The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems by Marilyn Nelson
(Louisiana State University Press, 1997, 224 pages)
If you follow this blog you’ll undoubtedly recall that I’ve been on something of a Marilyn Nelson kick for a little while. This particular collection of poems was a National Book Award finalist in 1997. The main themes in this book revolve around topics like race, love, and marriage, but the poems that spoke to me most were those that were reflections on motherhood. Reading The Fields of Praise I really appreciated getting a better feel for more of Nelson’s work. I’d certainly recommend this collection.
Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson
(Front Street, 2001, 112 pages)
The Nelson kick continues…
I loved this George Washington Carver biography told through poems. I feel like he’s a figure people think they know but he’s done so much more than many realize. I had no idea what his backstory was or all the things that he did. His story is inspiring – this quiet, religious, nature-loving intellectual was dedicated to doing what he could to help improve the lives of farmers through his research. He was also committed to the students at Tuskegee University and worked diligently to see them succeed.
This is a beautiful portrayal of his life that will only encourage you to learn more about him. Not to mention it will inspire you to continue reading the fabulous work of Marilyn Nelson 🙂
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial Books, 2014, 112 pages)
I grabbed How I Discovered Poetry after reading A Wreath for Emmett Till. I was hoping to get more insight into Nelson as a poet and this book seemed like it would offer that. The book is slim and is comprised of 50 poems. We see Nelson progress to young adulthood as the United States is gradually progressing toward racial “equality.”
Born in the 1950s Nelson was the daughter of a military man and her family moved often so not only did she see a lot of the United States, she was regularly the new girl and often one of very few black faces in her classrooms. This memoir in poetry was well done but I came to it expecting a little more depth and detail about her life. I’d eagerly read a prose memoir if she ever chose to write one. I think it’s clear I think she has a way with words 🙂
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005, 48 pages)
This was the book that introduced me to the work of Marilyn Nelson. I was doing some research on the Coretta Scott King Awards and that is how I discovered this title which received an “Award for Author” Honor in 2006. Something about the way it was described compelled me to request it and I found it so incredibly heartbreaking and moving. The art that accompanies the piece was also very well done. At the end of the book there is an explanation of the poems (something Nelson does regularly and which is a feature I love) in addition to an explanation of the art.
This poem tells the story of Emmett Till’s murder while also reminding the reader of his humanity – it’s so easy to just hear the name, remember the story, and not think about him as a boy living in the world, as a son, as a man who didn’t get the chance to grow up. A Wreath for Emmett Till is aimed at younger readers and I think it powerfully combines history and poetry in a way that quickly captures the reader’s attention. This is one of those books that will find its way to my permanent book collection so I have it on hand when my daughter is old enough to read it. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” it given the subject matter, but it was beautifully done and led me down a Marilyn Nelson path for which I am so grateful.
Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey
(Ecco, 2017, 64 pages)
I don’t remember what poem jumped out to me initially as I flipped through, but there was something about the language in this book that compelled me to check it out rather than allow it to be re-shelved. Sealey is the Executive Directer at the Cave Canem Foundation and I always try to stay on top of the poetry they spotlight and the prizes they award. A collection by the Executive Director was surely going to find a place in my hands.
Her work in Ordinary Beast was accessible, thoughtful, and creative. There were more than a few poems that I had to stop and reflect on. Not to mention Sealey’s poetry had me going out of my way to look things up so I could better understand various references and what she was trying to spotlight in some of her poems. When a poet can inspire you to delve deeper, you know you’re in good hands.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
(HarperTeen, 2018, 368 pages)
I was first exposed to Elizabeth Acevedo through her spoken word poetry and I kind of fell in love with her. When I found out she was going to be publishing a book I immediately put it on my “to-read” list so I was pumped when I got the chance to read an advanced reader copy of the title. Unsurprisingly, this is a novel written in verse. The “chapters” are short but pack a punch. It’s easy to want to read quickly but at the same time you appreciate what Acevedo can do with language.
The story follows Xiomara as she enters her Sophomore year in high school. Her mother is pushing her to get confirmed but Xiomara finds herself questioning if she actually has any faith. In the midst of this she’s also finding herself interested in a classmate, even though dating is strictly prohibited. One of the ways Xiomara channels her thoughts and feelings is by writing poetry in the journal her twin got her. This poetry is where she is truly free to express what is really going on within her. When she’s asked to join a slam poetry club as school she starts to realize that maybe she doesn’t need to keep her voice confined to the pages of her journal…
I really enjoyed this and think it will do well when it’s officially released in March. I strongly encourage anyone to check out her work. And if you’re into YA, poetry, and appreciate the written word you’ll tear through this novel.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
(Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 457 pages)
Saying goodbye is never easy.