Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday 2/24/17

In the middle school library where I work, we LOVE A BOOK for Black History Month. Pink conversation hearts are gently taped to the book spines by Black authors and illustrators or are about Black History or have Black characters.

Inside the heart are two simple questions. What book did you read? How did you like it? All of the hearts are gathered for a drawing on February 28th. The winner gets a trip to our prize box!  Our goal is to combine the energy of Valentine’s Day with Black History.

I loved-on Black History books right along with students. I read and reviewed One Last Word a couple of weeks ago and have been using that book and many others in lessons with seventh and eighth graders. I just smiled one day when a student came in and said, “I just love Black books!”

One book, in particular, has had me in its sites for a while now. I’ve checked it out and back in a few times….never quite getting to it. But, I know that book has wanted me to read it. I haven't avoided it because of the serious and difficult content…it has that. Emmett Till was middle school age student lynched in 1955.  It’s not because it’s not my style…its poetry. It’s because

I have
lived in fear of

As I’ve worked to learn and grow as a reader and writer of poetry I have put off reading and attempting to write sonnets. It’s really my fear of tackling and understanding Shakespeare that does it. I’ve never really cracked the code for falling in love with the Bard. I know, its embarrassing!

This year, for Black History month I  finally read, A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Phillipe Lardy (Houghton Mifflin 2005). This book was a Printz honor book in 2006.

A Wreath for Emmett Till is everything I thought it would be….cruel, sad, torturous but… the deceptively simple sonnet chain, a beautiful, tender mentor text.

Nelson allows me to get into sonnets without worrying about ye olde English. She includes all sorts of symbols and nods to cultural milestones. And, she explains them at the back of the book. She is such a good teacher.

I can’t believe I’ve put off reading this book. Shame on me. To hear Marilyn Nelson speak about writing the book and introducing the true horror story in a 5:30 minute NPR clip, click here.

Nelson took on the monumental task of telling the story of the lynching and public funeral of Emmett Till to teenagers. And, she does it masterfully. There can be terrible things in beautiful words. We can deal with the terrible things with the right words. Nelson brings young people closer to dealing with Emmett Till’s murder as history but also as issues of injustice and race.

If you haven’t tackled the sonnet….or a subject as horrific as lynching as a poetry reader or writer I encourage you to check out A wreath for Emmett Till. This is not a flippant comment or recommendation. I cannot imagine a reader not learning, growing and pledging to be an agent for justice after reading it.

Someday, I may share the sonnet I started after finishing A Wreath for Emmett Till. It's not ready yet. But, I'm not afraid to count syllables, meter, and rhyme. 
Nelson helped me a lot with that.
I would LOVE recs for other books of sonnets...watcha got?

Please join Poetry Friday friends at Karen Edmisten's blog with a shockingly clever title. She's a love for hosting this week. Thank you, Karen!


  1. This is such a fantastic display, a wonderful way to join two February celebrations! I read an article about Emmet recently - what a heartbreaking story. I haven't read A Wreath for Emmet Till, thank you for giving me another push to find it and read it myself!

  2. What a great way to mark two seemingly disparate celebrations. I don't know this book, but will watch out for it - it sounds amazing.

  3. I can't believe I don't know this book. I will be looking for it now. Thanks for the suggestion. I am afraid of sonnets, too. One of my mentors, a former poet laureate of our state, writes only in sonnets. They totally intimidate me. I hope I'll get to see a draft of yours soon.

  4. I read this story by Marilyn Nelson when it came out, but never thought of her mastery of sonnets in it, too, Linda. I think I was too consumed with the terrible story. Thanks for pointing that out. Will look again!

  5. I haven't read this one yet. Thank you for sharing it. I will be looking for it. I love how you combine Valentine's Day and Black History Month in your library. What a great way to share books with students and encourage them to read books they may not have found on their own. I can relate to your reaction to sonnets. Even as an English major, I didn't enjoy many of Shakespeare's sonnets, but fell in love with the form through those of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have not, though, found the courage to try to write one myself. Good luck with yours!

  6. I hadn't read this book and so enjoyed hearing about it, Linda. That sonnet is heartbreaking and powerful. She did handle a difficult subject masterfully.

  7. Hi Linda, thank you for sharing this poem. I loved this book. I'm not sure I've ever written a sonnet – not that I have a fear of them exactly but, you know, maybe I do! I'll have to address that!

  8. Hi Linda, I have avoided this book because I know it will break my heart the way OCTOBER MOURNING did. You're post is making me think again about checking it out. I've written exactly one sonnet. It wasn't a very good one either. Maybe after reading Marilyn's book, I'll give it another go. Also, I love the pairing of Black History and Valentine's Day! Your school is lucky to have such a creative librarian!

  9. Just a beautiful and haunting book.

  10. This book is so brilliantly constructed. I'm in awe every time I pick it up. Emmett Till's story has so many repercussions, it makes sense that a contained form like the sonnet would help a poet tell this horrific piece of history.

  11. Linda, that sonnet is beautiful, powerful, and heartbreaking. I'll be reading A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL with my youngest soon.

  12. What a wonderful review, Linda! I've added it to my "library search" list.

    As for more sonnets, I don't know if this would be your thing, but contemporary British poet Malcolm Guite has written Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year. I especially enjoy the ones for Advent.

  13. Aaaargh... the sonnet. I do so very much remember the headache and frustration of my first attempts. I just did a search of 'sonnet' on my blog, to find it... ( and find that I have in fact gone on to write more sonnets than I realised, after the first. I surprise myself. :) Mayhaps you have inspired me to revamp some for a Poetry Friday one day soon...

    None of mine touch such a difficult topic as a 'A Wreath for Emmett Till' - which is such a tragic story I remember researching and reading more about as a result of something posted on Poetry Friday last year. Jotting that title down, for some powerful heartbreaking reading.

  14. Linda, Thank you for showcasing this glorious book. I will be patiently waiting for your sonnets just as soon as you are ready. Have a fabulous week!

  15. Hooray for all the love! I love Nelson's writing. I look forward to reading your sonnets!


Friendly, positive comments and feedback are always welcome here. Please let me know I'm not just whistling in the dark!