RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There's been a lot of division in our country as of late, with a lot of words thrown around that pull us apart. We wanted to spend a few minutes now thinking about how words do something different - how they bring us together. And to do that, our friend, poet and contributor Kwame Alexander joins me now in the studio with some words of unity. Good morning, my friend.
KWAME ALEXANDER: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Nice to see you.
ALEXANDER: You too.
MARTIN: So we know this, right? Words have long been used to divide people, but they can do the opposite. They can bring peace. They can bring solace. It is Thanksgiving time just in a few short weeks. And so it's worthwhile to spend some time thinking about how words can heal.
ALEXANDER: That's right, Rachel. I think sometimes in the midst of all the news and daily woes, we forget about the wonder. We forget to be thankful for our loved ones, for our friends, for our jobs, for our country. I think the real beauty of our country is that we have the freedom to use our words to find our voices and lift them. And as you and I both know, the right words can offer us hope and healing, like in Claude McKay's patriotic poem "America," which acknowledges the woes along with the wonder.
MARTIN: OK. Read some for us.
ALEXANDER: Although she feeds me bread of bitterness and sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth, stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth. Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, giving me strength erect against her hate. Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state, I stand within her walls with not a shred of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. Darkly I gaze into the days ahead and see her might and granite wonders there beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
I think in this poem, McKay is showing us that he is critical while still having praise and being thankful all at the same time.
MARTIN: All right. So we have a challenge for our listeners - right? - about this, about being thankful as we approach Thanksgiving and specifically expressing what we're thankful for when it comes to America.
ALEXANDER: And there are no limits here. You can be free with it, any style that helps communicate your thankfulness. I mean, it could even be a list of things.
MARTIN: A list of things. What do you mean?
ALEXANDER: Like, a list poem.
MARTIN: A list poem. OK.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. Like, for instance...
MARTIN: Say more.
ALEXANDER: If I were to ask you what about this beautiful country are you thankful for, Rachel - and I'll prompt you...
ALEXANDER: Because America...
MARTIN: ...Is complicated.
ALEXANDER: Because America...
MARTIN: ...Is open.
ALEXANDER: And just like that, we can create this list of things that...
ALEXANDER: ...Really resonate with that thankfulness.
MARTIN: Yeah, I get it. OK. We want to hear your entries. We want to hear your America thankful poems. So send us those. You can send your entries to npr.org/morningpoem. And before we let you go, Kwame, you bought - you brought a friend with you today, a musician who's worked with you for a long time.
ALEXANDER: Yes. I mean, to inspire us in writing our thankfulness, I brought along my man, Randy Preston, with a song you may be familiar with.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL")
RANDY PRESTON: (Singing) O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain...
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