Friday, April 15, 2011

THE GREAT MIGRATION by Eloise Greenfield

Poetry Tag continues with a book review of a new book of poetry connected to yesterday's book review.

Today’s tagline: More poems about African American history

Featured Book: Greenfield, Eloise. 2011. The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Ill. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Amistad/HarperCollins.

This new poetry picture book from NCTE Poetry Award winner, Eloise Greenfield, is a very personal work with a powerful, historic reach. She opens the book with a one-page narrative explaining the meaning of "the Great Migration," the mass movement of African Americans from the southern part of the U.S. to the North between 1915 and 1930. She situates her own family and her own "migration" in this context and the final poems weaves in details of her own family's story. Her frequent illustrator, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, has a similar story-- also noted-- and I wondered if some of the images of people (particularly their faces) were drawn from her or Greenfield's own family trees. Possibly!

This is an interesting use of poetry to convey a chronological history with key poems numbered and titled as follows:

I. The News
II. Goodbyes (Man; Girl and Boy; Woman; Very Young Woman)
III. The Trip (5 page stanzas)
IV. Question (Men and Women)
V. Up North

ending with:

My Family

Greenfield uses free verse, but sets up a structure that gives each poem reading a strong rhythm. Here's the opening poem as one example:

I. The News
by Eloise Greenfield

They read about it, heard
about it, in letters and newspapers
sent down from the North,
from visiting cousins and brothers
and aunts: there were jobs up there,
nice houses, no Ku Klux Klan
everywhere you turn, burning down
schools and homes and hope.
They thought about it, talked about it,
spread the word. "Did you hear the news?
Can it really be true? Well, I'm going
to see. How about you?"

Gilchrist's illustrations incorporate watercolor along with collage to blend scenes of landscape and personal portraits (often faces "lifted" from actual photographs), many set against a stark, black page. Thus, most of the poems appear in white text against a dark or black background for an even greater visual and symbolic impact. The combined effect of art that suggests real people along with a strong voice throughout the poem (often named) lends itself to reading aloud or dramatic performance.

Greenfield provides a "Selected Bibliography" at the conclusion of her book listing other books about this subject that you may want to consult. Kids may want to conduct community interviews to investigate the experiences of "migrating" families in their area. Discuss the similarities and differences between "migrants" and "immigrants" then and now.

Tomorrow’s tagline: More poems about history

[We’re halfway through Poetry Month—still time to grab a copy of PoetryTagTime, an e-book with 30 poems, all connected, by 30 poets, all connected and downloadable right now at Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle app for your computer, iPad or phone. Just 99 cents.]

Image credit: HarperCollins; PoetryTagTime

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell and students © 2011. All rights reserved.

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