Friday, June 27, 2014

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy for Roundup.

It's been a busy summer so far... all good stuff! This past week I watched my son perform LIVE at a music/arts festival, met friends and readers at the Birmingham Zoo, taught a writing workshop, and today I am at a quilting event! Hurray for summer! Also, I've been doing lots and LOTS of reading. (See my #bookaday posts!)

AND I finally got to A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson with illustrations by Phillippe Lardy.

This may be a picture book, but it's very sophisticated in language, and heavy (obviously) in content. And it's sonnets! I would suggest tackling it as a poem a day, or else it's likely to be overwhelming to young readers. I like how the illustrations are simple compared to the text -- it helps the reader take it all in a little easier. This book won a ton of awards, which, I think, is a good message to we striving poets to go ahead and take on those heavy subjects, if our hearts call us to do so.

And now, a poem:

Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death.
by Marilyn Nelson

Like the stars, which fluttered their quicksilver wings.
Like the unbroken song creation sings
while humankind tramples the grapes of wrath.
Like wildflowers growing beside the path
a boy was dragged along, blood spattering
their white petals as he, abandoning
all hope, gasped his agonizing last breath.
Like a nation sending its children off to fight
our faceless enemy, immortal fear,
the most feared enemy of the human race.
Like a plague of not knowing wrong from right.
Like the consciencelessness of the atmosphere.
Like a gouged eye, watching boots kick a face.

Wow, huh? The next poem is titled with the last line of this one... which is the pattern throughout the book. And then, the final poem is comprised of the first lines of the 14 preceding sonnets in the collection. Now that requires some wordsmithing skill!


  1. Wow is right - must admit preferring phrases such as "plague of not knowing wrong from right" to a word like "consciencelessness".
    Thanks for sharing a peek into this book on such an important person and theme. And definite wordsmithing skill with those interlaced sonnets!

  2. Wow--a plague indeed. I think your suggestion of sharing one a day is a good one--pretty powerful stuff. And making a sonnet of the sonnets to end the book is amazing.

  3. I am impressed by Ms. Nelson's skill, for sure. She rises to the challenge admirably.

    It sounds like you are having a super summer so far! :-)

  4. Wow! The task was certainly a difficult one, in more ways than one. I will have to see if I can find a copy of the book to read more.

  5. I need to go back and reread this amazing book.

  6. I have loved this book for so long - especially the very tight formal restrictions she put on herself as she wrote it. It's a small little miracle of a book, and heartbreaking, of course. Glad to see your blog post about it

  7. I bought and read this book a few years ago. Isn't it brilliant? The individual poems are powerful, but when you get to the last poem with lines drawn from all the preceding ones -- WOW.

  8. Wow. Just wow. Small doses is definitely the way to go, but what an impact!

  9. Hi there Irene, I know this book and featured it a few years back I think when we had our Poetry/Novel-in-Verse theme. It's a very powerful read.


Your thoughts?