April 12, 2016

Friday, October 5, 2012

Poetry Friday: Love to Langston

It's just over one month until the 2012 presidential election. Among the many children's books related to the presidency and the election is poet Tony Medina's The President Looks Like Me. It will be out from Just Us Books in time for the election.

Tony Medina reading at the Bethesda, MD Writers Center.
Dr. Medina, who teaches at Washington DC's Howard University, is best known as an award-winning poet for adults. However, he --  like poet Lucille Clifton, who I blogged about last week -- is also a prolific children's author.

As we count down to the election, I am going to feature several of Tony's children's books. On November 2, the Friday before election day, the good Doctor will stop by for an interview about The President Looks Like Me.

Let's start with Love to Langston (Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2002), Tony's wonderful verse biography of poet Langston Hughes.

The book opens with "Little Boy Blues." Young Langston is bored at home with a snoozing grandmother, unable to play outside because the "white kids chase me/ 'cause of my brown brown skin." 

But it is that same grandmother who tells Langston stories about Africa, slavery, the Underground Railroad and John Brown. We watch the poet navigate racism at school, his troubled relationship with his father, and a trip to Africa. He finds solace in libraries, "beautiful words/ keeping me company/ taking my loneliness/ and blues/ away."

My favorite poem in this biography, which extends through Hughes' adult life, is "Harlem Is the Capital of My World."

I read this poem to a group of fifth graders when we were writing odes together. They were caught up in the music of Tony's poem. A poem that sounds like they sound, that talks the way they talk! Whether or not these kids had been to Harlem, they understood what it meant to love a place that's "black and beautiful and bruised."

Harlem Is the Capital of My World
by Tony Medina

Harlem is the capital of my world
black and beautiful and bruised
          like me

Harlem has soul -- it's where black people
care about black people and everybody's
child belongs to the community

Where we be stylin' and profilin'
with concrete streets stretched out
under our feet and boulevards broad
and spread like a red carpet for royalty

The King of Swing
The Duke of Ellington
The Empress of the Blues

Harlem is a bouquet of black roses
all packed together and protected
by blackness and pride

Harlem is where I reside
where I work and stride
my dark community
from the East River to
St. Nicholas Avenue with
nightclubs and cabarets
spilling over with jazz
and bluesy urban spirituals
(it's not miracle we survive!)

Why I fell in love with Harlem
before I ever got here!

Yeah, Harlem is where I be --
where I could be

Harlem is the capital of my world

Poem posted with permission of Tony Medina. All rights reserved. Thanks, Tony.

Next week, we'll look at another verse biography by Tony Medina, I and I Bob Marley. 

Enjoy this week's Poetry Friday posts. You'll find them at the other Laura S's blog, Writing the World for Kids. Thanks, Laura!


Liz Steinglass said...

We've been reading Langston Hughes and talking about Langston Hughes a lot at our house because my oldest son is reading "A Raisin in the Son" for school. This will be a perfect contribution to the conversation.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Liz. Great timing! I love "A Raisin in the Sun" and used to teach it way back when I was a public school educator. We saw a great production in Newark, NJ. Enjoy the book. (Another of my favorite poems introduces us to Hughes' mentorship of a young Alice Walker.)

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I can't wait to see Medina's book The President Looks Like Me. I heard him do a reading in DC at ALA a couple years ago and he rocks! Hughes is one of my favorite poets as well, so you know I love this post.

laurasalas said...

Wow, there's a whole lot I didn't know about Medina! Thanks for sharing more of him and also this lovely poem.

Harlem is a bouquet of black roses


Author Amok said...

Thanks, Andi. Medina is a great poet and I'm so glad that includes writing for children. Glad you liked the post. You're going to love the interview on November 2!

Hi, Laura. I absolutely love this poem. My students didn't know you could "talk" like a real person in a poem. They were blown away.

jama said...

Thanks for spotlighting Tony's work. I also love Langston Hughes and you've piqued my interest in reading Love to Langston. Can't wait to learn more about Tony's children's books.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

What an amazing book, and I loved learning more about Medina , too. And Langston Hughes....I wonder at the poems he might have written about our times, our President.

Renee LaTulippe said...

Beautiful! And how fabulous that your students learned you can talk like a "real" person in a poem - that is exactly what they need to know. We need to knock poetry off that pedestal (who built that pedestal, anyway?) and show them that it belongs to everyone. Yay for you, and yay for Tony Medina and Langston Hughes! Love this post!

Mary Lee said...

A connection: My students continually surprise me with their Poetry Friday book choices. A group of boys picked JPL's Freedom Like Sunlight: Praise Songs for Black Americans yesterday. Everyone else shared silly poems, but we had one serious biographical poem for balance.

Author Amok said...

Renee, I like that question -- who built the pedestal. This is one of the issues Alexia Clifton and I spoke about last week, the importance of diction in poetry.

Mary Lee, thanks for sharing that connection. I'd like to take a look at "Freedom Like Sunlight" What was the biographical poem your student shared?

Robyn Hood Black said...

Great post, Laura - thank you for sharing this poet and poem. I look forward to reading more and also to the interview. (Love reading everyone's connection in the comments, too!)

By the way - my youngest, Seth, is heading up to the Dodge festival this week!

Tabatha said...

Tony Medina's poem has wonderful sounds and rhythm. Did you change your blog layout? Was I just unobservant before? It looks great.