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In a 1975 interview with Playboy, Muhammad Ali said:
“I’ll tell you how I’d like to be remembered: as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could–financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam that he found when he listened to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
We believe Ali will be remembered exactly as he wanted to be. He was a man of uncompromising principles and convictions, an inspiration to people all over the world. Stripped of his title, threatened with imprisonment, openly mocked and reviled, he never backed down, and he never gave up his fight for justice, equality, and peace.
Fortunately for us, he lived in a time when all of his work and achievements could be well documented, so we’ll never forget his strength, his courage, his determination.
Los Angeles, 1928. A single mother named Christine Collins returns home from work to find that her son, nine-year-old Walter, is missing.
A few months later, the police inform her that Walter has been found alive in Illinois, and they gather the media to witness the joyous reunion. In fact the reunion is a publicity stunt, meant to counteract the perception of corruption within the police force. Collins is prepared to play her role as the relieved and grateful mother, but there’s one problem: This child is not Walter.
So determined is the LAPD to preserve their image as honest and helpful that they do all they can to persuade Collins to just accept the child as her own and shut up about it. When she refuses to do that, they attempt to discredit her, ultimately having her declared insane and committing her to an asylum.
Folks, this is a true story.
Meticulously researched by J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote the screenplay. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie in one of her most heartbreaking performances.
As April comes to a close, our staff reflects on poets and poetry we love–and celebrate–all year long.
A poem and illustration from “Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It”
I knew from the moment this hilarious little collection landed in my lap (recommended by a friendly fellow Children’s staffer from a neighboring town) that it must be my selection this month: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Treat yourself to the delightful backstory of this style of poetry (detailed on pages 22 and 23), devised by the doctor and poet William Carlos Williams and involving stolen plums. It’s hard to pick one favorite from the bunch, so here are two. Notice the wonderfully similar structure of each:
(I will not be reciting that last one at my next story time.)
So next time you have to apologize for something that may or may not have been your fault…take a deep breath and compose a poem.
One of Erik Blegvad’s beautiful illustrations from “Hurry, Hurry…”
If you find an entire collection of poetry a bit weighty, try PPL’s lighthearted picture book, “Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear”. The book consists of a single poem written by N M Bodecker. Illustrations by Erik Blegvad perfectly capture the sly, witty tone of the poem, as Mary rushes about trying to finish all the chores the narrator thinks she should do before winter sets in. A great read-aloud for kids.
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams is an absolute goldmine of kids’ writing that boasts some of the funniest and wisest snippets of poetry I’ve ever read. Some are totally goofy and meandering, some are sharp and sincere, and many combine elements of both. A personal favorite:
I grew up in a very literary household full of thousands of books. Over the years, bits and pieces of these books flit in and out of my thoughts. My mother must have had a copy of Rabindranath Tagore’s Fireflies, as one poem has remained with me to this day:
If you enjoy Eastern poetry such as Rumi, I would highly recommend spending an afternoon with Tagore.
One of my favorite poems is Raymond Carver’s Waiting, from his collection All of Us. I first heard it at a friend’s wedding, and it seemed to perfectly describe the twists and turns that lead us to where we’re supposed to be.
My first pick is Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy. One of the reasons I like this poem so much is that pays homage to the unknown soldier, and couples the unknowingness of death with eternal aspects of life and the world. Hardy’s work was also a major influence on Dylan Thomas.
Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front is one of those poems I read when I’m aghast with the world. It seems to offer a guide to living, inspiring, actionable words that help the reader to remember what is really important in life. Listening more than speaking, being happy just noticing the movements of the earth, not needing dollars and fancy vacations to be at peace.
Finally, “Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani is another inspiring poem for me. I strongly encourage it to be experienced aurally, like this performance here. Mojgani is so expressive, and his words instill confidence, hope, and faith that every human experience has value, purpose, and importance. It gives me the same kind of foot-tapping excitement that a piece of upbeat music brings, and the phrase “shake the dust” is one I have come to hold as a special mantra for being fearless when I feel the most timid.
Good poetry is a subjective label. Sometimes it isn’t the poem itself that touches us, but the associations it has.
My mother passed away in April, five years ago. Standing by her grave in the mid-May blossom-filled Mount Auburn cemetery where John Ciardi, James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are spending eternity, my sisters and I shared recollections of our kind mother, Marjorie.
The older of my two sisters told the story of her second grade school assignment: select, memorize and recite a poem, a process that had bogged down at “select,” driving her seven-year-old self to the end of her tightly-wound perfectionist rope as the deadline approached. In her trademark over-achieving fashion, she aimed way beyond necessity and expectations, fretting and sweating over pieces that were too long, too hard, too everything… until our mother, who always seemed to know how to make things better, offered an idea. A poem that was not too long. Not too serious. Just the thing.
55 years later, in the cool of a spring morning, my sister recited that poem again:
The May 1895 issue of The Lark in which “The Purple Cow” first appeared.
The Purple Cow
(Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least.)