How I Discovered Poetry

How I Discovered Poetry

by Marilyn Nelson


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A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.
Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.
A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780147510051
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/08/2016
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 67,905
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Marilyn Nelson is a three-time National Book Award Finalist, has won a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor and several Coretta Scott King Honors, and has received several prestigious poetry awards, including the Poets' Prize and the Robert Frost Medal "for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry." She has recently been a judge of poetry applicants at the National Endowment for the Arts and Yaddo, and has received three honorary doctorates.

Read an Excerpt

Blue Footsies
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1950)

Once upon a time. Upon a time?
Something got on a time? What is a time?
When it got on a time, could it get off?
Could it get on a time two times? Three times?
Three times upon a time . . . Times on a time . . .
Three times on time . . . Or three times on three times . . .
I hear Jennifer's breath. Our room is dark.
Mama's voice questions and Daddy's answers,
a sound seesaw through the wall between us.
If there was, once upon a time, a fire,
and I could only rescue one of them,
would I save him, or her? Or Jennifer?
Four-year-old saves three people from hot flames!
God bless Mama, Daddy, and Jennifer . . .

(Cleveland, Ohio, 1950)

Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea from the bad city, like that angel said?
Poor Lot: imagine having a pet flea.
I'd keep mine on a dog. But maybe fleas were bigger in the olden Bible days.
Maybe a flea was bigger than a dog,
more like a sheep or a goat. Maybe they had flea farms back then, with herds of giant fleas.
Jennifer squirms beside me on the pew,
sucking her thumb, nestled against Mama.
Maybe Lot and his wife rode saddled fleas!
Or drove a coach pulled by a team of fleas!
I giggle soundlessly, but Mama swats my leg, holding a finger to her lips. 

Called Up
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1951)
Folding the letter and laying it down,
Daddy says, "Well, Baby, I've been called back up."
Mama pauses, then puts my bowl of beans in front of me. Jennifer eats and hums across from me on two telephone books.
Mama says, "Pray God you won't see combat."
Jennifer, stop singing at the table,
I hiss. Her humming's driving me crazy.
She looks up from her bowl with dreaming eyes:
Huh? Mama says, "My darling, we're going, too."
Stop singing! "I'll take a leave from law school,"
he says, "and you'll take a leave from your job."
We've been called up. Our leaves become feathers.
With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins.

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