Thursday, August 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Teens Heart Poetry

By night, I'm a children's book writer and kidlit blogger, but by day, I teach kids in K-12 who are homebound with medical conditions (e.g., cancer). This gives me a unique little window into how kids think. So let me tell you about a couple of my students. I recently worked with a 17-year-old boy I'll call Alex who was the rocker type, with skinny black jeans and tee-shirt, purple sneakers, and long dark hair covering everything but his nose. As we studied U.S. History, I did a lesson with him on the blues, tying it to the works of Langston Hughes.

This kid wanted to borrow the book of Hughes's poems that we read from during class. (We weren't studying English, unfortunately.) A few months later, when he was about to return to his regular school, Alex asked me, "Can you recommend some more poetry books? I really like poetry."

Then there was a girl I'll call Misha. She was in a group home, having been in juvie and a psych ward already by the age of 14. Misha let me know she was tough. The only books she would agree to read were the Goosebumps series, which I felt were a little young for her. But as we studied English, I quickly discovered that Misha wrote poetry. Here was a door into this girl's world!

I suspect there are a lot of secret poetry buffs among teens, although they may not bring it up in the group setting of a full class. So, moving past the younger standbys of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, what kind of poems do you give a 16-year-old? Sure, there are famous published poets whose work I happily share with students, e.g., Maya Angelou for Misha. But the secret weapon here is actually well-written poems by other teens. When I gave Misha one of Betsy Franco's poetry anthologies, she was thrilled. I recommended Franco's anthologies to Alex, as well, along with the work of other, more well-known poets.

Betsy Franco has put together four collections of poems written by teens. I haven't read Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming: Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults, but I will present the other three in brief below. I should note that one strength of these collections is their inclusion of young writers of many races and ethnicities.

Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls

Illustrated by black and white photos of real (non-glamorized!) girls, featuring poems and short essays. Here are a few samples:

Let's see if the high school can offer me an English class that will make me sweat. Then I'll be willing to rethink my criticism. Otherwise, I'll be back to my usual hobby of picking through the trash in hopes of finding the Holy Grail.
—from "A Girl Snapping, or My Application for Advanced Placement English," by Marijeta Bozovic, age 16

All I wanted was a cup of coffee
but when I asked for
"a tall single, please"
the guy at the coffee stand
thought I was asking for him.
—from "Tall Single ISO Coffee," by Anonymous, age 16

my friend and i
got caught in a storm
with tears for rain,
and shouts for thunder,
lightning fists
lashing out.
—from "Clouds Rolling In," by Melissa Leigh Davis, age 14

You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys

I wish this book had black-and-white interior photos, too, but I think it's an even stronger collection than Things I Have to Tell You. Here are some examples:

May I ask you something?
Why are you following me?
Every time I turn around
You are there telling me
something to wish for:
his blue Mercedes
his caramel girlfriend...
—from "Envy" by Kyle L. White, age 17

He shaved his head to release his imagination.
—from "He Shaved His Head," by Rene Ruiz, age 13

The trombones slap me in the face with their high-life beats, and the piano's glamorous tunes tap me on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. As I look down into the Juke-Joint from my bedroom floor, rotted house, rotted life, plain rotten seems forgotten as the music plays and the beats go down to the rhythm of my heart's pound. There's a Harlem Renaissance in my head, there's a Harlem Renaissance in my head.
—from "There's a Harlem Renaissance in My Head," by Maurice E. Duhon, Jr., age 17

Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers

As the flap copy puts it, "The writers are straight, gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender; they live next door or across an ocean; they are innocent or experienced. Poetic explorations range from new love to stale love, from obsession to ennui, from ecstasy to heartbreak, and every nuance in between."

I do remember your mouth,
how it curled up on the right in Puck-like pleasure
because you knew exactly what I was thinking
(I never was a very good actress).
—from "Making Love to Shakespeare," by Ellie Moore, age 16

She's my motorcycle
She's my cigarette
When the night's this quiet I think I can hear her thinking
—from "New Friend in Mexico," by Nick Ross-Rhudy, age 17

In the presence of people
Packed in boxes,
Each wanting to be
—by Thomas Andrade, age 17

Aside from the obvious (poetry's great!), I believe teens like poetry because of its immediacy and the intensity of its emotional content. A poem may also seem less intimidating, yet more intimate, than a full-length prose novel. After all, there's a reason novels-in-verse are increasing in popularity among Young Adult readers.

Two other books of poems along these lines are Paint Me Like I Am, teen poems from WritersCorps, and a collection edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. (The poems in the latter are great, but sound more like college writers, which they probably are.)

Note for Worried Parents: Betsy Franco's poetry collections contain mature themes, such as drug use, cutting, and sexuality. Some poems also contain profanity, including the f-word. In general, best for older and more sophisticated teens.


Please submit your links in the comments, and I'll start listing them Friday morning. I do have comment moderation, but never fear, I'll get your links! (I will be gone in the middle of the day at a funeral, but will continue to add to this post as soon as I get back.)

--First off, Amy LV of The Poem Farm shares #14 in her series of poems about poems, a mask poem called "Love Me Real."
--Next, Charles Gigna sees "Sidewalks" as magic carpets at the Father Goose blog.
--Kelly R. Fineman gives us an original poem, "Letter to Mum" at Writing and Ruminating.
--Julie Larios offers up "an original left hand/right hand poem" (and a challenge to post your own) at The Drift Record.
--Mary Lee from A Year of Reading explains that in order to share a poem about laryngitis, she had to invent a new poetry form, the Twitter Search Poem.
--The Stenhouse Blog weighs in with Kenn Nesbitt's school-themed poem, "Perfect."
--Toby Speed reminisces about summer with a poem called "Day Lilies, Night Lilies, Night-Light Lilies" at her blog, The Writer's Armchair.
--Tabatha Yeatts experiments with book spine poems at The Opposite of Indifference.
--Laura Salas offers us "We," a selection from Lee Bennett Hopkins's memoir in poems, Been to Yesterdays. She is also the host of a weekly photo-poetry challenge, 15 Words or Less. (I often participate in this particular event.) Here's this week's post.
--Jeannine Atkins discusses the balance between giving readers information and letting readers guess when writing poetry.
--Hooray for B.J. Lee, who just had a poem published yesterday at A Handful of Stones!
--Carmela Martino gives us an original poem by April Halprin Wayland saluting summer at the Teaching Authors blog. She also reminds us that Naomi Shihab Nye has published a book of poems by younger writers called Salting the Ocean. (I do own that one, Carmela; it's wonderful!)
--Jama Rattigan shares Barbara Crooker's poem, "Patty's Charcoal Drive-in," over at Alphabet Soup. Jama's posts always make me hungry!
--In a very nice coincidence, Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader reviews a book of school poems by Betsy Franco, Messing Around on the Monkey Bars and Other Poems for Two Voices. She then goes on to list several other books of school poems, providing links to those previous reviews, including Stampede by Poetry Friday participant Laura Salas (see above). But wait; there's more! Over at Blue Rose Girls, Elaine shares some beautiful vacation photos plus Marilyn Kallet's poem, "Fireflies."
--Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books and Pirouettes reviews a rhyming picture book, Miss Tutu's Star by Leslea Newman, with illustrations by Carey Armstrong-Ellis.
--At Little Kid Lit, Erin Oakes is "admiring Allan Ahlberg," especially his poetry collection, Please Mrs Butler.
--Janet Squires of All About the Books spotlights The Fastest Game on Two Feet and Other Poems about How Sports Began, written by Alice Low and illustrated by John O'Brien.
--Then at Liz in Ink, Liz Garton Scanlon gives us Pablo Neruda's poem, "Poet's Obligation."
--Karen Edmisten (The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title) shares her love of Billy Collins and her dog with a Collins poem, "Dharma."
--Danika Brubaker of TeachingBooks talks up Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry, even providing an audio clip.
--Chicken Spaghetti's Susan T. tells us about Natasha Tretheway's book of poems and memories, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
--Ms. Mac of Check It Out posts Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, "Boy and Egg," in memory of a former student who died unexpectedly at a young age two weeks ago.
--Heidi Mordhorst presents Mary Ruefle's school-themed poem, "The Hand," at My Juicy Little Universe.


Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) said...

Thanks, Kate. Father Goose sees sidewalks as magic carpets @ The FATHER GOOSE Blog

kellyrfineman said...

Thanks for hosting - I love the collections you mentioned; they are great resources for teens!

I'm in with an original poem, Letter to Mum, which can be found here:

Julie Larios said...

Hi, Kate - thanks for hosting! I posted an original "left hand/right hand poem"(and a challenge to post your own) over at The Drift Record

Mary Lee said...

In order to share a poem about laryngitis, I had to invent a new poetry form: the Twitter Search Poem.

Stenhouse said...

This week's poem on The Stenhouse Blog is Perfect by Ken Nesbitt. Enjoy!

Toby Speed said...

Thanks for hosting, Kate. I enjoyed reading about how you connected with these unlikely poetry lovers.

Today I have some summer reminiscences and an original poem about lilies at The Writer's Armchair.

Tabatha said...

I am in total agreement with you about teens and poetry, Kate. It speaks to them and for them in a powerful way. Glad you can tap into that and share those books with your students!

I've got book spine poems today. What an interesting challenge it is to construct one!

laurasalas said...

I've read two of Franco's anthologies (the guy and girl ones), but I don't think Falling Hard or the other one. Will have to look for them. Thanks for all the great excerpts, and what a fascinating, difficult, rewarding job you have!

I have a poem from Lee Bennett Hopkins' poetry memoir, Been to Yesterdays, at And I've got 15 Words or Less poems at Plenty of time for anyone to join in the photopoetry fun.

Thanks for hosting, Kate!


Diane Mayr said...

Yay, for you for sharing poetry with kids!

At Random Noodling I look at a public art project in Atlanta that includes haiku.

Kurious Kitty has "Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes From Me?" from Walt Whitman. Kurious K's Kwotes has a Whitman quote, too.

Jeannine Atkins said...

Kate, I'm a big Betsy Franco fan, but haven't read my way through all these poems, so thanks for posting some. And hosting.

I wrote about trying to balance giving information and letting readers guess when writing poetry at:

Carmela Martino said...

Hi Kate,
Thanks for sharing Betsy Franco's anthologies. I wasn't familiar with them. Have you seen Naomi Shihab Nye's SALTING THE OCEAN: 100 POEMS BY YOUNG POETS? The students you work with my also appreciate this anthology, and some of her others.
Today at our TeachingAuthors blog, April Halprin Wayland shares an original poem saluting summer:
Thanks for hosting today.

BJ Lee said...

Hi Kate - those are some powerful poems by teens. I love the idea of teens writing poems, especially boys. Thanks for sharing and for hosting.

I just had a poem published yesterday:

bj lee

jama said...

What a great post. Thanks for featuring Franco's work.

"Patty's Charcoal Drive-In" is open at alphabet soup today:

Come on over, I'm taking orders!

Thanks for hosting, Kate, and have a nice weekend. ♥

Ruth said...

Thanks for hosting! I'm in with this.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks so much for doing the roundup this week!

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a post titled "Going Back to School ...with Poetry 2010." It includes a brief review of and excerpts from Betsy Franco's MESSING AROUND ON THE MONKEY BARS and links to my reviews of other school-themed poetry books--as well as my original school-themed poems.

Kerry Aradhya said...

Hi, Kate. Thanks for hosting!

At Picture Books & Pirouettes (, I've posted a review of the new rhyming picture book "Miss Tutu's Star."

Erin Oakes said...

Thanks for hosting! I'm admiring Allan Ahlberg at Little Kid Lit

janetsquires said...

Thanks for hosting. My selection is - The Fastest Game on Two Feet: and other poems about how sports began -- written by Alice Low and illustrated by John O'Brien.

Elaine Magliaro said...

I'm back! At Blue Rose Girls, I have a lovely poem titled FIREFLIES by Marilyn Kallet--as well as lots of pictures of my recent summer vacation in Maine.

liz-scanlon said...

Thanks for hosting today, Kate.
I'm in with a Neruda poem at:

Karen E. said...

Thanks very much for hosting! My post on Billy Collins' Dharma is here.

Danika said... is in with a post featuring audio with Ashley Bryan, who highlights Black American poets with his book Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry.

Thanks for hosting today!

Susan T. said...

I'm in with a bit on Natasha Trethwey's new book, Beyond Katrina. Thank you for rounding up! I look forward to catching up with the poetry talk.

Chicken Spaghetti

maclibrary said...

Hi, I have a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in remebrance of a formerstudent who died almost two weeks ago.
It's here:

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hi, Kate--

I so enjoyed this post--a great way to feel welcomed back after a summer hiatus! I'm in today with a poem by Mary Ruefle about all the little (and larger) who's arriving in our classrooms: The Hand.