Marilyn Nelson, Poetry and Prejudice

Novels and Biographies in Verse!

Sometimes we are moved by a whole collections of poems and sometimes the power of one poem causes us to pause, to wonder over. I would like to share the beginning of this poem by Arnold Adoff:
“… t r u e   change   is always   too   slow
and   o u r   b e s t   hopes   rest   with
s t e a d y
beyond   our   own   times

the   t r u e   revolutions    h a p p e n
within  the  covers  of our  best books
inside the noises of words with words
inside the movements of reading eyes….”


We are familiar with the telling of story through ballads, either sung or recited. Another story form of poetry is the novel in verse. Novels in verse are an accessible way to look at emotional issues, such as Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes. Biographies in verse can be arrow-sharp poignant as well as informative. Try any of the biographies written by Marilyn Nelson: A Wreath for Emmett Till; Carver: A Life In Poems or for an older reader, Marilyn Nelson’s own “in-verse biography:”  How I Discovered Poetry.  Marilyn Nelson’s work can be described with every superlative. Read her poetry and be transported. Poetry’s rhythms and sounds sing emotionally to a reader. The metaphors create connections which create meaningful information.marilyn_nelson_2

A recent novel in verse, WHERE THE STEPS WERE, by Andrea Cheng is contemporary and told in alternate voices of five students in Miss D’s third grade. A racist incident ignites strong reactions but students unite and work together with the guidance of their teacher. The fast, contemporary free verse makes this an excellent selection for readers’ theater. Andrea Cheng’s black-and-white woodcuts show additional images about the tough world in which these kids live. WHERE THE STEPS WERE reminds one of the verse-novel by Walter Dean Myers’ HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY VOICES though Myers’ is for an older readership.

And more, more, more excellent novels in verse that are especially accessible to readers who like spare words and that extra white space on the pages:

My Book of Life by Angel written by Martine Leavitt

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Newbery Honor; National Book Award)

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Carver: A Life In Poems by Marilyn Nelson or for an older reader, Marilyn Nelson’s own “in-verse biography:”  How I Discovered Poetry  Marilyn Nelson’s work is every superlative. Read her poetry and be transported.

Bronzeville Boys and Girls by  Gwendolyn Brooks

Dream Keepers & other Poems by Langston Hughes

Something special to do on a summer day, read a poem.

Recite a poem.

Write a poem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *