Gateway to Poetry

I work full time as a behavior interventionist, so I’m around kids of all ages at least 40 hours a week. More than that if you count my own brood. One of the great things about my work is that I’m exposed to books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or ignored.

One of those books is today’s Thanksreading selection.

I never used to be the poetry sort. Over the years, the attempt was made a few times, but it never stuck. My oldest son in an incredible poet, but that’s a skill you can trace directly to his mother. I get excited when I put together a simple rhyme.

Anyway, my aversion to verse would most likely have kept Jacqueline Woodson’s incredible Brown Girl Dreaming off my bookshelf, if not for the impact I saw it have on a classroom of seventh graders. (Shout out to Mr. I!)

The landscape of northwest Vermont is more diverse than it used to be, but on the grand scale of things, it’s still a pretty homogenous place. I watched as Woodson’s autobiographical story – told through poems that are eloquent, universal, and touching – brought the post-Jim Crow world of 1960s and ‘70s South Carolina and New York City to life for our students. And it was a wonderful thing to behold.

Brown Girl Dreaming cracked open a world of difference for many of the students in that class, and I decided to break down the poetry barrier I’d built for myself and share the experience. I’m so thankful that I did.

Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s book allowed me to approach poetry in a way I never did before. I’ve attempted longform narrative poetry (is that even the right term?) before, but it didn’t click. This time was different, and after Brown Girl Dreaming was over, a strange thing happened. I wanted to read more poetry.

I’m far from an expert in the field, and I have yet to attempt to write my own, but Woodson led me to a new-to-me realm of the written word and the works of Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and a few others I’ve sampled. 

I’m making my way slowly, but without Brown Girl Dreaming, I wouldn’t be making my way at all. Jacqueline Woodson has my thanks twice over: once for the new interest in poetry and once for presenting the diversity of her experience in universal terms.

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