'Who I Am': Poetry Not Wasted On The Young Poetry Speaks Who I Am is a collection of poems intended not "for parents, for children, for classroom study or for required memorization," says editor Elise Paschen. It's for tweens and young teens, and includes poems about school, cars and the horror of shopping for your first bra.
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'Who I Am': Poetry Not Wasted On The Young

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'Who I Am': Poetry Not Wasted On The Young

'Who I Am': Poetry Not Wasted On The Young

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And, Renee, it's part of a series.


When poet Elise Paschen set out to gather material for this particular collection, she searched out poems that speak to a variety of issues that middle schoolers are facing.

ELISE PASCHEN: There are poems about sometimes when you feel like you hate your mother, poems about loving your mother, poems about when losing a grandparent, poems about sibling rivalry. We wanted to really give the broadest spectrum of subjects, offer them to kids this age, so that they could actually find subject matter that would appeal to them.

MONTAGNE: Rita Dove has a poem in here, "Flashcards."

PASCHEN: I had to guess. Ten, I kept saying. I'm only 10.

MONTAGNE: That really goes to that sense that kids can have at this age, of pressure.

PASCHEN: Absolutely. And interestingly about this poem, the speaker of the poem, the I, is being drilled by her father on her math homework. She's obviously a whiz kid - she does very well at math. But at the same time, she's in math class, I presume, daydreaming.

MONTAGNE: The geranium...


MONTAGNE: ...on a teacher's desk.

PASCHEN: Exactly. So I think in that second stanza of the poem, you can see the budding, or the beginning, of the young poet. You know, she's a whiz kid at math but she actually wants to be writing her poem.


PASCHEN: And we also tried to pair living poets with historic poets. So, right across the page from Rita Dove, is Carl Sandburg's poem, "Arithmetic."

MONTAGNE: And this is a really fun poem...

PASCHEN: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: ...which is a little on the long side, but perhaps you could read the first six or eight lines and we'll get the idea.

PASCHEN: (Reading) Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons, in and out of you head. Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how many you had before you lost or won. Arithmetic is seven, 11, all good children go to heaven; or five, six, bundle of sticks. Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand, to your pencil to your paper, till you get the answer.

MONTAGNE: That poem, there's a lot of fun poems in the book. And some, again, back to modern issues that kids really struggle with. One of the more amusing ones and wonderful ones is on the CD, and it's Parneshia Jones who is reading her poem "Bra Shopping."

PASCHEN: You know, "Bra Shopping" is a perfect example of what girls this age are going through. And actually, my mother-in-law who is in her 70's particularly liked "Bra Shopping." And she said I remember when I was at Marshall Fields and my mother forced me to buy my first bra.


MONTAGNE: We'll go to the CD and hear Parneshia Jones finish the poem.

PARNESHIA JONES: My mother turns and looks at me, now really, was that so bad?

MONTAGNE: It's actually pretty funny, though.

PASCHEN: Well, when we first heard it, and we heard a longer version of the poem, I thought - wow, you know? Good for Parneshia, that she can turn this subject into something, you know, that we can laugh about now. But during the time it can be very humiliating and heart-wrenching, being there with your mother and the bra lady.

MONTAGNE: It shows a side of adolescence that I think most everyone will remember.

PASCHEN: After the teacher asked if anyone had a sacred place and the students fidgeted and shrunk in their chairs, the most serious of them all said it was his car. Being in it alone, his tape deck playing things he'd chosen. And others knew the truth had been spoken and began speaking about their rooms, their hiding places. But the car kept coming up, the car in motion, music filling it, and sometimes one other person who understood the bright altar of the dashboard and how far away a car could take him from the need to speak, or to answer, the key in having a key and putting it in, and going.

MONTAGNE: It's like flying free for a kid.

PASCHEN: It really is. And I think, again, it serves as a metaphor because again, if we're looking at kids who are in middle school, this poem again, will speak to them in terms of just places where they can be themselves. And where they can, as you say, fly free. And also look maybe forward to the time when they can get their driver's license and escape.

MONTAGNE: Poet Elise Paschen, she's edited a new collection for tweens called "Poetry Speaks Who I Am."

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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