How I Discovered Poetry


"Bomb  Drill
(Lackland  AFB, Texas, 1952)
Nothing belongs  to us in our new house
except  Mama's piano and our clothes.
I'm  the new girl in Dick and Jane country,
the  other children faceless as grown-ups.
I  read through recess and take some books home.
I  read to Jennifer while Mama plays.
I  read while the television talker
talks  about career and the hide drajen bomb.
Mama  says she's going to vote for Ike.
Daddy  says, 'Woman, you just think he's cute!'
We  ducked and covered underneath our desks,
hiding  from drajen bombs in school today.
Maybe  drajens would turn into butter
if  they ran really fast around a tree."

Marilyn  Nelson spent the nineteen-fifties -- from age four to age fourteen
-- living at  a never-ending series of U.S. military bases with her parents
and her younger  sister.  In the classroom, she was so often the "one bay
in a room full of  palominos."
During  these years of the Civil Rights Movement, her parents speak of
Emmett and Rosa  and other pivotal events taking place in the country.  The
focus of  the fifty unrhymed sonnets in HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY flows from the
hopes, prayers, dreams and fears of a little girl, and the thoughts and
actions of a growing and well-read black tween who is learning not  to put up
with the racism that so often bubbles to the surface, a  young woman who sees
herself, maybe, as a budding poet.

"Queen  of the Sixth Grade
(Kittery  Point, Maine, 1958)
There  was an accident in school today.
I  shudder when I remember the crunch
of  tibia and fibula and wood
as  Jamie tried to get off the seesaw
and  got her forearm accidentally
caught  under her own weight and the up-kick
on  the other end, increased the force
Ellie  and I used pushing her end down
so  her seesaw seat slammed the blacktop hard
two  or three times before she realized
what  a mistake it was to say that name
she  learned in some civilian school down South
before  they got transferred and she came here
to  this school, where I'm Queen of the Sixth Grade."

The  uniqueness of the 1950s setting -- both the ever-changing military
bases  that the young girl calls home, and the fact that she is growing up the
daughter  of "one of the first African American career officers in the Air
Force," as well  as the power of the poetic form employed here, make this a
unique  tale among the many excellent books out there about the Civil Rights
Movement era.

112 pages   978-0-8037-3304-6  Ages 12 and up

Recommended by:  Richie  Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (

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