Marilyn Nelson: How I Discovered Poetry

Marilyn Nelson may be my new hero.  She knocked it out of the park with the heroic crown of sonnets in A Wreath for Emmett Till, but How I Discovered Poetry is an amazing book of poems as well. 

This video is an outstanding recitation and response to the title poem.

 The poems tell the autobiographical story of Nelson’s youth.  It was a time of great turmoil in the United States.  Nelson’s father was an military pilot and she moved around the United States several times during her youth.  During this time there were several mental/physical wars.  There were wars with political concepts such as Communism and wars fought over the treatment of fellow human beings during the Civil Rights Movement.

Nelson reads a selection of poems:

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/272654805/273768875

There are some great discussion points from racism to commonplace teenage struggles.  This book makes the link from the actions of the past to the minds of the present.  It makes the history of the era come to life.  I could either focus on one poem at a time or a collection of poems together. There are many issues that students need to explore in this book with regards to social interaction and cultural understanding.

What I would also like to explore with my students would be the very concept of the book.  I would love for my students to use Nelson’s poetry as a mentor text to help them write their own autobiographical collection of poems.  I think that would be a great accomplishment.  Most of my students struggle with the very thought of poetry.  Surely all poems have cooties of some form for seventh and eighth graders.  I think Nelson is such a master that with some guidance from me her poems can each easily be seen as a short story to the eyes of a poem hating teen.

I think her poems would also be great mentor texts for helping to teach various figures of speech.  She plays with the words in ways that would engage students and help them to understand irony, sarcasm, similes, metaphors and analogies.

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