Tag Archives: National Poetry Month

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers

14 Apr

In honor of National Poetry Month and Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m shining the spotlight on a brilliant Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award Winner from 1997:

“They took to the road in Waycross, Georgia

Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis

Took the bus from Holly Springs

Hitched a ride from Gee’s Bend

Took the long way through Memphis

The third deck down from Trinidad

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island 

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island

To a place called Harlem

Harlem was a promise

Of a better life, of a place where a man didn’t

Have to know his place

Simply because he was Black.”

 

Thus begins a tactile and rhythmic journey through Harlem. This book may have been written twenty years ago, but it feels quite contemporary. Current nonfiction writers are increasingly telling the stories of people, events, or places with similar atmospheric details and poetic language. Walter Dean Myers was far ahead of his time.  

The only thing missing is back matter. The names of people and places are sprinkled throughout, but if you want to know more, you must do the research. If this book were being published in 2017, you can bet the back matter would be rich with details, including a timeline with key events and people as well as author/illustrator notes. 

Although Walter Dean Myers has passed, I would love to see a new edition of this book published, complete with back matter and an illustrator’s note from Christopher Myers, Walter’s son. 

The collage illustrations add so much texture to the poem that I would recommend reading the picture book. However, if you just want to immerse yourself in Myers’ poem, here’s a link to the text of “Harlem” online. 

Title: Harlem

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 1997

Target Audience: Everyone

Rhythm and Margaret Wise Brown

15 Apr

Marcy Erb, a poet/illustrator turned me on to a poem this morning:

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In Memoriam John Coltrane

by Michael Stillman

“Listen to the coal
rolling, rolling through the cold,
steady rain, wheel on

wheel, listen to the 

turning of the wheels this night

black as coal dust, steel

on steel, listen to
these cars carry coal, listen
to the coal train roll.”

Doesn’t it remind you of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Two Little Trains”?

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Here’s an excerpt:

“The moon shone down on a gleaming track,

And the two little trains going West;

And they hurried along and heard the song

Of a black man singing in the West.

Look down, look down that long steel track

Where you and I must go;

That long steel track and strong cross bars,

Before we travel home.”

Aside from the variation in meter, I’m thinking you could insert Stillman’s poem into “Two Little Trains” and no one would be the wiser. They are so jazzy!

In “Two Little Trains,” the jazz rhythm that propels the trains and the reader forward is powerful. The string of slightly changing “O” sounds in “moon shone down on” and the internal rhyme of “along and heard the song,” and repetition of “look down, look down” strengthen the momentum. The religious imagery is also exceptionally strong. The reference to a “black man singing” brings to mind a spiritual. Then there’s the long steel track with a cross bar, the imperative “where you and I must go” (death), and the final comforting phrase “before we travel home” (also death, but not a bad place). 

There’s a reason MWB is still in print, folks. She was brilliant!

If you’d like to see a brief analysis of Stillman’s poem, you can find it at Stephen Cramer’s Tongue & Groove blog.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Hitting the “Send” Key — Squaw Valley Community of Writers

2 Apr

Tick!

Tick!

Tick!

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Just sent my short story submission to the good people who direct the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. If you’ve got a story or a chapter (5,000 words or fewer) from a novel lying about the house, you’ve got until MIDNIGHT TODAY to apply for this summer’s workshop.

Hope to see you there!

P.S. I’ll be off spring breaking for the next 10 days. Spending time in the “City of the Big Shoulders.” Fifty points to anyone who can name the city referred to and the poet (Yes, it’s April, National Poetry Month) who wrote that gorgeous metaphor.

See you all on the flip side! 

 

 

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