Monday, November 21, 2016

Giving Thanks for Poetry ~ by Christy Mihaly

Detail from the cover of Words, a novel by Ginny L. Yttrup
Have you felt overwhelmed by words this month? I have. We’ve heard words of hope and hate, of exhilaration and anguish, words of vision, words of violence. We’ve been reminded how powerful words can be, and how important.

NYC sign advertising a post-election pop-up poetry reading
In this season of giving thanks, I'm appreciating the words of poetry. A poem or song speaks directly to the heart. Poetry and music can heal divisions and bring people together. Let's do poetry!

Last week, I heard Kwame Alexander speak. (He was featured at the Children's Literature of New England meeting here in Vermont.) He read poems, told stories, and shared his dreams. He told us how his daughter recited poetry when she felt sad, so she wouldn't cry. 

He told us about a group of boys he'd taught in prison. At first these young inmates were skeptical about poetry. Then he read them a poem. Once they realized that poetry wasn’t the stuffy or artificial thing they’d believed it to be, the boys poured their hearts onto the page.

At its best, poetry transforms us. In poems, we can share truths that might otherwise be too difficult to hear, or say. Amid the widespread post-election calls for listening, for being open to the points of view of others, for defending our fundamental values—let’s remember poetry. Whether you read it aloud, sing it, recite it silently to yourself, or write your own, there’s no better time to celebrate poetry. 

I'm sharing a few poetry ideas here for teachers and writers, and especially for young people. 

Poetry reminds us of universal truths

From the centuries-old poems of the Persian mystic Rumi, to Shakespeare’s masterpieces, to modern poets from around the world, poetry can deepen our understanding of other peoples, times, and cultures. 

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
by Naomi Shihab Nye

And as Bob Dylan's Nobel prize recently reminded us, songs are poetry too.

Poetry gives young people a powerful voice

Many schools and organizations foster poetry for young people. Poetry Out Loud encourages them to memorize and recite poetry aloud. At poetry slams around the country, teens compete and share their poetry out loud. I've been following a group of teens calling themselves Muslim Girls Making Change. This youth-led group recently represented Vermont at the national poetry slam. Their slam poetry reflects their thoughts and feelings on a range of subjects, from high school to the hijab.
YouTube image
Young people interested in social justice can participate in programs such as Split This Rock, harnessing poetry to fight poverty and make the world a better place.

And always, poetry comforts and gives us hope

Poetry can be a comfort in dark times and a joy in times of happiness. In addition to poets mentioned above, I've often turned to Mary Oliver, William Carlos Williams, David Budbill, and Billy Collins. And so many others! Check out the Poetry Foundation website for more ideas and poems.

I’d love to hear about readers’ favorite poems and poets. Feel free to leave comments below. 
Happy Thanksgiving, and Peace, to all.


  1. What a beautiful post! Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost sooth me. I also like Billy Collins.

  2. Wonderful post, Chris! In light of all the stuff of recent months,poetry creates an outlet for us to read, listen, enjoy, and create.

  3. Thank you! I should read some poetry soon...

    By the way, I read Words (the novel's image is featured at the top) years ago. I don't remember details, but it was a good book!

  4. A timely and inspiring post, Chris. Thank you for reminding us of the value of our words.

  5. Thank you,Chris. My favorite line:
    "Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life"
    From the poem THE SUMMER DAY by Mary Oliver.
    Also enjoy Wendell Berry, and John Fox. I was fortunate to meet Naomi Shihab Nye several times.

    1. That is my favorite line from Mary Oliver, too, Janie.

  6. Thank you, Chris for this excellent post. Sharing two of my favorite poems:

    By Walter de la Mare

    As long as I live
    I shall always be
    My Self - and no other,
    Just me.

    Like a tree.

    Like a willow or elder,
    An aspen a thorn,
    Or a cypress forlorn.

    Like a flower,
    For its hour
    A primrose, a pink,
    Or a violet -
    Sunned by the sun, And with dewdrops wet.

    Always just me.

    By A. A. Milne

    No one can tell me,
    Nobody knows,
    Where the wind comes from,
    Where the wind goes.

    It's flying from somewhere
    As fast as it can,
    I couldn't keep up with it,
    Not if I ran.

    But if I stopped holding
    The string of my kite,
    It would blow with the wind
    For a day and a night.

    And then when I found it,
    Wherever it blew,
    I should know that the wind
    Had been going there too.

    So then I could tell them
    Where the wind goes…
    But where the wind comes from
    Nobody knows.

    And here's a link to some great poetry resources including a list of poems for adults and children:


  7. Got Poetry?

    With this post we surely do.
    Appreciations, Chris!

    To answer your question, I love any poem or poet that strikes an emotion in me.
    It's so similar to my reaction to visual art or to an orchestral performance or other
    music event.
    I read Maya Angelou & Langston Hughes & many many others.
    A place I often post my poetry preferences & learn of poems new to me or renew
    a connection to poets I haven't read in some time is the online world called
    It is part of the Kidlitosphere. And searching those terms can bring you to it.

  8. Thank you for this post, Christy. Poetry is my 'go to' reading (and listening) when I'm feeling unsettled. I will often check out a recording of a collection of poems to play in the car while commuting - I arrive at my destination in a relaxed and reflective state of mind.