500 Reasons to Explore Poetry Anthologies
By Sylvia Vardell
If you were to spend approximately $100 and order the ten poetry anthologies featured here, you would have access to 500 different poets who write for young people. 500! Who knew there were so many classic and contemporary poets to seek out and savor? The recent resurgence of the poetry anthology has provided a valuable resource for celebrating diversity in literature. In these ten current poetry collections, the editors have actively sought out many new poets to offer new perspectives on a variety of themes and topics. It’s also interesting to see the diverse forms that these anthologies can take: blending poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and providing cross-genre connections so important for teaching, maximizing the picture book format with illustrations that can inspire each poet or provide a unifying theme for the poetry, or eschewing art and illustrations to focus on poetry exclusively. Many of these outstanding new collections are the creations of new or small presses taking risks to reach poetry readers. And many new voices make their first appearance in a poetry collection or anthology. In sharing these poetry anthologies, we can provide opportunities to meet new writers, new poetic forms and styles, and new ways to approach themes and topics and perhaps inspire young readers to create their own collections of favorite poems.
PICTURE BOOK ANTHOLOGY
World Make Way
Master anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins has a Guinness Book World Record for the number of poetry collections over the years—more than 100! One of his most recent books is a picture book collection of poetry inspired by 18 works of art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The eighteen participating poets features a variety of established names including Marilyn Singer, Alma Flor Ada, Carole Boston Weatherford, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Cynthia Cotten, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Joan Bransfield Graham, Irene Latham, J. Patrick Lewis, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Janet Wong, and Hopkins himself. The art pieces are a diverse set of powerful paintings, engravings, scrolls, manuscript folios and woodblock prints from around the world. The beautiful layout of the book features each artwork and its companion poem in a large double-page spread in full color. It’s a mini-museum in 48 pages. Some of my favorites are:
- “Ti-ki-ri, ti-ki-ri,ti-ki-ri, ti-ki-ri-, tas!”, a chant-like poem by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, accompanying “Skeletons as artisans” by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada
- “Studio” by Marilyn Nelson, an inspiring poem that captures the backstory in Kerry James Marshall’s painting of his first encountering a black artist’s workshop
- “It’s All Magic” by Naomi Shihab Nye, a poem that asks, “What time is it? / Time to be kinder”, alongside a folio from an ancient Syrian manuscript depicting elephants in a fantastical device
- “Cat Watching a Spider” by Julie Fogliano, full of unexpected rhyme and alliteration, paired with a Japanese silk painting, “Cat Watching a Spider” by Ōide Tōkō
The Poetry of US
As the subtitle for this book indicates, you’ll find more than 200 poems in this gorgeous, glossy book of poetry that captures some of the cultural diversity of the people and places across our country. Some 143 poets contribute powerful poems organized in geographic categories from east to west across the US: New England, Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain West, the Pacific Coast, and U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). More than a hundred contemporary poets are the primary authors, but classic selections are also included by poets like Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman. There are even poems in Spanish, Arabic, and Korean with translations provided in English. And of course, the beautiful, dynamic full-color photographs from the archives of National Geographic Magazine complement the poetry beautifully and are fantastic for browsing, studying, and celebrating. Some of my favorite poems in this comprehensive anthology include:
- “Hmongtown” by Bryan Thao Worra, observations on culture through foods and family
- “The Arabic Numbers in America” by Ibtisam Barakat, how numbers can reveal cultural roots
- “Give-Away” by George Ella Lyon, books and homes and homelessness
- “Ella” by Mariel Bede, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald
Sing a Song of Seasons
For an “old-school” 333-page massive anthology with a poem for every single day of the year, don’t miss Sing a Song of Seasons edited by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. It is packed with 366 nature-themed poems by 186 classic and contemporary poets from “A” (John Agard) to “Z” (Benjamin Zephaniah) who are primarily British, but also hail from the U.S., India, Africa, China, and elsewhere. It is organized by months of the year, January through December, with a poem numbered for each date each month. Vibrant full-color illustrations in mixed media provide continuity as scenes featuring different animals in rural and urban settings are matched with appropriate poems. Here are a handful of my favorite poems:
- For January 11: “Winter Days” by Gareth Owen with its staccato two and three-word lines describing winter
- For March 18: “Crows” by David MCord with multiple irresistible stanzas beginning “I like…”
- For May 2: “How Without Arms” by JonArno Lawson personifying the sun as having arms, knees, and eyes
- For September 28: “Poemology” by Anselm Hollo comparing “an apple a day” to “a poem a day” with humorous results
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson conceived of their book, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise our Voices as a “treasury” for troubling times to “offer young readers words of love, support, encouragement, and hope in today’s toxic and divisive political environment.” This unique anthology is half poetry and half stories, songs, and letters and all illustrated by a variety of talented artists using different styles and media. Some poems are provided by authors more known for fiction (like Sharon Draper) or for nonfiction (like Tonya Bolden) and others are by well-known poets (like Margarita Engle). Other featured poetry contributors include Kwame Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Kelly Starling Lyons, Carole Boston Weatherford, Marilyn Nelson, Arnold Adoff, Pat Cummings, Tameka Fryer Brown, Jabari Asim, Curtis Hudson, Zetta Elliot, Jason Reynolds, and Wade Hudson himself. This unique combination of prose, poetry, and art makes each genre stand out as you turn the page and encounter a new voice. Some of my favorite poems in this collection are:
- “I Wonder” by Margarita Engle, a look at the seeds of the future
- “A Day of Small Things” by Tonya Bolden, how small acts of kindness make a difference
- “You Can Do It” by Jabari Asim, a rhythmic cheer of encouragement
- “A Talkin’-To” by Jason Reynolds, honoring young fears with caution that turns to hope
In this innovative anthology appropriate for adults and YA, poetry is paired with short stories all written by diverse, contemporary poets interacting with one another including Amanda Lovelace, Canisia Lubrin, Cyrus Parker, Iain S. Thomas, Liam Ryan, Nikita Gill, R.H. Swaney, Sara Bond, Trista Mateer, and Yena Sharma Purmasir. Poets connect with each other, poetry connects with short fiction, and poets connect with readers. For this project, ten poets were invited to submit three poems each. These three poems were assigned to a fellow poet who would choose one of these poems to write a short story based on it and were encouraged to incorporate a line or two from the poem into their story. These ten confessional poets are active in sharing their poetry on social media and their Twitter and Instagram handles are even included in their bios at the back of the book. In this volume, each pair of poem plus short story is also accompanied by a black and white sketch created by one of the poets, adding a visual dimension to the works. My favorite pair of poem and story is:
- “Things That Aren’t True” by Yena Sharma Purmasir
Connected to the story
- “Driving with Strangers” by Iain S. Thomas
This powerful poem-story combination hinges on questions of identity and family and who we are when we have no family or our family members are gone. The next book, [Dis]Connected: Volume 2, will be published in the fall of 2019 and features a whole new crop of poets.
POETRY FOR YA
Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes
This slim volume packs a lot of punch with 70 poems by 55 different poets including many new poets such as Linda Kulp Trout, Catherine Flynn, and Robert Schechter, alongside a handful by classic poets like Carl Sandburg, Kobayashi Issa, and Antonio Machado. There are even a handful of poems written by young people themselves (in 6th and 7th grade). The focus on making mistakes of all kinds is the “perfect” focus for an anthology aimed at tweens and teens and the poets approach the topic from both serious and silly points of view. Extra resources at the back of the book offer helpful advice for the young reader including “Making Good Decisions: Brainstorming for Future You” with very practical tips, “Apologizing Effectively” with step-by-step guidance on making sincere apologies, and “Poem Forms You Can Try” with options for poetry writing including acrostic, diamante, double dactyl, and poems for two voices. A lively blog dedicated to the book (MistakesAnthology.Blogspot.com) continues to offer insights and quotes, along with links to each of the poets with more poems to enjoy. Some of my favorite poems in this engaging collection include:
- “Apology” by Robert Schechter, with a multitude of synonyms for “mistake”
- “A Note from the Architect” by Mary Lee Hahn, a spin on creating the leaning Tower of Pisa
- “Sea Hunt” by Steven K. Smith, a narrative poem about discovering one’s passion
- “Stolen” by Elizabeth Steinglass, a look at how shoplifting might make you feel
New Poets of Native Nations
New Poets of Native Nations is a new anthology of poetry for adults, but it’s such a seminal work introducing new voices, it is worth sharing with middle grade readers and young adults, too. Editor Heid E. Erdrich is Ojibwe and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She has gathered the works of twenty-one poets first published in the twenty-first century—cutting-edge writers who do not identify as “Native American” only, but are a diverse and often multi-ethnic group including Alaskan Native and island nations. This includes Tacey M. Atsitty, Layli Long Soldier, Tommy Pico, Margaret Noodin, Laura Da’, Gwen Nell Westerman, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Natalie Diaz, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Dg nanouk okpik, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Sy Hoahwah, Craig Santos Perez, Gordon Henry, Jr., Brandy Nālani McDougall, M. L. Smoker, LeAnne Howe, Cedar Sigo, Karenne Wood, Eric Gansworth, and Janet McAdams. There is no unifying theme to the anthology; Erdrich notes, “We do and we do not write of treaties, battles, and drums. We do and we do not write about eagles, spirits, and canyons. Native poetry may be those things, but it is not only those things. It is also about grass and apologies, bones and joy, marching bands and genocide, skin and social work, and much more” (2018, p. xiv). Some of my favorite poems for sharing with young people from this collection include:
- “Obligations 2” by Layli Long Soldier, a diamante poem
- “Passive Voice” by Laura Da’, a poem that references zombies
- “Theory Doesn’t Live Here” by Gwen Nell Westerman, a family story poem
- I Tinituhon) by Craig Santos Perez, a poem in columns of two letters each
Erdrich reminds us that the last anthology of Native poetry was published in 1988, so this collection is long overdue and very welcome. Young readers may be somewhat daunted by an anthology free of interior illustrations, but will surely respond to the powerful emotions, experiences, and expressiveness in this collection.
It’s equally exciting to see this poetry anthology trend continue into 2019. Look for Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, a picture book collection edited by Miranda Paul. It features 32 diverse poets including Padma Venkatraman, Carole Lindstrom, Sylvia Liu, Carolyn Dee Flores, Sarvinder Naberhaus, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Traci Sorell, and many more. The editor reports that each poem is a different type of poem including the acrostic, ballad, décima mirror,found poem, sijo, Tyburn, among others. Marlena Myles, a Native American artist (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscokee Creek) created illustrations that link the poems together and Paul reports that book sale proceeds will go to We Need Diverse Books. Another picture book collection is coming from noted anthologist Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems. This time, the unifying theme of “how-to” offers advice on practical things like how to make pancakes or more fanciful tasks such as how to be a snowflake-- all in poem form by the likes of Kwame Alexander,
Pat Mora, Allan Wolf, and more. Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond offer an anthology for older readers entitled Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience featuring 64 poems by poets such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Tarfia Faizullah, Hala Alyan, GallMukomolova, Bao Phi, Ocean Vuong, and many more. Publisher Ruth Weiner reported that the editors wanted to “create a sense of the immigrant and refugee experience that would honor its complexity and variety.” They sought out poems that “represent the range of poets’ ethnicities and most deeply give voice to the experiences of young adult first and second generation immigrants and refugees” as well as an historical perspective provided by established poets such as Ellen Bass, Eavan Boland, Jeff Coomer, and Li-Young Lee. It looks like an exciting assemblage of poet voices with a very important and timely focus.
I’ve had my own experiences creating poetry anthologies in assembling informal collections for my students, friends, and family, as well as in collaborating with poet Janet Wong to publish poetry anthologies that include guidance for sharing and teaching each poem. It’s a daunting task to curate poems into an effective whole, but we always enjoy seeking out new poet voices to participate. It shouldn’t be surprising that poetry is a place where diversity is welcomed—and I hope those who choose and use books with young readers will look to poetry to help paint a richer portrait of who we are as an “anthology” of people.
- Erdrich, Heid E. (Ed.) 2018. New Poets of Native Nations. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press.
- Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (Ed.) 2018. World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Abrams.
- Hudson, Wade and Hudson, Cheryl Willis. (Eds.) 2018. We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. New York: Crown.
- Janeczko, Paul B. (Ed.) 2019. The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems. Ill. by Richard Jones. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
- Lewis, J. Patrick. (Ed.) 2018. The Poetry of Us: More Than 200 Poems about the People, Places and Passions of the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
- Lovelace, Amanda; Gill, Nikita; Thomas, Iain S. et. al. 2018. Disconnected: Poems & Stories of Connection and Otherwise. Delta, BC Canada: Central Avenue Publishing.
- Paul, Miranda. (Ed.) 2019. Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. Ill. by Marlena Myles. Brookfield, CT: Lerner/Millbrook.
- Vecchione, Patrice and Raymond, Alyssa. (Eds.) 2019. Ink Knows No Borders. New York: Triangle Square/Seven Stories Press.
- Waters, Fiona. (Ed.) 2018. Sing a Song of Seasons. Ill. by Frann Preston-Gannon. Somerville, MA: Candlewick/Nosy Crow.
- Yeatts, Tabatha. (Ed.) 2018. Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes: An Anthology for Middle Schoolers. Rockville, MD: History House Publishers.
Now head on over to Tara's place at Going to Walden to get access to all the Poetry Friday posts this week.