Poetry Friday: “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson

It no longer seems appropriate to say, “What a week!” It seems that every single day brings some new mind-boggling occurrence. This week, at least, the bad news has been balanced by two momentous Supreme Court decisions. Still, my heart hurts for our entire country. Recently, The New York Times acknowledged the power of poetry to bring us “solace, strength, and power” by asking many prominent poets, including Kwame Alexander, Joy Harjo, and Arthur Sze, what poets and poetry they have turned to during these tumultuous days. I read many of the poems recommended, thinking I would find some to share with the my middle school students. As I read, a link to Marilyn Nelson’s poetry came up. Marilyn Nelson, former Poet Laureate of Connecticut, is the author of many powerful books of poetry for young people and has long been a favorite of mine. This poem is from Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color (WordSong, 2007), which she co-authored with Elizabeth Alexander.

Canterbury, CT 1833-1834


for Ruben Ahoueya

Today in America people were bought and sold:
five hundred for a “likely Negro wench.”
If someone at auction is worth her weight in gold,
how much would she be worth by pound? By ounce?
If I owned an unimaginable quantity of wealth,
could I buy an iota of myself?
How would I know which part belonged to me?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Amira Abdel-Aal and Shawna Coppola led a session on The Ed Collaborative this spring about ways to maximize student engagement with their writing. One of their suggestions was to share “provocations,” rather than prompts. They suggested that provocations are intended to “provoke thoughts, discussions,and questions.” This poem will do all of that and more.

Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

6 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson

  1. I just started reading “Woke” to my granddaughters, a wonder of a book to share what freedom & being “woke” means. The poem you share is one to add to share with them, too, Catherine. My students visited Charleston one year and we studied its history, can still visit where slaves were bought & sold. We each stood on that place to pay homage to those who suffered there. I hope they still remember. Thank you for this powerful poem. I’m glad you’re sharing with students!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Catherine. One of the best things about being an educator is the way people in our community embrace learning. I love moving forward with writers and thinkers like you who stop to consider the words of this poem, to consider provocations for your future students just as you begin break for this year. I’m a better person for reading here today.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marilyn Nelson is a favorite poet of mine too, I’ve read a couple of her books, “Carver” which I see Janice read also, and “How I Discovered Poetry.” I also heard her speak at a Zena Sutherland lecture at the Chicago Public Library, she was excellent, and so down to earth. Thanks for sharing this powerful poem that needs to be read.

    Liked by 1 person

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