February 27, 2009
I’m reading Milton Meltzer’s biography of Langston Hughes, the 1997 illustrated edition, with artwork by Stephen Alcorn; grades 6 and up. The original 1968 release was a National Book Award finalist in children’s literature. It’s good reading for anyone interested in learning more about Hughes’ emergence as a writer and a voice of black America in the 1900s. More than that, it paints a portrait of a very real young man, facing racism, economic struggle, and the pull of what is expected of him, and choosing poetry and the writer’s path–for which we are all the beneficiaries.
There’s a scene in the introduction of the book that reveals Hughes’ character. Quoting Meltzer here:
“One of the last times I saw him [Hughes] was in the spring of 1967. It was a warm Saturday afternoon. The stoops of the Harlem tenements were full of gossiping men and women; 127th Street was jumping with children’s games. Near one end of the block was a storefront church; and at the far end, toward Lenox Avenue, a big new public school turned windowless brick walls to the neighborhood.
“Number 20, where Langston lived, is a three-story brownstone, much like the old houses that crowd it in. The only difference was the plot of ground beside the stoop. It was hardly a yard square, but Langston had put a garden in. At first the kids had stepped all over the greenery. He got around that the next spring by calling them in to help with the planting. He had each one print his name on a stake to show where he had sown. The garden came up safe, with nasturtiums and marigolds and asters blooming all summer.”
(Langston Hughes: An Illustrated Edition by Milton Meltzer, The Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT; 1997.)
I’m about half-way through the book, which also includes a selected (though substantial) bibliography of Hughes’ works, including poetry, autobiography, fiction, plays, history, humor, books for young readers, anthologies edited by Hughes, translations, and sound and video recordings; also other works about the writer.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me
To eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
How beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
– By Langston Hughes
This week’s poetry roundup is at Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books.
February 25, 2009
Back in the days when I shared a studio space with a graphic-designer friend, we used to joke about my stepping into the soundproof booth (remember those old game shows?) in order to crunch away on some writing. There was no actual booth, of course, no typing away with Burt Convy-issued hamburger-bun headphones on. It was just an expression for, “Can’t talk now. Work to be done.”
“In the booth” is shorthand I still use when it’s time to get to work, or to explain why I’ve dropped out for a few days. I think it’s going to become shorthand on this blog when my postings lag. Where have you been? In the booth.
Notes coming soon on a children’s nonfiction class I’m taking. In the booth this week on an article for that.
Also trying to get back to some poetry revisions, and catch up on lots of good poetry reading. More booth time.
Conversation on the Dewey Decimal System and how it relates to coping in these stressful economic times–there is a connection. More coming soon.
February 21, 2009
No Poetry Friday for me this week, but for good reason. Went to the library with friends today. With friends who love libraries as much as I do. And it was a new library. Not new in the sense that it had just opened, but new to me. So, went to a new library with old friends who love libraries, too. How could the day not be a good one?
We all went home with books.
February 17, 2009
A riddle poem:
Notes behind a melody
Healthy body, restful mind.
Peace embraced by humankind.
What am I? Scroll down to find out.
February 14, 2009
What is poetry? Who knows?
Not a rose, but the scent of the rose;
Not the sky, but the light in the sky;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot: and what is that, who knows?
Those lines are from “Poetry” by Eleanor Farjeon, who was born on this day in 1881.
Growing up, I knew Cat Stevens’ song “Morning Has Broken,” but it wasn’t til just a few years ago that I learned the words of the song were written by Eleanor Farjeon. In the wonderful book A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, Paul B. Janeczko includes this poem as an example of an aubade, “a poem without formal structure or rhyme that laments or celebrates the coming of the dawn.”
A poet, writer, and playwright, Eleanor Farjeon wrote many, many other works during her life, earning several prestigious honors and awards. Here is a link to her poem “It Was Long Ago” with the opening lines:
I’ll tell you, shall I, something I remember?
Something that still means a great deal to me.
It was long ago.
I have read a number of her poems, though would be pleased to hear recommendations from others who know her work well, either favorite poems or stories by Eleanor Farjeon, or recommended resources on her work and life. Thanks!
This week’s Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Kelly Herold at Big A Little a.