Yes, it’s me again, joining the Poetry Friday community. Just when things start to get really busy, I strive to get even busier by doing even more things. Strange, huh? I’ve always figured, might as well, right? Our host this week is Betsy H from I Think in Poems.
As some of you who may be following our blog know, our current bimonthly theme is on Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age. As I was doing my research on possible picture books that can be featured in connection with this theme, this book came highly recommended:
The Genius of Poetic Forms. I was taken by Marilyn Nelson’s Author’s Note when she described how she wrote the book and conceptualized its landscape. Once again, I marvel at how little I know about the science of poetic structure and forms. The entire book is written as a “heroic crown of sonnets” in iambic pentameter with a Petrarchan rhyme scheme.
A crown of sonnets is a sequence of interlinked sonnets in which the last line of one becomes the first line, sometimes slightly altered, of the next. A heroic crown of sonnets is a sequence of fifteen interlinked sonnets, in which the last one is made up of the first lines of the preceding fourteen.
Sounds complicated? It is. But it is also a thing of beauty as this book demonstrates. The poet’s choice is also purposeful as Nelson explained in her Introductory Note:
The strict form became a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say. I wrote this poem with my heart in my mouth and tears in my eyes, breathless with anticipation and surprise.
Who is Emmett Till? I did not know about Emmett Till until I read the book. I thought that it was also fitting to share this today as the date August 24 holds special significance for this young man who was born in Chicago on 25 July 1941. Emmett was 14 during the summer of 1955 when he visited some of his relatives in the South – a time when segregation was still considered legal in the United States. It was on August 24 when he allegedly whistled at a white woman when he went into a country store. He was then taken from his uncle’s house four days later and his body found three days after. He was beaten to death in the most atrocious form imaginable and shot in the head by men who thought this to be a justified, rational act – which, if one really thinks about it, is one of the greatest tragedies of all.
Emmett’s mother held an open-casket funeral in Chicago which helped to galvanize people into action, especially after the men who took Emmett were decreed to be ‘not guilty’ by a jury who deliberated for just over an hour. This drew a great deal of media coverage and attention and is said to help spark the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett’s mother, continued to be an activist for civil rights until the day she died in 2003 at the age of eighty-one.
Teacher Resources. For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a Sonnet Project created by Kiarra Smith that might inspire students to do their own. Here is a link to a video book discussion by C-Span Video Library with Marilyn Nelson reading a few of the poems and answering questions from the audience. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has also created this very detailed Teachers’ Guide that may prove to be helpful to educators. Each of the sonnet also comes with an explanation by the author found at the end of the book.
My Poetry Offering this Week. This must be one of the most powerful books I have read this year. It reminded me how poetry is able to distill pain – providing a way through which broken spirits can be transformed into something that resembles wholeness and light. While each of the sonnets spoke to me, making my heart ache just a little bit more with each line, this is the Sonnet that I would like to offer you this week, my Poetry Friday friends. I thought that it provided that singularly-soft radiance that heals and allows one to make sense of something so completely incomprehensible – a gathering of flowers, a heroic wreath of words.
Let me gather spring flowers for a wreath.
Not lilacs from the dooryard, but wildflowers
I’d search for in the greening woods for hours
of solitude, meditating on death.
Let me wander through pathless woods, beneath
the choirs of small birds trumpeting their powers
at the intruder trampling through their bowers,
disturbing their peace. I cling to the faith
that innocence lives on, that a blind soul
can see again. That miracles do exist.
In my house, there is still something called grace,
which melts ice shards of hate and makes hearts whole.
I bear armloads of flowers home, to twist
into a circle: trillium, Queen Anne’s lace…
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson and Illustrated by Philippe Lardy. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Book borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
A Printz Honor Book
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