Yesterday was a blustery rain-soaked day that was brightened from start to finish because I attended an all-day event at the National Gallery of Art called “Poetry is a country: Celebrating Art and Poetry.” A range of poets presented. Each was asked to write a poem inspired by a work of art in the National Gallery’s collection. This is called “ekphrastic poetry” (a term I only learned yesterday).
It began with a keynote address by Ada Limón, the Poet Laureate of the United States. Her talk was both inspired and inspirational. She made the case for “unknowing,” to simply be moved by feeling; that poetic form responds to the subject.
I thought of Limón’s comments when I read a recent book by Jacqueline Jules entitled Smoke at the Pentagon (Bushel & Peck). Jules was a teacher/librarian at an Arlington, Virginia on September 11, 2001. As it did with all those who were alive then, likely it stayed with Jules even more so because of her students — then and those who were born long after.
In an author’s note, despite the tough subject and difficulty in writing the book, Jules said, “Ultimately, I decided that recognizing the wounds of the past can help us understand the present.” But how do you introduce a topic like this to young people? Perhaps best by sharing other young people’s perspectives.
Children of different ages experienced this day in different ways ranging from confusion to concern, from fear and worry to action. The impact of that day is still felt. In Jules’ book, each poem is illustrated and presented in the voice of a young person noting their age. And while placed in a specific time, readers will be able to relate to the emotions expressed.
Ada Limón suggested that free verse allows us to return to the “wilderness of the mind.” In this case, it allowed an author to process her reaction to a specific event and by sharing her work allows us to revisit our own.
Parents and teachers can help children explore their own wilderness by both writing and reading poetry. The range of possibilities in the written word inspired by art is unlimited.