Discovery #1 (First in a series in honor of my OLW for 2015: discover.)
How do you decide on which poem to share on Fridays? Does a poem you’ve read during the week resonate so much that it must be shared? Do you write an original poem based on an event or an emotion from the previous week? If you’re like me, the answer is yes and yes. In other words, it depends. But what about those weeks when nothing strikes you, or life in general is so hectic you haven’t had time to sit down and write much of anything that’s worthy of sharing? When this happens to me, as it often does, I head over to Anita Silvey’s excellent blog, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. In a sidebar, Anita offers tidbits such as this: “It’s Bubble Bath Day.” (Now there’s a topic for a poem!) By checking Anita’s blog on Wednesday (you can skip ahead to see what’s coming up), I discovered that today is Connecticut’s birthday. My home state was admitted to the United States on this date in 1788.
Not knowing any poems about Connecticut off the top of my head, I Googled “poems about Connecticut” and quickly learned that Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive who lived in Hartford (surely I knew this and had just forgotten), and that Marilyn Nelson is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut and was our state’s Poet Laureate from 2001-2006. How had I missed that!?
I have been a fan of Marilyn Nelson’s poetry from many years. Miss Crandall’s Boarding School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, (Wordsong, 2007) cowritten with Elizabeth Alexander, describes an important piece of Connecticut history and is part of our eighth grade’s Civil Rights unit. A Wreath For Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), Nelson’s haunting, magnificent book-length crown sonnet about the murder of Till in 1955 is also included in this unit. On a previous Poetry Friday, I shared Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009) the story of “the first integrated all-women swing band in the world.”
Nelson’s latest book, How I Discovered Poetry, was published last year to universal acclaim and is on many short lists for the upcoming ALA awards. The images Nelson crafts in these poems are stunning and startling. In one poem, she states that “Our leaves/become feathers./With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins.” Another poem is about a birthday party until the very end when, “a jet/made a sonic boom/like a hammer on an iron curtain.”
In the title poem, Nelson captures that moment when she first glimpsed “the power of words.”
How I Discovered Poetry
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus…
Read the entire poem here.
You can also listen to Ms. Nelson read the poem, as well as several other poems from this lovely book, in an interview that aired last winter on NPR.
Happy Birthday, Connecticut! How lucky we are to count Marilyn Nelson as a citizen of our state!
Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference to discover more wonderful poetry.