Discovering Poetry

January 14, 2014

It seems fitting to finally share these photos today. They are photos from my favorite part of our visit to the City Lights Bookstore: the poetry room, which felt like a delicious and secret discovery, a tower room bursting with words impatiently waiting to be freed. And also appropriate since I spent this afternoon with the fabulous poet, Marilyn Nelson.

Today was the official publication day for her newest book of poetry. How I Discovered Poetry is an autobiographical collection of poems that chronicles her nomadic childhood as a military kid (her father was one of the Tuskegee Airmen) during the 1950s. As the voice and subject matter mature from the tender age of four up through her early teens, it's hard not to be sucked into the minutiae of intimate moments and salient memories, while also noting the larger cultural and social happenings that are whirling around her. As an African-American girl during the civil rights era some of these moments are especially piercing. But it is her compelling use of words which reverberate long after the page has been turned and leave me yearning for more. 

How I Discovered Poetry
By Marilyn Nelson 

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. 

Dana said...

This brought tears to my eyes, as a mother, a teacher, a lover of poetry, a champion for that little person in Ms. Purdy's care.

Theresa said...


Juniper said...

How wonderful, the poem, the author, your meeting her and that space you captured in your photo!

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