Thursday, April 15, 2010

Poetry Tag: Marilyn Nelson is IT

Poetry Tag continues at this mid-point of National Poetry Month. Today is also the day for my annual “Poetry Round Up” at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio, TX (featuring Jen Bryant, Leslie Bulion, Douglas Florian, Pat Mora, Laura Purdie Salas, and Robert Weinstock). But more on that later. Meanwhile, yesterday featured Lesléa Newman’s lovely “May Day” poem and she tagged Marilyn Nelson who wrote,

“Lesléa's lovely poem made me long to respond with a ballet poem of my own, and I thought at first of sending the entire text of my BEAUTIFUL BALLERINA book. Instead, I've responded to the idea of stillness in her poem, and posted one from a sequence of poems about students in a residential school for African American girls founded by the Quaker teacher Prudence Crandall in a Connecticut village in the early 19th Century. The school was not welcomed: the state passed a law making it illegal; both students and teacher were harassed. When the building was set on fire by arsonists, Miss Crandall gave up. The school was closed, the students dispersed. My poem in the voice of one of the students describes a rare and treasured moment of stillness in that brief and painful history."

All-Night Melodies

By Marilyn Nelson

An evening on the piano: ecstasy
could not be sweeter. Even simple scales
promise hymn chords, while six-note harmony
must be a taste of heaven's color wheel.
A fire on the hearth, the dishes put away,
twenty girls sit by oil lamps to read or sew
until Miss Teacher signals time to retire.
We form a blessing-circle before the fire
as silence fills us with its constant thrum.
My fingers remember the ebony and ivory keys,
my feet the pedals. All-night melodies
unplayed, unheard, swirl in our shared bedroom,
meet other dreams, converge, become a sound
silent enough to convert every bigot in town.

from Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Five fun facts about Marilyn Nelson
*she grew up living on military bases
*she started writing in elementary school and wrote her first poem at age 11
*she is also an English professor
*she was the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut
*she is founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat, a small writers’ colony

Look for these selected poetry books for young people by Nelson:
*Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001)
*Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Front Street, 2004)
*A Wreath for Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
*Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (with Elizbeth Alexander; Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2007)
*The Freedom Business (Front Street, 2008)
*Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009)

Next up: Pat Mora

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credits:;

1 comment:

Jane Heitman Healy said...

How beautiful! And I admit this is how I play--technically horrible, but I can hear the potential in my mind. Thanks for affirming my imagination! :)