Spreading the Word

Poetry and the Survival of Community in America

Spreading the Word

Book Pages: 168 Illustrations: Published: March 1995

Author: Ross Talarico

Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry, Pedagogy and Higher Education, Sociology

In 1985 poet Ross Talarico began a grassroots program in creative expression in Rochester, New York. As the program came together, so did the community—young and old, poor and privileged, even those who could not read or write but wanted to tell their stories. This book is a testimony to the poetry that experience produced. An exhilarating account of a successful experiment in promoting community self-expression, Spreading the Word interweaves the participants’ stories with Talarico’s own life, his struggle as a poet, and the drama of his workshops. The book will be both a resource and an inspiration for teachers of writing, writers, and those who simply wish to learn to write.
Drawing on his workshops in Rochester, Talarico describes a unique approach for eliciting poetry from people of many ages and backgrounds—particularly underpriviledged urban kids and the elderly. The process—from dialogue to self-expression to publication to public event—illuminates the urgency and meaning of releasing the spirit captured in each man and woman and child’s experience. "Some people say that Ross Talarico has done the impossible," the Today Show remarked of his success in Rochester; and with this book Talarico offers the same opportunity to others. Teachers, community leaders, parents, and children will be able to follow his practical, hands-on approach to encouraging self-expression in diverse, even unlikely, settings. They will see here how poetry is indeed relevant, ever more crucial to our identity as the culture evolves—how it is, finally, the place where the inarticulate can come to speak for themselves.


“An exhilarating account of a grassroots writing program that the author set up in Rochester, NY, involving the entire community. Talarico interweaves that story with writing assignments, autobiographical passages, and commentary on the role of poetry in contemporary America.” — Teachers and Writers

"Congratulations to Ross Talarico and the City of Rochester for motivating young people and stimulating the interest of the whole community in vital matters of literacy and literature." — Barbara Bush

"Ross Talarico has a rare talent: he captures the inner thoughts of ‘ordinary’ people and reveals their extraordinary visions." — Studs Terkel

"Ross Talarico’s work is beautiful and moving." — Candice Bergen

"Talarico’s book has a big heart. Its great driving force is the urgency of personal experience. And its message is an important one: that we in America are losing touch with each other as individuals, as social classes, and as races partly because of our gradual loss of ownership of our language." — Ron Padgett, Teachers & Writers Collaborative

"There are too few books in which the mysterious power of poetry in the lives of everyday people becomes apparent. Talarico’s is a little American classic." — David Shapiro, author of After a Lost Original


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Price: $23.95

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Ross Talarico is Professor of Writing and Communications and Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at National University, San Diego.

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Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 1995 Mina P. Shaughanessy Award, Modern Language Association

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1589-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1562-9
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