|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. And as Bob Dylan's Nobel prize recently reminded us, songs are poetry too.
|19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East|
by Naomi Shihab Nye
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.
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.