I sing in a voice more froglike
I do dare to sing,
and that is what matters
on this island
of bravely dancing,
from: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
written by Margarita Engle, Young People’s Poet Laureate, 2017-2019
winner of Pura Belpre Award
(honors Latino authors and illustrators whose work best portrays,
affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s
In second grade, we each had to recite a poem for our class. The only requirement, the poem had to be at least four lines long. One boy memorized a very long poem. My friend, Janice said her same few beginning words over and over, in many false starts, until she got going and finished her four lines. At least I think she finished.
I memorized a poem by Christina Rossetti, “Who Has Seen the Wind.”
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I,
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
In high school, I learned a short poem by Emily Dickinson describing a sunset. I didn’t have to memorize it this time, but I did.
Ships of purple gently toss
On a sea of daffodil
Fantastic sailors mingle,
And then the wharf is still.
And then I discovered Robert Frost. I still have my notebook full of copied-out verses.
I’ve written my share of bad poetry. You know the angsty teenage stuff about not being loved, betrayals by friends, failed aspirations. The flowery, the angry, the disappointing.
I’m not sure when I learned that words shape the sound around them. Maybe I always knew that. Think about it. Round sounds round. Sharp sounds sharp. I thought everyone knew that, but I found out recently, not everyone does. Not everyone even thinks about that!
But the sounds of words, even their letters, smooth or snappy, add to the understanding and enjoyment of reading. And listening. I did a workshop several months ago where we were given a list of sounds that dogs make. Yip—Arf—Bow-wow—Grrr, you get the idea. There were about ten different sounds. We were asked to describe in a word or two what the dog looked like that made each sound. About twenty people sat around a large table doing that exercise and (almost) to a one, we agreed.
You probably already know that every April we celebrate National Poetry Month. Some libraries and other organizations have forums through their websites where anyone can be inspired to try out different formats and ideas and share them (or not).
Right now on one of my writing shelves, I have six started poetry journals. Fallen starts, all. I also have seven (counting the almost full one in my purse) little spiral-bound ones full of “someday” ideas. I try to keep my stuff together, but it’s not. I have another shelf (in a whole other room) with ideas, too.
I’ll give you just one from a(n incomplete) National Poetry Month journal
Entice me with your
and primary color,
your patterns of trumpet
Whisper in my mind’s ear,
OK, who is Margarita Engle, and what is a poet laureate?
Margarita Engle is the current Young People’s Poet Laureate and will serve till the end of this month. She has written numerous award-winning novels in verse and an award-winning picture book.
According to poetryfoundation.org, the Young People’s Poet Laureate “aims to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.” The YPPL is awarded by the Poetry Foundation for a two-year term.
A new YPPL will be announced in May.
The American poet laureate acts as the Chair of Poetry for the Library of Congress. The current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, appointed Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry on June 14, 2017, and reappointed her to a second term on March 22, 2018. Ms. Smith published her memoir, Ordinary Light, in 2015. Her latest book of poetry is Wade in the Water which came out last year.
Her birthday is today! She’s 47.
For those who claim to hate poetry, I say, “You haven’t heard it read well.”
-—stay curious! (and write—or read—a poem)