When did you first fall in love with books? I was seven, curled in my grandmother’s rocker, devouring Little House on the Prairie. My mother told me, “One day you will love other books and authors.” I gave her a fierce look and declared: “You don’t understand. Laura and I have a spiritual connection.”
A new collection of poems speaks directly to this deep friendship between readers and writers. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets honors the lifework of 20 wordsmiths, from ancient bards to living masters. Artist Ekua Holmes turns every page into stained glass. Poems and rainbow collages give the book a luminous feel – windows into other souls, and our own.
Kwame Alexander spearheaded this project, with co-authors Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, all poets and educators. Alexander wants poetry to be part of our daily lives. “Poetry is a way of helping us understand ourselves better,” he says in a recent interview. “Not to mention that the poets we are paying tribute to are just really cool people.”
When you read Out of Wonder, the walls of time and space collapse. We discover our ability to converse with our favorite authors, expressing gratitude and freedom: “Sometimes a feather/drifts down into my hands;/I hold it and imagine flying.” Each section is prefaced by a mini writing lesson, encouraging poets of all ages to play with style, slip into new rhythm, and say thank you to the people who have touched us – with words.
Many of the poets celebrated in Out of Wonder are familiar and beloved. Their songs have dissolved into our blood, becoming part of us. We have danced with Rumi and written haikus with Basho. We have walked under the oak trees with Mary Oliver, pressing our hands into rough bark, our feet into dark mud. Maya Angelou comes to us whenever we feel small and ashamed, coaxing us to fill our skin with the beauty we are.
Yet Out of Wonder also includes poets you may not know. Their names tug at you, urging you to explore their work further – like Okot p’Bitek of Uganda and Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The book does pretty well on gender balance – eight of the twenty poets profiled are women. While most of the honorees are from the United States, a handful hail from Canada, Japan, Chile, Persia and Australia.
This book is timely – for youth and adults. Every day, we are inundated with devastating news: terrorism, crime, environmental destruction…. So many people are asking: How do we survive and thrive, bringing courage, hope, and healing to ourselves and each other? These poems offer glimmers and clues. The “hue and cry” of Gwendolyn Brooks teaches us that racial justice, womanhood, and high art go hand in hand. Chief Dan George urges us to remember all the generations and care for the earth, our shared home. Just imagine if we made the title of this poem our daily practice: “(Loving) The World and Everything In It.”
Teachers will enjoy the book for its artistry and well-researched biographies of each poet included. Students will appreciate the language for its clarity and maturity. The authors speak to us as equals, encouraging us follow our muses and forge our own path, as independent as Emily Dickinson and socially-minded as Pablo Neruda.
Take time to read the preface. In it, Alexander speaks lyrically about his childhood and his parents who “loved words the way fire loves air.” He gently guides the reader past any misconceptions about poetry, and drives straight to the heart: This is the art of connection and communion, wisdom and not-knowing. All the poems in Out of Wonder contain the wordless joy of being undeniably, exuberantly, blessedly human.
Andréana Lefton is a poet, traveler and teaching artist. She is working on a book about Baha’i refugees and the search for spiritual freedom: @aelefton and www.aelefton.org