Friday, March 24, 2017

LS 5663.20 Review: How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

How I Discovered Poetry
by Marilyn Nelson

Nelson, Marilyn. How I Discovered Poetry. New York: Dial Books, 2014. Print.

Poetic Elements: One of the most interesting things about this book of poetry is that it did not follow many of the typical elements you would find in a poetry book. The book consists of fifty non-rhyming sonnets that are written about events that occurred in Nelson's life from the ages of four to fourteen. While the books are true stories of what occurred in her life, Nelson admits in the Author Note that she preferred to think of the girl in the poems as "speaker" instead of as herself, which seems to tell us even more about Nelson as a person and writer. The poems are short and mostly contained to one page, often to only one stanza as well. If it were not left aligned, it would simply read like a prose story being told, such as in a memoir. The imagery and figurative language does fall in line with that of poetic elements, though. 

Appeal: With this particular book, I believe that there are certain elements that will appeal to young adult readers, but there are also some elements that I believe might turn them away from reading the book. Overall, the character or speaker is very relateable. Students may not have been through the exact same experiences, but they may think of instances from their own past that is similar, especially since Nelson is describing her childhood and adolescent years. Civil rights is a topic that seems to draw interest of young readers as well, perhaps because they cannot quite believe that the world use to be this way, and they always seem to have many questions. The format of the book may turn some readers away, however. The stanzas are typically long and not spaced out.

Overall Quality: The overall quality of this book is quite well. Unlike poem picture books that tell one poem in a thirty-two page book, this book incorporates a complete story made of several different sonnets, and adds whimsical illustrations to add to the overall effect of the words. The story is very well written, and is by far the best part of the book. For readers who are not interested in poetry, this narrative will keep them engaged and interested in what happened next in Nelson's life, especially as the location changes throughout her childhood. As far as poetic elements, it does not offer what one might expect to see, and so poetic quality may be a little lacking.

The Poets: Marilyn Nelson is the singular poet of the book, and she does a wonderful job weaving her story into verse. Nelson seems to be someone who is a well known author, though not always for poetry. This was my first experience with her writing, however. Because the story is based on Nelson's childhood, she is able to tell the story incredibly well while also weaving in a wonderful amount of detail and imagery.

Layout: The layout of this book is quite different from other verse novels that I have read throughout this semester. First of all, the poems are written in one long stanza instead of being separated up into smaller ones. The pages contain one poem with some sort of small illustration that is relevant to the text on that page. Overall, the layout looks fairly similar to a prose novel opposed to verse.

Spotlight Poem: 

"How I Discovered Poetry"
(Clinton-Sherman AFB, Oklahoma, 1959)

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she'd chosen especially for me
to read to the all-except-for-me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo-playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished,
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

Lesson Idea: As this is the poem where the title is the main focus, it seems like a wonderful one to use with the class. We could read it as a class and then decide how this one poem might relate to the whole story, and why the poet chose this as the title of the whole book, where it may just be one part of her story. Students can also discuss characterization of our speaker based on her behavior, responses, and environment. 

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