Poetry

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Read MHK Young Adult Poetry Books

Read MHK Young Adult Poetry Books

by Alex Urbanek, Collection Services Librarian

This month’s ReadMHK prompt is poetry, which is a challenge for me, as I am not someone who seeks out poetry regularly. It’s not that I dislike poetry, I just tend to read other things. With my To-Be-Read list constantly growing and forever changing, poetry consistently finds itself further from the top. While I was figuring out what poetry books I might enjoy for this month’s challenge, I learned that Young Adult poetry has a much greater appeal to me than some of the more “classic” poetry I read in high school. Many of the authors and editors who create these books are looking to talk about current serious subjects, and by turning them into smaller lyrical stories instead of novels, they have an immense amount of impact while still holding interest and not being too overwhelming.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright” by Jason Reynolds, with illustrations from Jason Griffin, released in early 2022 to rave reviews. While at first look this book seems very large, only about ten sentences of text flow throughout. Griffin’s illustrations fill the pages with dynamic mixed-media artwork, which lend more power to the words. Each page looks upon a notebook, filled with different media and moods, the words cut from their printed surface and taped on. Our narrator is a young Black man at home at the beginning of the pandemic. He talks about how each person in his family is dealing with the different stresses. His mother watches the news nonstop as his sister prepares to march in the BLM protests. His younger brother uses his video games as an escape, and his father is alone in the back room with a cough that just won’t stop. The feeling of constant stress and questions is one I am definitely able to relate to after the last few years. This is the first poetry book I have read that combined art and words so completely, and it results in a very strong and beautiful message.

In “You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves,” editor Diana Whitney has compiled poems from a wide variety of authors. The poems are organized into different groups of “emotional experience,” such as “Seeking,” “Rage,” “Longing,” and “Belonging.” In the introduction, Whitney states, “I wanted to collect the voices I wish I’d heard when I was a teen.” The end result is a book filled with gorgeous imagery and poems written by strong, hopeful, sometimes angry people, offered up to those who need to feel that someone else understands. While the book is labeled as poetry for girls, anyone who is struggling with strong emotions will be able to relate to the work.

An award-winning novel-in-verse that came out last year is Eric Gansworth’s “Apple: Skin to the Core.” Gansworth is a tribally-enrolled Onondaga writer who was raised in the Tuscarora Nation, and here he details his life from childhood up until adulthood, exploring themes of intersectionality, racism, and vanishing culture, alongside personal paintings and family photographs. He pushes mixed media even further by including references to several Beatles albums and Apple records. In an interview with the Young Adult Library Services Association, Gansworth explains that he wrote this for himself at a younger age: “I wanted someone to affirm that the worries that kept me up at nights were real, and to offer some home for a metamorphosis that suited the young person I wanted to become.”

Another anthology of poems is “Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience.” This collection is the work of 64 different poets, each of whom has either been an immigrant or refugee, or is a first-generation American. These poems give you a small peek into the immigrant and refugee experience. Some poems detail the fear of moving to a new country as a child, leaving behind family and the entire world they knew. Others cover losing the culture of their parents in the quest to fit in with peers or watching their parents deal with daily racism. Being able to read about this subject matter from such a wide amount of viewpoints is a major highlight of this title.

The library has these, and so many more wonderful poetry books ready for you to check out! If you’re looking for a recommendation, reach out to our staff at the Reference Desk or sign up for a personalized reading list. Happy National Poetry Month!

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National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Rita Dove aptly described her art as she accepted the position of our nation’s Poet Laureate in 1993. As I read poetry collections, I find it striking how many forms of literature are represented in each book. In just a few pages, one skips through history, memoir, and romance. This makes poetry an effective way to explore the world through other perspectives. Poetry also has the unique ability to capture the ordinary and celebrate it.

In “How to Hang the Moon,” Huascar Medina, the Kansas Poet Laureate, writes about love, family, and, of course, Kansas. His poems take us from the fields of rural Kansas in “Per Aspera Ad Astra” to the streets of Kansas City in “Surrogate City,” exploring what it means to be a Kansan, even when one isn’t born here. Medina’s true gift, though, is his ability to capture the small moments in life with poems of streetlights, jazz, cicadas, and cats. His occasional incorporation of Spanish only adds to the exquisite rhythm of his writing.

Rita Dove is one of the most well-known American poets of our time, and her reputation is well-deserved. Throughout her 2021 book “Playlist for the Apocalypse”, we get an insider’s view into the perspective of a Black woman on many aspects of history and current events, such as the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four young Black girls. She also draws from her time living in Venice, Italy to create a series of poems about the origins of the word “ghetto” with the Jews that were relocated in 1516 in Venice. Another series explores illness and pain, somehow managing to find grace in the midst of both. Dove is a creative writing professor at the University of Virginia, and her expertise shines through in her ability to switch between formats to find the best fit for each subject.

Our current U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, visited K-State in the fall of 2020. Since she lives in nearby Tulsa, she regularly makes appearances in Kansas. As a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she interprets the Trail of Tears in her 2019 collection “An American Sunrise.” Harjo’s book is a brilliant mixture of historical detail and the lingering effect of history on the lives of the descendants.

Another Poet Laureate (2004-2006) that hails from close to home is Ted Kooser, from Garland, Nebraska. Kooser’s trademark is his ability to capture the smallest moments, like an estate sale or coming across a frog on his porch, and find the beauty and human condition that lives within them. His folksy style and rural topics will be very familiar to Kansans, but he has a gift for noticing details that others pass by.

If you’ve wandered away from poetry and are interested in but tentative about returning to the genre, it might help to return to what you may have experienced in your high school English classes. The poetry of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth are still alive and well (and available at your public library). We even have a series called “Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets” with collections from some recognizable poets and selections on love and other popular poetry topics. If you prefer to listen, we have poetry available in both audio CD and digitally, with my favorite being “Voices of Poetry” on Hoopla, featuring poets such as Tolkein, cummings, and Hughes reading their own works.

April is National Poetry Month, and we are celebrating at Manhattan Public Library with our ReadMHK program. Join us by attending our book discussion on April 14th, listening to our ReadMHK podcast, or finding a new poet in our book lists, all available at www.mhklibrary.org.

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ReadMHK Native Authors 

ReadMHK Native Authors

by Jared Richards, Learning and Information Services supervisor

ReadMHK is Manhattan Public Library’s community-wide reading program. November’s theme, books by Native authors, was inspired by American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. What began in the early 1900s as an attempt to get a day of recognition, became a week-long celebration in the mid-1980s, and was expanded to the entire month of November in the 1990s. This is a month to broaden your perspective, celebrate the culture, and acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous and Native peoples. One of the best ways to do this is through reading poetry written by Native authors, and we’ve got plenty to choose from at the library.

One of my more rebellious youthful acts was starting sentences with “and” when I was writing. And I got the courage to do that after reading poetry and learning that writing didn’t need to follow standard conventions. Capital letters could be ignored, sentences could be broken up across multiple lines, and you could use math and patterns to create stories. Poetry allows for the freedom to express yourself as you are without trying to fit into a restrictive box. This makes for a unique and compelling format for Native authors to tell stories about their people, history, and culture.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a fairly simple view of what poetry is, but thankfully, poets have never come to me for advice on how to write or structure their work, so you’ll find a wide variety of poetry, both in content and structure, to suit your tastes. In “New Poets of Native Nations” edited by Heid E. Erdrich, a Turtle Mountain Ojibwe author, you’ll find the selected works of twenty-one poets who were first published within the last twenty years. One of my favorite poems is by Oglala Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier, not only because it breaks the fourth wall in an interesting way, but also because I learned about a historical event I was unfamiliar with. In “38,” Long Soldier tells the true story of the Dakota 38, which references the mass-hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men following the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota. The war lasted 37 days and was in response to the treatment of the Dakota people in the region, land restrictions, and fear of starvation going into winter.

The Dakota War of 1862 occurred at the same time as the Civil War, an event that tends to pull focus in the study of American history during that period, but it’s imperative that we learn about all aspects of our history during that time, not only the fight to end slavery, but also the continued mistreatment of Indigenous people throughout the country. Long Soldier’s poem about this event is tragic, but one that’s important to read.

When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through” is an anthology of Native nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee Nation, who is the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. This book features the poetry of more than 160 poets from almost 100 Indigenous nations. Rex Lee Jim of the Diné (Navajo) tribe has a poem called “Saad” featured in this anthology written entirely in Diné Bizaad, the Navajo language, and then translated into the English poem “Voice.” Even though Jim does his own English translations, he has said it makes him uncomfortable because he knows that what he has written can’t really be explained in English. It is dependent on the sounds that are part of the Navajo language, and those do not translate.

Jim is also a proponent of more work being written in Navajo so the language won’t be lost. And he encourages readers to find someone fluent in Navajo to help them with words they don’t know, rather than relying on the English translation. This will not only help them learn, it’s also a way of making connections and building a community, which is one of our goals for ReadMHK.

Along with informal book discussions at the library on the third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM, we are also producing the ReadMHK Podcast. Each month we get to know our guest, talk about books related to our theme, and offer reading suggestions. Our guest for November is Dr. Debra Bolton, who directs Intercultural Learning and Development and is faculty in geography at Kansas State University. It’s a great episode, and you can find it on the library’s website or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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