How I Discovered Poetry

By Marilyn Nelson b. 1946 Marilyn Nelson
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

Marilyn Nelson, “How I Discovered Poetry” from The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 by Marilyn Nelson. Reprinted with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997)

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Poet Marilyn Nelson b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Arts & Sciences, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Activities, Poetry & Poets

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 Marilyn  Nelson

Biography

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a military family, Marilyn Nelson is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and an accomplished poet, children’s verse author, and translator. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Yaddo residencies, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the 2012 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. Nelson is a professor emeritus at the . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Activities, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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