Several weeks ago, I happened across a review of Marilyn Nelson's new memoir, HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY. Nelson, an English professor and poet laureate from Connecticut, is also the author of several young adult novels, including CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS, A WREATH FOR EMMITT TILL, and one of my favorite dog stories, SNOOK ALONE. She's also written more than twenty volumes of adult poetry. You can read some of her poetry on her website.
Marilyn Nelson's father was a Tuskegee Airman and her mother was a teacher. HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY follows the family's travels across the country, from Maine to California, from Texas to Oklahoma to Colorado, through Marilyn's childhood, during the 1950's. It's a perfect middle and high schoolbook for a study on the Civil Rights era, African American history. You could also use it in a memoir study. Or you could just read and reread and enjoy it, like I did last Saturday afternoon.
"How I Discovered Poetry"
(Clinton-Sherman AFB, Oklahoma, 1959)
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 bourne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she'd chosen especially
to read to the all-except-for-me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo-playing,
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.
If you want to know more about Marilyn Nelson, here is her website.
Margaret is hosting Poetry Friday at Reflections on the Teche.