Poetry Friday: How I Discovered Poetry


Discovery #1 (First in a series in honor of my OLW for 2015: discover.)

How do you decide on which poem to share on Fridays? Does a poem you’ve read during the week resonate so much that it must be shared? Do you write an original poem based on an event or an emotion from the previous week? If you’re like me, the answer is yes and yes. In other words, it depends. But what about those weeks when nothing strikes you, or life in general is so hectic you haven’t had time to sit down and write much of anything that’s worthy of sharing? When this happens to me, as it often does, I head over to Anita Silvey’s excellent blog, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. In a sidebar, Anita offers tidbits such as this: “It’s Bubble Bath Day.” (Now there’s a topic for a poem!) By checking Anita’s blog on Wednesday (you can skip ahead to see what’s coming up), I discovered that today is Connecticut’s birthday. My home state was admitted to the United States on this date in 1788.

Not knowing any poems about Connecticut off the top of my head, I Googled “poems about Connecticut” and quickly learned that Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive who lived in Hartford (surely I knew this and had just forgotten), and that Marilyn Nelson is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut and was our state’s Poet Laureate from 2001-2006. How had I missed that!?

I have been a fan of Marilyn Nelson’s poetry from many years. Miss Crandall’s Boarding School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, (Wordsong, 2007) cowritten with Elizabeth Alexander, describes an important piece of Connecticut history and is part of our eighth grade’s Civil Rights unit. A Wreath For Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), Nelson’s haunting, magnificent book-length crown sonnet about the murder of Till in 1955 is also included in this unit. On a previous Poetry Friday, I shared Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009) the story of “the first integrated all-women swing band in the world.”

Nelson’s latest book, How I Discovered Poetry, was published last year to universal acclaim and is on many short lists for the upcoming ALA awards. The images Nelson crafts in these poems are stunning and startling. In one poem, she states that “Our leaves/become feathers./With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins.” Another poem is about a birthday party until the very end when, “a jet/made a sonic boom/like a hammer on an iron curtain.”


In the title poem, Nelson captures that moment when she first glimpsed “the power of words.”

How I Discovered Poetry

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…

Read the entire poem here.

You can also listen to Ms. Nelson read the poem, as well as several other poems from this lovely book, in an interview that aired last winter on NPR.

Happy Birthday, Connecticut! How lucky we are to count Marilyn Nelson as a citizen of our state!

Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference to discover more wonderful poetry.


11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: How I Discovered Poetry

  1. Hi,
    I have not been around Poetry Friday for a while and I love this post. Thank you so much for all you have shared. As a teacher who has tried my hardest to create lovers of words and especially poems, I love hearing about Mrs. Purdy. Your post is filled with great ideas and I will share it with my friends!
    Janet F.


  2. I love her work so much. How great that Miss Crandall’s Boarding School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color is read by so many eighth graders, who I hope will read this wonderful new book, too. Thanks for sharing poetry!


  3. Good morning. Although I’ve tweeted with you and read you’re blog, I have never left a comment”. You always share great books, and include such thoughtful comments. Since I am currently planning a workshop on poetry, you’ve provided me with another book to add to my collection. Thanks!


  4. I usually get Marilyn Nelson and Marilyn Singer confused. Maybe now I can remember Marilyn Nelson is from Connecticut? Thanks for sharing how you come up with these fun, powerful, and interesting posts for PF!


  5. I love how this post meanders its way to your topic! Thanks for giving me another strategy for the times when I can’t answer “yes” or “yes!”


  6. I have the book, and still haven’t read it, Catherine. It’s a must. Your post today is so filled with the love of poetry, and that personal search for Connecticut connections (fun two words!). I enjoyed every bit.


  7. I sometimes browse through Chase’s Annual Events (book) or visit one of the “On-this-day-in history” sites online to get me started on my library blog posts. Coming up with five post topics a week is tough!

    Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell are coming out with another Poetry Friday anthology soon–the topic is “celebrations,” so that will be a good idea-starter resource, too!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s