Although T.S. Eliot famously deemed April “the cruellest month” in the opening line of his long poem “The Wasteland,” it’s sure a fabulous month for poetry. The following titles were selected specifically for their teen appeal and range in format, from book-length poems to collected works, tackling myriad topics, from history to sports, religion to social media.
The cover of Elizabeth Acevedo’s Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths (YesYes Bks, Oct. 2016; Gr 10 Up) alone is bound to elicit readers. The author explores the the economic, mythic, political, and social forces that police certain bodies, turning them “beastly.” Mainly focusing on Dominican history and experience, the poems deal with real-life happenings in a slim but poignant package. Acevedo excels at selecting precise images, such as “like closing your eyes/and guiding an earring/into long ago pierced flesh.” Upper high schoolers could learn not only about the subjects and themes addressed but also how to craft a poem.
Kwame Alexander’s The Playbook: 52 Rules To Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life (HMH, Feb. 2017; Gr 6 Up) is for a slightly younger audience, though it provides much food for thought for teens who may not ordinarily gravitate toward poetry. Divided into four quarters, Alexander offers a collection of short poems, or “rules,” interspersed with personal memories and inspirational quotes from the likes of Michelle Obama and Stephen Curry. Alexander reflects on how sports can challenge and extend one’s capabilities and build character. (Rule number three: “The size/Of your heart/Matters more/Than the size/Of your opponent.”) Keep this handy as a browsable reference for tweens and teens who may need an extra boost of confidence.
Christine Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, May 2016; Gr 10 Up) is a smartly crafted novel in verse about abortion, Catholicism, and the power of one’s decisions. Readers will instantly connect with teenage Addie, who attends an all-girls Catholic high school, and her wry observations (“[We are] the Immaculate Heart Crusaders./…Rumor has it that the school board/wants to change our name/to something less eleventh century.”). Interspersed throughout the narrative poems are ones written by Addie (in a different font) in which she reflects on herself and the figure of Mary (“Maybe she [Mary] had a favorite song,/a mole on her chin, a secret dream/that, after a while, not even she/remembered.”). Heppermann avoids hyperbole and sensationalism, instead weaving a quiet tale of growth and self-perception.
Diane Luby Lane and the Get Lit Players’ Get Lit Rising: Words Ignite. Claim Your Poem. Claim Your Life. (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, Oct. 2016; Gr 7 Up) is a fantastic tool with which to reinforce the power of poetry to potentially skeptical students. Each of the 20 short chapters profiles one of the Get Lit Players, who are all in their teens (except for Lane), through well-written personal essays and a reinvention of a classic poem. For instance, Adrian Kljucec, 18, takes inspiration from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to pen his love poem “Queer Bodies”: “I am not body positive, I am body honest.” Writing prompts and suggested poems for further reading, organized by themes such as “Letting Things Go” and “Color, Race, and Equality,” are included. The final chapter outlines a detailed process of how to create a teen poetry group. Also, videos of the Players’ performances are available on YouTube, some of which have more than seven million views.
The 91 poems collected in Leave This Song Behind: Teen Poetry at Its Best (HCI, Apr. 2016; Gr 7 Up), edited by Stephanie H. Meyer, John Meyer, Adam Halwitz, and Cindy Spertner, were culled from poems submitted to Teen Ink magazine over the last five years. Spotlighting a rich diversity of thoughts and voices, the poems range in format and tone, exploring a number of topics, from sibling bonds to meditations on everyday objects. There’s also a fair bit of humor to be found, as in Abbey Childs’s “Confession”: “I think about love while I’m looking in the mirror,/But then I get lonely,/So I think about socks.” Like most collected works, this one has something for everyone.
Though written for adult readers, Tommy Pico’s IRL (Birds, LLC, Sept. 2016; Gr 10 Up) is a stimulating exploration of identity that will strongly resonate with teens on the cusp of adulthood. Narrated from the point of view of Teebs, a queer, reservation-born twentysomething, this work follows his undulating train of thought as he considers social media, relationships, and the permeating effects of colonialism. Pico’s verse is exactingly smart: “Regret is a gift/that keeps on giving I/think it was Sontag/or Sonic the Hedgehog/who said just dash dodge/weave faster than you/can think n there’s no/time to shame spiral.” While readers may have to do some googling to understand some of the references, it’s a journey worth taking.
Most teens will be familiar with Tumblr sensation Clementine von Radics (check out her video performance of “For Teenage Girls”) and will take to For Teenage Girls with Wild Ambitions and Trembling Hearts (Andrews McMeel, Apr. 2016; Gr 7 Up) with ease. Von Radics sets the stakes high (“You are now 18,/standing on the precipice/trembling before your own greatness”) and doesn’t back down, urging readers to call forth upon their teenage foremothers (e.g., Anne Frank, Joan of Arc) for support and courage. The text is accompanied by purple and white abstract images that are more decorative than artful. At times the verse can come across as a tad bombastic, but von Radics’s poem will be enjoyed by teens either new to poetry or just looking to get their feet wet.
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