Wednesday, February 11, 2015
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
While other authors writing in the poetic prose style often give huge tomes for books Marilyn Nelson gives us a rather slim volume of fifty unrhymed sonnets highlighting the her life from age four to fourteen. Since the poems are presented in chronological order the reader is able to trace Nelson's life through her fascination with the written word, especially with poetry. The reader is also able to ascertain that maturing of her voice and her understanding of her world.
Nelson, an African-American woman, grew up in the 1950s. Her father was in the military and so the family moved around a lot. Nelson and her family experienced different degrees of racism depending on where her father was stationed. The sonnets reflect how perplexing racism can be to children who just want to play and have friends. In the photo below you see the poem BAD WORD. In it young Nelon describes the feelings she has about the words Black and White and wonders at the teacher's explanation that the boy didn't say a bad word. "Don't be a noogie-hitter." That is a term used in tetherball?!
"The Speaker's growing awareness of personal and racial identity are set against the tensions America experienced during the fifties." Some of the poems may seem to be about Nelson but are also about what was happening in the world at that time: Civil Rights, the "Red Scare", even the atom bomb.
Unlike novels written in the poetic prose style which allows the reader to read through the chapters fast, these sonnets should be read slowly and savored. The reader will probably want to reread them to gain the full meaning and beauty behind the words. Since each sonnet is only fourteen lines, each word and line has to carry a lot of the story. I appreciate the constraint of the style.
I plan on shelving this book in the poetry section of the library instead of in the biography section. I want poetry readers to find it.
This slim volume won a Coretta Scott King Honor last week when the youth media awards were handed out at the ALA mid-winter meeting.