetry and performance through such organizations as The Poetry Center of Chicago, Words@Play, Urban Gateways, and Gallery 37 Center for the Arts. Rachel is the 2008 recipient of the Hands on Stanzas Gwendolyn Brooks Award for excellence in teaching. She has been a featured performer in many events around Chicago; co-authored The City, a chapbook of braided poetry; and her poems are forthcoming in The Circus Book.

Kenyatta Rogers
Kenyatta Rogers is a Cave Canem fellow and was the 2012-2013 Visiting Poet in English, at Columbia College Chicago. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. A 2014 Pushcart nominee and 2012 Best of the Net nominee, his work has been previously published in or is forthcoming from Jubilat, Vinyl, Court Green, The Volta, Reverie, Black Tongue Review, Cave Canem Anthology XIII, Columbia Poetry Review among others. He frequently does readings and workshops in and around Chicago where he lives and works as a teaching artist.

Elizabeth Metzger Sampson
Elizabeth Metzger Sampson directs and teaches in the Hands On Stanzas Program. Elizabeth’s creative work is a hybrid of writing and visual art. She has published and shown work in the US, Egypt, and Germany. Before Hands On Stanzas, Elizabeth taught creative practice workshops in Cairo and Sinai, Egypt, taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was editor of the electronic magazine, Dear Navigator.  Elizabeth has been working with the Poetry Center of Chicago for five years, and is currently Executive Director.
Interested in becoming a Poet In Residence?
When a position becomes available, we will announce it via our mailing list, website, social media, and several job posting sites. Resumes submitted while we are not hiring will not be reviewed later. Please join our mailing list to ensure your kept up to date on available positions.