By Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2005. (Library copy.) Ms Nelson had created an amazing tribute to Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy who was lynched in 1955. His murderers were identified but acquitted. His heartbroken mother held an open casket funeral, drawing the attention of the whole world to his brutal torture and murder, and sparking the Civil Rights movements of the '50 and '60.
A heroic crown of sonnets is a collection of 15 sonnets, 14 of which connect in a circle with the last line of each sonnet transformed into the first line of the next. The 15th sonnet is made up of the first lines of the other 14. Mind boggling. Last year I participated in a crown sonnet project with six other poets. We each wrote a sonnet starting with the last line of another poet's previously written sonnet. The seventh sonnet begins with the last line of #6 and ends with the very first line of the first sonnet as it's last line. A perfect circle. Working with the other poets on editing and revising was so stimulating and rewarding. I learned so much from them as we challenged and encouraged each other to complete the work.
Nelson says of her heroic crown: "the strict form became a kind of insulation." I can see how that works to both express and comfort the wrenching grief of this one sharp example of the evil of racism in our history.
A Wreath for Emmett Till weaves classical literary illusions with traditional flower associations (rosemary for rememberence, willow twigs for sadness...) as it tells the story and mourns the loss of a young man with untold potential. The author's note in the back of the book briefly explains the literary connections and references, making the depth of the work clear. I have great admiration for Ms. Nelson as a poet. She has taken a tragedy too huge for words and wrestled it into a work of beauty and power.
Teacher's Guide at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Interview with Marilyn Nelson at NPR
Interview on TeachingBooks.net (PDF)
This week's Friday Poetry round up is hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.
Next week it will be right here at A Wrung Sponge. Enjoy your weekend!