Tag Archives: Poetry

Rise Up! Poems of Protest, Poems of Praise, by Andrew Wilbert Fitz and Mari Fitz-Wynn

Call and response: a powerful form of protest. Andrew Wilbert Fitz was the child of a couple born into slavery, the middle of eleven children. He lived through two world wars, went to college, patented new inventions, and wrote poetry. His granddaughter, Mari Fitz-Wynn, has curated a collection of his poems and added her own, responding to his call across a century, sharing his sorrow at our human sins and reflecting his strong Christian faith with her own.

Mari has arranged this collection so that her grandfather speaks first with his poems, then Mari presents a poem of her own, sometimes on the same theme. Using various verse forms, the poems are often meditations on scriptural passages, and Mari, in particular, has structured several of her poems as liturgies that could be used in communal settings. Praise for the beauty of creation is woven throughout, from the exultation of “Creation and I” to the joyful skipping verse in “Nature’s Symphony.” There are poems of encouragement, motivating the reader to use their God-given gifts and to generate ideas that will further the Kingdom on earth. One of the most powerful selections is “Dead Soldier,” which Andrew addressed to the young men in their graves, saying, in part:

“… tell of the heartless heads of government,

the kings, the princes, and the presidents,

who sent you forth to die for an empty cause

despising God and all His sacred laws.”

Throughout this collection are poems of lament, an outpouring of sorrow rarely heard in white churches today, although the Hebrew scriptures are filled with lament, particularly in the Psalms. Throughout the millennia, believers have cried out to God in private grief, but also in communal prayer that God would acknowledge injustice and send healing and comfort. Andrew’s parents spent their early years in bondage, and later he went on to serve in World War I and live through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century. He saw that the government enforced these evil laws and that the white church rationalized the terror from the pulpit. He asks, “How long shall prejudice be mixed with prayer?” Mari, lamenting that our world still labors in sin, responds with her “Hands Up—A Litany,” asking for freedom from fear and concluding with praise.

I had the pleasure of working with Mari Fitz-Wynn at our library, as well as with her two grown children, Kiefer and Rooney, who wrote an afterword to this book. They are all kind and quiet souls, and her kids have gone on to pursue brilliant careers. After her husband passed away fifteen years ago, Mari began speaking at home education conferences and other venues and participating in creative entrepreneurial projects. In addition to this volume of poetry, which contains a foreword written by the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Mari has published two books and many articles.

This inspiring collection may be purchased on Amazon or from Faith Journey Publishing, a company dedicated to giving a voice to mature Christian women of color.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book, given to me by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. I do not receive remuneration from the purchase of this book.

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The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Poet XXiomara Batista’s Dominican mother never wanted to marry or have children. She wanted to be a nun. She loves her kids, but she is distraught that Xiomara is delaying her confirmation at church, and when she finds out that Xiomara has been asking Father Sean challenging questions, she clamps down on her even harder.

Xiomara hates it when the boys make comments about her curves when she walks down the street in Harlem. She is tall, with wild hair, and she holds back the world with her fists and tough talk. She pours her heart into her very private poetry notebook: her doubts about God, her confusion about her mother and father’s relationship, her hesitant forays into growing up, her fears for her brother, and her timid and hopeful feelings for a boy named Aman. They share a love of music. She lets him hear some of her poetry, and he names her X.

Her mother would never allow this.

Elizabeth Acevedo has written this semi-autobiographical novel in verse, with a couple of school essays woven in. The poetry allows X’s love of words to express the struggles of a young woman who loves her immigrant parents, but who cannot be true to herself without hurting them. Her voice is at once fragile and fierce, exploring cultural divisions, first love, faith and doubt, and the human need to speak freely and openly to the world. When a lid is screwed down more and more tightly while pressure continues to build, an explosion is inevitable.

Recommended for middle teens to adults, with a bit of strong language and sexual content. Caution: May cause spontaneous versifying and a sudden urge to participate in a poetry slam. Ironically, the last line of this novel is “And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark,” which I read by lantern light during a power outage from Hurricane Florence.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Mythology and Poetry

I have been reading right along this past month or so, but I have not taken the time to tell you all about it. Here are two brilliant offerings for those looking for a break from novels.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

Neil GaimanWhat could be better in the deep midwinter than to read tales of the frigid North country? Here are many of the ancient songs, retold by a master storyteller. Sure, you could go see Thor in 3-D, but Gaiman shows him in all his pre-Spandex strength and bluster. Loki is despicably charming, whether he is truly helping the other gods or just saving his own unworthy hide, and all the characters speak in conversational, contemporary English. Although this is a friendly introduction to the Scandinavian tales, it is not for children. The gods, after all, were grown-ups, and they were not always—in fact, they were rarely—virtuous.

Devotions, by Mary Oliver

Devotions

mary-oliver-c-mariana-cook-2012-1-I had come upon Mary Oliver’s poetry in other collections, including Kwame Alexander’s Out of Wonder, reviewed here, but I had never read an entire volume by her before. I couldn’t decide among her many books, and so I was glad to start with this collection of poems from her entire body of works (so far) called Devotions. Most of Oliver’s poems are meditations on nature, and here they are collected from newest to oldest. They are simple and evocative, sometimes drawing upon her Christian faith, and the words flow from a long lifetime of living outdoors. The ocean figures largely here, but lest you picture a Caribbean island, Ms. Oliver and her partner live in chilly New England, with its hardy wildlife and pebbly beaches. Her poetry spoke to me so deeply that I asked for and received a copy of her latest volume, Felicity, for Christmas.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of Norse Mythology, and I read a library copy of Devotions before I received my own copy of Felicity. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander

Out of WonderKwame Alexander is a poet, and I am not. Not that I don’t love poetry, but I am just distressingly left-brained. A mystical friend of mine once visited us when we lived in Kentucky. She walked out my back door, took in the spectacular view, flung out her arms, and made up a poem on the spot. I was awestruck—first, because she could put words together so beautifully, and second, because she had the chutzpah to say them right out loud.

Mr. Alexander and his co-authors, Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth, can put some words together, as well. In this volume, they have chosen some of their favorite poets, and, as an homage, created new poems in each poet’s style. Some are poets you know from school: Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson. Others may be new to you:  Okot p’Bitek or Chief Dan George. Although it is a delightful treat to see how these writers have replicated their heroes’ styles, the new poems are luminous in themselves. One of my favorites is Marjorie Wentworth’s offering in the style of Mary Oliver. Here is the first verse:

Each day I walk out
onto the damp grass
before the sun has spoken,
because I love the world
and the miracle of morning.  (p. 24)

Can’t you just feel the dew on your feet?

Ekua Holmes has filled the volume with bold, earth-toned paintings. At the end of the book, there is a short bio for each of the featured poets– home educators and teachers, take note! There are such riches here for mining. Your students could read the original poets, then the Out of Wonder verses. What did the new poet see that made him write his poem as he did? Of course, the next part is having your kids write their own poetry. Some are ancient poets—history! Some are from far-flung parts of the globe—geography!

This is one of the many new titles out from Kwame Alexander. He is a Renaissance man! Be sure that your children make his acquaintance soon.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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