'Morning Edition' Listeners Submit 200 Poetry Entries On Teamwork Poet and educator Kwame Alexander stops by to chat about poetry with Rachel Martin, and to find out how listeners responded to a request to write a poem about teamwork.

'Morning Edition' Listeners Submit 200 Poetry Entries On Teamwork

'Morning Edition' Listeners Submit 200 Poetry Entries On Teamwork

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Poet and educator Kwame Alexander stops by to chat about poetry with Rachel Martin, and to find out how listeners responded to a request to write a poem about teamwork.


Summer is winding down, folks. You know what that means - for some of us, anyway - bring out the backpacks and classroom supply lists; the kids are headed back to school. And there's nothing like this time of year to remind you of the things that matter - your kids, your family, your friends, colleagues - people on your team. We have with us NPR contributor and author of "The Write Thing," a writing workshop guide for teachers, Kwame Alexander.

Hi, Kwame.


MARTIN: You're on my team, man.

ALEXANDER: I'm glad about that.


ALEXANDER: That's a good team to be on.

MARTIN: You're on my team. Who's on your team?

ALEXANDER: Well, aside from you, it's - what's really cool is I just returned from Ghana, West Africa.


ALEXANDER: I've been going for six years to build a library and a health clinic.


ALEXANDER: Yes, and it finally opened on July 31.

MARTIN: Wow. Congratulations.

ALEXANDER: Thank you so much. It's been a long journey. It's a village of 300 people, and the villagers came together. Some activists and educators and writers who are friends of mine from America came together. We all built this library and health clinic together. And so the people on my team are these amazing librarians like Jackie Liesch and my friend Nikki Giovanni - all these people, you know, who helped make this library a possibility, who are making the joy and the power of reading real for this village in Africa. At the opening ceremony, I launched it with a poem by Mother Teresa. (Reading) The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.

We could all use a little peace right now, don't you think?

MARTIN: Definitely.

ALEXANDER: ...And love.

MARTIN: And love. And I also had no idea that Mother Teresa wrote poetry.

ALEXANDER: Well, it's a prayer, which is sort of like a poem.

MARTIN: Yeah. It - they inhabit the same space.

ALEXANDER: We all write poetry.

MARTIN: Right. So as you say, we could all use love; we could all use peace and poetry. Why do you think poetry in particular is helpful, is healing in this moment?

ALEXANDER: I think when the world is not so beautiful, when there are things happening amidst us that cause us pain or grief or stress, either in our personal or in our public lives, I think we need to feel more connected to ourselves, to each other immediately. And what better way to do that than through verse, than through rhythm and rhyme? I think poetry is that thing - again, I say this all the time, Rachel - that allows us to become more human.

MARTIN: Yeah. So we - as we do, we put out a challenge to our listeners to come up with their own poem, but it wasn't just any old poem. What was the specific requirement here?

ALEXANDER: Well, we thought it'd be a rhyming couplet. It's two lines, and the last word of each line rhyme. It's real simple.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

ALEXANDER: I mean, Alan Katz is a really amazing poet who uses a lot of rhyme. This is one of his poems, to give you an example.


ALEXANDER: "It Doesn't Compute." This is a plea for families to spend time with each other.

(Reading) Mommy's downloading music. Daddy's downloading pics. Sister's downloading homework. Brother's downloading flicks. Grandma's downloading health forms. And I have a really big hunch, they're so busy on their computers, no one's free to download me lunch.

MARTIN: I love it. You know what's funny? As you were reading that, like, there is something that happens when you get the punchline, when you get - when the rhyme happens, it's like something - some crazy satisfaction when you hear that. You're like, yeah, you got it. That's so good.

ALEXANDER: It's that aha.


ALEXANDER: Like, I feel like a really good poem, it allows us to have that mystery and that reveal at the end of the poem.

MARTIN: Right, how's he going to do it?

ALEXANDER: ...Or the - and that's what a rhyming couplet, I think, does really well. Also, it allows us to laugh, you know...

MARTIN: Right.

ALEXANDER: ...To keep from crying sometimes.

MARTIN: Right, to play - we need to play. So we got over 2,000 entries, and you compiled them into one poem. Did you? Is that what you did? That would be a challenge.

ALEXANDER: Not exactly. These poems were so thoughtful and beautiful and funny, and I just didn't want to break them up, you know? So I chose a few that I'd love to read today.

MARTIN: Yeah, please.

ALEXANDER: Gillian Robinson is a teacher in San Diego. She had her seventh-graders who were studying Shakespeare work on rhyming couplets, and these are a few. (Reading) Working together is nice and may be handy when trapped in ice. That's Hannah Webber.

(Reading) People say teamwork makes the dream work until one guy starts to be a big jerk.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's so good.

ALEXANDER: Stevie Ott.

(Reading) Trapped in a bundle of expectations, bad teamwork is the essence of endless frustrations. Cady Johnson.

And then, (reading) teamwork is efficient, but it's not self-sufficient. Christina LaVite.

MARTIN: Christina. That's profound.

ALEXANDER: Megan Dixon is a teacher in Wisconsin, and she had her second-grade students do an interactive writing lesson after being inspired by a poem that she'd shared with them. These are her second-graders. (Reading) We dream, imagine and believe, discover, create, achieve. We are wildcats, always the dream team. Be kind and inspire, that is our scheme. Encourage each other to be our best. Helping the world is our biggest test.

Second-graders - pretty...


ALEXANDER: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: That is a really amazing sentiment to come from such young people. You also got submissions from grown-ups too, though, huh?

ALEXANDER: We did. And this is from a chaplain at Seattle Children's Hospital. His name is Thomas Allsopp. (Reading) Whether a nurse or a doctor or a treasured volunteer, our parents and families know we are near. With chaplains, social workers and those who feed, we are on their team to meet every need. Navigators and artists, administrators, the staff - our gifts are all offered on their behalf. Day after day, one thing is for sure, we're in this together. Let's work for a cure.

I think the last one I'd love to share is pretty short, but it really speaks to what we're trying to do here. Jim Trainer from Austin, Texas, wrote (reading) my people are a multicolored tapestry. I am many them, and they are many me.

MARTIN: It's always amazing when you do this, and we asked for people to send their submissions, and I'm always blown away. I'm just blown away by exactly what you say. Everyone's got it inside them. Like, whether or not you believe you do, there is poetry that lives in everyone.

ALEXANDER: And I think people want to feel like, you know, they matter. And what better way to do that than sort of find your voice, share your voice...


ALEXANDER: ...Raise your voice?

MARTIN: Yeah. Kwame Alexander - he is a regular contributor to NPR and this program in particular. He's also the author of "Rebound" and "The Write Thing," a writing workshop guide for teachers. And as we just found out today, Kwame built a library in Ghana, which is pretty awesome. Kwame, thank you so much.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me.


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