April is National Poetry Month, so we’re celebrating another year of promoting poets and their poems by spotlighting our poetry American Voices Nominees! Founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month seeks to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and literary history. Often labeled as the “difficult” writing genre because rhyming is hard and iambic pentameter makes it harder poetry, unknown to many, does not have to rhyme or be written in any specific way. National Poetry Month works to encourage both the reading and writing of poems, provides resources for students and teachers, and raises awareness of practicing poets in local and national media (The Poet Laureate for Indiana is Matthew Graham!).
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a regional and national competition for creative teens, aged 13-18, to enter their works of art and writing, including poetry. These writers take on a myriad of issues to work through and make sense of the world around them; as a result, their writing is emotional, humorous, and true.
In celebration, we’re recognizing two of our region’s American Voices Nominees who submitted works of poetry in this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: Elizabeth Clark and Sydney Taylor. Read, or listen to them read, their poems below:
Elizabeth Clark, “Winter Poem”
The first snow was
Hesitant and gentle,
A witness to chapped lipped
Kisses between autumn
And winter. The wasp, the one
Between the pane and the screen,
Witnessed this too. The stubborn
Bastard had been on display
For nearly a month. This
Absent minded drone plotten, planned
And poorly executed his escape daily.
“Are you an idiot?” I ask.
“Can’t you see the holes in the screen?”
But now it’s too late.
Because that was two weeks ago.
Now it has snowed.
Now there’s a corpse in my window
And guilt on my walls.
The first snow was a harsh bitch.
She was a coward who couldn’t
Rush in with pride and dignity
No instead, you crept in through
The holes in my screen and mocked
Myself, and the former friend that I
Was too chicken-shit to set free.
Sydney Taylor, “The Marks on Me”
In my religion class we are taught that Jesus turned water into wine.
I know Jesus like I know each scar and bruise that has been painted blue and black and red on my thighs and on my hips and on my hands.
There are some marks that I do not remember the pain of.
I think that they are a symbol of a past life.
Maybe those who came before me.
There is a birthmark that cascades down my neck
in a mass of deep brown skin.
I have had it since before I took my first breath.
As if someone had once poured water down my throat,
trying to knock the air out of my lungs.
To silence my voice.
In my father’s home, history is hush hush:
As if someone has poured water down their throats,
Silenced their voices.
Google is the only family history I have.
It estimates the worth of this knowledge at $59.99.
I pay for that which was stolen from me.
If I have learned anything from this history is that I will be paying for faults that are not my own all my life.
These marks on my body have dug themselves into the dark under my nails and wrapped themselves around the coil of my hair.
I share these with the great greats, whose blood courses through my veins blue and red,
I can see them through my forearms traveling in line down into my hands,
I think that this makes us alike.
I think that maybe this is why I will never go on a cruise,
Why I am afraid of the ocean.
We are alike in the way that we both fear the great white.
In my religion class we learned that Jesus walked on water.
Those before, plunged into it.
Marching in perfect time, the rhythm of jazz, and sweet potatoes and hearty laughter.
I wonder if those are not butterflies I get when I kiss my white boyfriend,
But the tumbling of a storm and the crashing of waves.
The steady beat of drums,
Heavy steps in perfect time,
Leaving footprints in my memory,
A target on my back.
I wonder if they sang the same songs,
Why else would the phrase ““Mmụọ mmiri du anyi bịa, mmụọ mmiri ga-edu anyi laghachi” taste like salt on my tongue, like water in my lungs.
I wonder if they held Martin’s hand through Selma;
Teaching him the march.
The march of a man who did not hug the land
but who found freedom at the bottom of the ocean.
The march of a woman who knew nothing of heaven,
nothing of miracles, and still walked on water.
Jesus turned water into wine
Those before, turned water turned to blood.
Following in song after Moses,
toward a place that they would learn to call home.
To a god who wept for his children
To a god who marched with them.
If I have learned anything from this history,
It is that I will march all my life.
Mary and Harriet mend my feet,
for they both know the dangers
that face a woman who chooses
to follow after the North Star.
So I will march.
I will march until the soles of my
feet burn a blazing fire.
I will march until my tears turn red with blood.
I will march until I reach that promised land.
I will march so that maybe,
I’ll leave a mark on you.