Monday, February 11, 2013


My love affair with poetry began with this book.

The cover is not connected to the body of the book anymore and the back cover is missing.  When that happened, I don’t know, but it is obvious evidence of  the extent to which this book was loved.

The inscription indicates I was four years old when this book entered my life.

In my earliest memory of poring over the pictures and reading the poetry, I was five or six.

I loved this book and it led to a life-long  love of poetry –reading it and writing it. 

I loved the rhyme, the rhythm, the music, which seemed to be different in each poem, as compared nursery rhymes with their sing-song-same beat.

The texts were short. The idea that something I understood and related to could be said in such short ways, as opposed to the longer stories and information books that I also enjoyed, fascinated me. I had discovered a new type of writing!

Inadvertently, I memorized—learned by heart as we used to say— several of the poems. Not intentionally, but rereading and rereading committed the words forever to my head and heart.
I still know at least half of My Shadow by heart—I used to know all of it.

The other one I remember is The Swing.

One thing I notice now is that both of these favorites were by the same poet, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Even as an early reader my tastes, like now, were consistent.

These two were my favorites, although I liked them all.  The notion that someone else thought and felt like me, wondered about what I wondered about, saw what I saw, and that these thoughts could be written down for other people to read, was a life-changing,  an epiphany.

As I grew older, the poetry I loved changed, but never its presence in my life.

From Lawrence Ferlinghetti and e.e cummings I learned that poetry could break the rules and didn’t have to rhyme. My rhyming poems were never very successful — what a delight to discover I didn’t have to write that kind of poetry.

The Harlem Renaissance poets, Claude McCay and Langston Hughes,and the Black Arts Movement  Poets of the 60’s and 70’s , Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez and many others, taught me that poetry could move beyond my own considerations, concerns and feelings to examine the entire human condition, and social justice---or the lack thereof.

Nikki Giovanni remains my favorite poet and Ego-Tripping one of my favorite poems.

The list of  poets I love has expanded to include Billy Collins, Samuel Hazo and my  newest favorite Richard Blanco and several world poets--- Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Wyslawa Szymborska.

I love poets who can express the everyday ordinary—or as Samuel Hazo would say the Holy Surprise of Right Now

Poetry can express the human condition, name and fight injustice,  voice our joys, comfort us in trials, and help us puzzle through life.

When my parents gave me this book as they gave so many others
as I gave my own kids---
as I gave my students--
they didn’t realize what they were putting into my hands, my head and my heart. 

We cannot predict the sparks we are creating, the passion we are igniting, simply by handing a child a particular book.

I am ever grateful that my parents gave me this one.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

What is your earliest memory of a book and reading?
How has that book affected your life?

Write a personal narrative of your reading history or of a book that your loved as a child.
How did this early reading lead to your current reading and writing?

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