LS 5663 Poetry by Kids

Giovanni, Nikki. comp. Paint Me Like I Am. Harper Tempest. 2003. ISBN 0064472647

Paint Me Like I Am is a collection of poems by teens in Washington, DC, Bronx, New York, and San Francisco, California in association with WritersCorps.  The collection is set up like a poetry journal, with each section having a quote and writing prompt that introduce the poetry that follows.

While the poems, mainly free verse, deal with everyday life, it isn’t the ideal everyday life that most people for some reason assume all children and teens have.  Instead you have poems from the point of view of an abusive father and it’s counterpart from the abused son’s point of view, as well as a poem from the point of view of a girl who refuses to join a gang because she lost a friend when he joined a gang.

However, much like the title of this collection states, the collection cannot be called only dark, or depressing.  There are poems of light and hope.  The section titled Friendship shows adults a sliver of what teen friendships look like.  (It doesn’t seem to have changed much, but funny how adults tend to forget how those friendships felt.)  The best word to describe the collection would be raw.  These are not “let’s play nice” or “try not to offend” poems.  They show life how it is for the poet.  This part of life is good, let me show you why (or my life is terrible, here’s my proof).

It is unsurprising that a collection written by teens would likely work best for a teen audience.  Someone, somewhere feels the same as you, has been through the same thing as you, and wrote it down.  These poems seem more likely to encourage those who think poetry is dumb, or that it has to rhyme (many of these don’t) to try their hand at poetry.  It should also serve as a reminder to the adults that the everyday things in life can be the big things in someone’s life.

Spotlight Poem

My Real Name by Elena Noel

Today my name is colorful.
Yesterday my name was dead souls.
Tomorrow my name will be lively spirits.
My friends think my name is fire.
The police think my name is burden.
My parents think my name is symphony.
Secretly I know my name is anything
I want it to be.

This poem is similar to a modified biopoem.  It incorporates aspects of the speaker from different perspectives.  While a modified version could be done for preteens (for example literal names and nicknames) for older teens it is a question of self-evaluation.  Are other people seeing who you think you are?  Why?  Teens could be encouraged to write their own version, possibly replacing police with teachers if the students don’t have regular interactions with the police.  Then it may work best to have them make poetry circles of four or five (including a printout of the rules of a poetry circle) to share their poetry.  In this case, they wouldn’t be sharing with adults unless they wanted to share.

Review

Kirkus- “Each section begins with a quote about writing, and a sample writing exercise. The free-verse poems vary in voice from narrative to lyric to performance; they are edgy, mysterious, and assertive in tone. Subjects range from friendship to parenthood, from the importance of doing right to the importance of doing nothing…The poems in the collection are mixed in their effectiveness; there is no editor mentioned, or any indication of how the poems were selected or when they were written.”

Kirkus Reviews. 2003. (Vol. 71. No. 3.) Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=0064472647

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