Welcome to Poetropia, an arena for discussion about children's poetry, specially designed for my graduate Special Topics (LS 5903 Section 22) at Texas Woman's University. Please feel free to visit as often as you like and to give me your reactions to my reactions of the poems and poetry collections I'll share here throughout the Spring 2007 semester. Thank you for your visit. You can leave the door ajar for the next visitor as you leave. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poetry Break Six: A Serious Poem On A Difficult Subject.

Woodson, Jacqueline (2003). Locomotion. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 0399231153.

There are volumes of books of poetry on “difficult subjects” many of which are collected into whole novels. One such collection is called Locomotion. Lonnie Collins Motion (or Lo Co Motion for short), is a young boy whose fifth grade English teacher has shown him a new way to express his feelings: through poetry. Through his poems we learn that his parents died in a fire just four years ago and though his sister, Lili, was adopted, he lives in a foster home with Miss Edna. His poetry takes us through a year or so of his life as he struggles to deal with the loss of his parents, missing his sister and coming of age in circumstances that make him feel invisible sometimes even though Miss Edna is always telling him to be quiet.

The poem that touched me the most is near the beginning (p.5-6), as Lonnie is remembering a moment with his mother and sister before any tragedy had happened:


Once when we was real
I was sitting at the window holding my baby sister, Lili
on my lap.
Mama was in the kitchen and Daddy must’ve
been at work.
Mama kept saying
Honey, don’t you drop my baby.

A pigeon came flying over to the ledge
and was looking at us.
Lili put her hand on the glass and the pigeon tried
to peck at it.
Lili snatched her hand away and screamed.
Not a scared scream,
just one of those laughing screams
that babies who can’t talk yet like to do.

Mama came running out the kitchen
drying her hands on her jeans.
When she saw us just sitting there, she let out a breath.
Oh, my Lord, she said,
I thought you’d dropped my baby
I asked
Was I ever your baby, Mama?
and Mama looked at me all warm and smiley.
You still are, she said.
Then she went back in the kitchen.

I felt safe then.
I held Lili tighter.
Maybe if I was eleven then
and if one of my friends had been around,
I would have been embarrassed, I guess.
But I was just a little kid
and nobody else was around.
Just me and Lili and Mama and the pigeons.
And outside the sun
getting bright and warm suddenly
like it’d been listening in.

Reviews for Locomotion (per Amazon.com):

From Publishers Weekly:
The kinetic energy of the aptly named Locomotion (the nickname of Lonnie Collins Motion) permeates the 60 poems that tell his sad yet hopeful story….Woodson, through Lonnie, creates (much as Sharon Creech did with the boy narrator in Love That Dog) a contagious appreciation for poetry while using the genre as a cathartic means for expressing the young poet's own grief.

From School Library Journal:
… Woodson allows Lonnie's poems to tell a complex story of loss and grief and to create a gritty, urban environment. Despite the spare text, Lonnie's foster mother and the other minor characters are three-dimensional, making the boy's world a convincingly real one. His reflections touch on poverty and on being African American when whites seem to have the material advantages, and return repeatedly to the pain of living apart from his younger sister. Readers, though, will recognize Lonnie as a survivor…

Verse poetry, with all its freedom, is an easy medium to use to convey serious thoughts and feelings about difficult topics and situations. The great part about verse novels is that they can be used both as a whole novel or as singular poems to illustrate snapshots of life. This poem could be used to talk about a happy or vivid memory of someone we love who is not near us for whatever reason. After a discussion of the great memories we have of those people and how the nostalgia of those memories is in constant conflict with the feeling of desperate longing for those people, children of any age could be encouraged to write their own poems in free verse about a long-lost loved one (or object).


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