Write Poetry That Reflects Our Times and Your Experience – It’s What Poetry is About
By Riley, ACE Poetry Contest Mascot and Alpha Public Schools Mascot, assisted by Martha Sessums who did a lot of cutting and pasting this time
We dogs and cats come in all colors and sizes. Big, small, fuzzy, brown, black, grey, white, tabby and much more. Although we definitely run into abuse issues, it’s rarely our color that makes us loved or unloved. It’s our face, personality, character, how we respond to or owners or potential owners and even our funny quirks.
Not always the same with our owners. They run into issues with what color they are, not the quality of their character. And that can end very badly sometimes. For many bad reasons.
But accountability and justice were served this week in the trial of the police officer who was found guilty of killing George Floyd. Martha says there is a lot of joy out there because of the verdict and she also introduced me to a poem she heard by Kwame Alexander on a recent Morning Edition show on KALW radio, a local NPR station. (KALW is one of the ACE Learning Centers with the Audio Academy, so Martha always listens to that radio station.)
It was written for the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala., which is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center and reflects Kwame’s vision for America the beautiful. It was co-read by Rachael Martin, one of the hosts of Morning Edition, but here’s the written poem.
Read it. Feel it. Arf, arf. It’s what poetry is about.
A Civil Community
By Kwame Alexander
Remember our people, the dreamers, the browns and the Blacks, the ones who built bridges from inland to coast, the ones who fought for justice and freedom, the ones who couldn’t be silenced, the hollering of their heartbeat, the hope in their words.
Remember Martin, remember Assata, reaching beyond that plantation haze, sword lilies blossoming during our darkest times, sparrows singing our victory song.
This is for the ones who can no longer sing for themselves, for George Jackson and George Floyd, for Lieutenant Colonel Lemuel Penn and Breonna Taylor, for Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, for Emmett Louis Till and Tamir Rice.
This is for the summer streets that once held our children’s laughs, now turned to gunshots and mourning wails, for the Black lives fired up who can’t take no more. This is for the faithful and the fearless.
For Harriet, following that North Star into possibilities, for Paul Robeson’s soulful, deep, booming bass echoing like a cannon shot in the still winter air, singing the spirit, climbing a mountain, rafting a river, sailing the seas, counting every one of us who was not drowned, who has ever stood up. We are an ocean, some of us ripples, others waves. We carry the boat that heads into the horizon, the moon guiding us to a new dawn.
This is for the Tuskegee Airmen’s heraldry and Amanda Gorman’s yellow coat of arms. This is for Barack Obama’s audacity and Rabbi Heschel’s faith.
Remember, violence is a cycle, but so is peace. That is what we are fighting for, an end to chaos, a new birth of freedom. The ocean is our goal.
Grasp it with your fingers clenched in tight fists of unison, not to strike a brawl, but to tear down the wall of division. Grasp your rights. Grasp America the beautiful.
This country is a house, this world a village. If we are to be a civil community, let us come in unity. Rise up out of the blue. Rise up into the light. Rise up out of the waters. Rise up into the sun. Rise up through the love. Rise up. Reach for freedom. Know that you are good enough to end the rage, to turn the page, to stand up with pride, to stand up with peace, to lift your voice, to open your eyes, to rise.
Hope your poetry lessons are inspiring and you’re writing poems for the ACE Poetry Contest. Remember, April 29 is Poem in Your Pocket Day.