Poetry Books for Young Adults
Books of poetry usually take one of three formats: edited anthologies consisting of the poems of a number of poets, collections of poems of one poet, or a single poem or group of poems that are meant to be read from beginning to end. One example of this latter category is Mel Glenn’s Split Image (2000), which is the story of a young Asian American girl and the conflicts she faces at home and at school. In contrast, the poems within an anthology are often meant to be shared individually although the collection as a whole may present a single theme. As poet Nikki Grimes (2000) says, a single poem can be “memorized or sung, or...carried in the back pocket of the mind” (p. 33). While you will want to share a number of classic poems with young adults, there are also a number of contemporary poems and collections of poetry which will provide poems that adolescents will want to carry with them.
Anthologies of poetry
There are a number of excellent collections of young adult poetry, some by adult poets and others by adolescents themselves. Patrice Vecchione has edited several anthologies that should appeal to adolescents including The Body Eclectic: An Anthology of Poems (2002) and Truth and Lies (2000). Another anthology compiler is Paul Janeczko, who often combines information about poets with their poetry. His Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets (2002) is a compilation of letters and poems from 32 poets that provides advice to adolescent writers. Other excellent poetry anthologies by Janeczko include the classic Poetspeak: In Their Work, about Their Work (1983), The Music of What Happens: Poems That Tell Stories (1985), The Place My Words Are Looking For: What Poets Say about and Through Their Work (1990), and Looking for Your Name: A Collection of Contemporary Poems (1993). Some of his more recent anthologies include Stone Bench in an Empty Park (2000) and Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters (2004).
Adolescents often enjoy poems written by teenage authors. For example, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s WritersCorps provides a workshop for young authors. Their yearly volume includes excellent poetry that is sometimes combined with prose or even photography. Some of their more recent volumes include Believe Me, I Know: Poetry and Photography by WritersCorps Youth (Bush, 2002) and Jump: Poetry and Prose by WritersCorps Youth (Bush, 2001). Another collection by teen writers is Movin’: Teen Poets Take Voice (2000), edited by Dave Johnson. This anthology consists of poems by participants in New York Public Library poetry workshops or by teens who submitted their work via the Internet. Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd checked teen magazines and combed Internet sites to develop the anthology The Pain Tree and Other Teenage Angst-Ridden Poetry (2000). Finally, You Hear Me? Poems and Writings by Teenage Boys (2000), collected by Betsy Franco, contains the frank and sometimes raw emotions of adolescent boys.
While boys and girls often appreciate the same type of poetry, there are times when their interests turn in other directions. In I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine: Poems for Young Feminists (1993), Carol Ann Duffy has collected poems that explore women’s issues; likewise, in I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: Paired Poems by Men & Women (1996), Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul B. Janeczko present pairs of poems.
Many young adult poetry anthologies incorporate multicultural poetry. Some of the classic collections are I Am the Darker Brother, which was compiled by Arnold Adoff in 1968 and expanded and updated in 1997, and The Whispering Wind: Poetry by Young American Indians (1972), edited by Terry Allen. Pierced By a Ray of Sun: Poems about the Times We Feel Alone (1995), featuring poems selected by Ruth Gordon, is an international collection that focuses on individual alienation and loneliness. Another favorite that focuses on young adult concerns (e.g., school and the future) is Lori M. Carlson’s Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States (1994), in which she includes poets such as Sandra Cisneros and Gary Soto. Other collections about the Latino experience are Wáchale! Poetry and Prose about Growing Up Latino in America (2001), edited by Ilan Stavans, and The Tree Is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists (1995) by Naomi Shihab Nye. In Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poems (1996), Nikki Giovanni has collected poems that reflect the African American cultural experience in the early 20th century.
There is no doubt that young adults enjoy a wide range of poetry. In Light-Gathering Poems (2000), Liz Rosenberg has produced a collection of classic and contemporary poems from throughout the world, including translations of poems from poets such as Issa, Rilke, and Rumi. David Kherdian goes back to the 1960s and the Beat poets in San Francisco in his Beat Voices: An Anthology of Beat Poetry (1995). Other collections to consider are June Cotner’s collection Teen Sunshine Reflections: Words for the Heart and Soul (2002), Naomi Shihab Nye’s What Have You Lost? (1999), Michael Stipe’s The Haiku Year (1998), and Zoe Anglesey’s Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry (1999).
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