Today I was checking out at a favorite bookstore when this book caught my eye:
This is a children’s book, yes? The author, Kwame Alexander, and the illustrator, Ekua Holmes, are Newbery Award winners and Caldecott Award winners, respectively, both awards being given in children’s literature.
But – I could not resist it. As I leafed through the book, the bright illustrations captured me. The premise of the book – poems celebrating poets – stole my imagination. Poets celebrating poets! What an amazingly beautiful idea!
Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda … William Carlos Williams … Billy Collins (and others). It was the including of a Billy Collins poem that cinched it for me. I love the other poets, too, but Billy Collins is like the poet on a mission to get people to like poetry. I just love his poem “Introduction to Poetry” – primarily because it is just so true (have you seen it?):
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
but all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
– Billy Collins
This book, Out of Wonder, takes each poet and writes a new poem in honor of that poet. Here is the very first poem in the book, “How to Write a Poem” by Kwame Alexander:
How to Write a Poem / celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye
Grab a pencil
Let loose your heart –
raise your voice.
What if I have many voices?
Let them dance together
twist and turn
like best friends
in a maze
till you find
to that one true word
– Kwame Alexander.
Which poem is better? It doesn’t really matter . . . Because I am going to write my OWN poem, about how to write a poem, AND how to read a poem. Wait here; I’ll be right back!
Are you still there? Good! Here it is:
They told me the class meets here
but all I see is a forest of green trees
and a lake of blue water.
They said, read the first poem in the book
but all I read were the patterns in the clouds
and drops of dew on the blades of grass.
They told me I needed to write a poem
but all I wrote was the love
tattooed on my heart,
for the grass
and for you.
– Theresa Barker
Do you ever write poems “in the style of” a favorite poet? Or maybe you have tried writing prose in the manner of a well-known or favorite author: Hemingway, Woolf, Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler. Ursula LeGuin. How does it feel? Do you learn something from it?
And, do you ever lie outside in the grass and read the patterns in the clouds or count the dewdrops? You may be writing poetry when you do!
(Happy National Poetry Month!)