What is a Poet Laureate? Did you know we have 2 in the United States? Poet Laureates are designated by nations or groups and are frequently expected to compose poems for special occasions. The Librarian of the United States Congress designates a poet annually to work toward increasing our nation’s appreciation of poetry. This position is currently filled by Tracy K. Smith.
The Poetry Foundation, since 2006, has selected a Young People’s (or Children’s) Poet Laureate for two-year terms. The chosen poet works on a variety of projects to help instill a lifelong love of poetry among the nation’s developing readers.
Margarita Engle has held this position since 2017. Previously this position was filled by Jack Prelutsky, Mary Ann Hoberman, J.Patrick Lewis, Kenn Nesbitt, and Jacqueline Woodson.
I love this excerpt from her poem “Tula”, found in the book The Lightning Dreamer.
Books are door-shaped
helping me feel
Engle may be best known for her novels in verse, especially those focusing on different aspects of Cuban history. If that doesn’t grab your attention, I will tell you that you need to give these books a try! Engle has a true gift for highlighting episodes in history that are not well-known.
We also have some books for younger kids that feature poems by Engle.
I am very excited about Bravo: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, our newest addition by Engle. This book is located in our juvenile biography area and is perfect for families and classrooms!
Diversity is a huge focus in children’s literature and there was so much in this book that was new to me!
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, I have a challenge for you. Try to read at least one poem. Some of you will claim to not like poetry, to not understand it, to not know what to choose. These excuses may be true, but it can be fun to stretch yourself a bit. I have some great suggestions to help you get started. Poetry can be very personal. It may bring out strong emotions – including laughter and joy. My suggestions are just suggestions; you may have to pull some books off the shelves before you find one you will enjoy.
If you’re still with me, you may have decided to give it a try. Ask yourself if you want to try something traditional or more modern? Do you want a narrative poem or a shorter work that just evokes a scene or a moment? You may want to take a large collection of poems and just thumb through to find one that seems interesting. We have poetry collections by many well-known poets: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, James Whitcomb Riley and many more. You could also try a collection of selected poems by many different poets. Caroline Kennedy edited a book of her mother’s favorite poems that is great to browse through.
You may want to try a more recent poet such as Maya Angelou or Billy Collins. As you read, keep in mind that poetry often challenges us to see the world in different ways or from alternate perspectives.
We have a very nice set of short biographies of some well-known poets. Included in the books are some of the poet’s best known poems. Perhaps knowing something about the person will help you connect with the poetry. Poets in the series are Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare.
If you want something short and sweet, and you are a nature-lover, pick up The Cuckoo’s Haiku, featuring beautiful watercolor bird illustrations by Stan Fellows.
Here are some other books to get you started. Be sure to also check out the selections from the Indiana Digital Download Center. There is a featured collection on the main menu for National Poetry Month.