Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bum Rush the Page: American Poetry at Its Peak

I've never been fond of poetry.  Whenever my English teachers would start the poetry unit, I would shut down and hope to God that I could make it out alive.  I can't write poetry, for one thing--that is an art, and I truly respect those who can write beautifully convincing poems.  Also, I can't annotate poems to save my life.  Poetry does not come naturally to me.

When I was assigned Bum Rush the Page (a collection of works from hundreds of contemporary poets), I knew I would hate every single second of it.  So the night before the reading was due, I shut myself off in my bedroom and forced myself to read.  I read the first poem: We Have Been Believers by Margaret Walker.  Not bad, I thought, if only I could write as eloquently as that.  So I turned to the second piece: A Poet Is Not a Juke Box by Dudley Randall.  That's when I fell in love with this collection.

Randall's piece hit me especially hard because his voice was so compelling.  I had never read a poem that made me really feel something until I read this.  I felt contempt, compassion, and even anger because of the tone he used.  As a writer, I've always struggled with using the correct tone, so I really admired Randall for his strong voice.

But the beautiful poetry didn't end there.  The entire collection was just as incredibly moving.  The poets featured in Bum Rush the Page were not the same old Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, or Robert Frost poets--no, these writers bring a new sense of energy and life to American poetry.  Their works showcase the trials of life as an American minority.  Unsympathetic and absolutely heart-breaking, their stories return the spotlight to issues that are continually swept under the rug.  Issues like oppression and poverty illuminate the difficulty and inevitability of social change in this country.  Tony Medina, the collection's editor, wrote: "Here is a democratic orchestration of voices and visions, poets of all ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations coming together to create a dialogue and to jam--not slam. This is our mouth on paper, our hearts on our sleeves, our refusal to shut up and swallow our silence. These poems are tough, honest, astute, perceptive, lyrical, blunt, sad, funny, heartbreaking, and true. They shout, they curse, they whisper, and sing. But most of all, they tell it like it is."

Before I read Bum Rush the Page, I had never heard of a poet "telling it like it is".  But now, I am inspired by these poets who speak directly to me.  Their work is indescribable.  I can only hope that in future years, I will not forget their words that were so beautifully shoved down my throat--I hope that I can share these works with future teachers, friends, and students.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

There was a boy who lived in a closet... And it wasn't Harry Potter

Jennifer Niven's breakout young adult novel All the Bright Places raises quite a few discussions on mental health, depression, anxiety, and suicide--and that's just the start.

All the Bright Places was recommended to me by a friend of mine who works at DePauw University's bookstore.  She said that since I liked The Fault in Our Stars, I would absolutely adore Niven's novel.  Though I absolutely loved this book, I didn't find that many similarities between it and John Green's book.  Honestly, the only similarity I found was that both included death.

The story starts out with Theodore Finch standing on the sixth story of the school's bell tower.  Arms extended, feet curling the edges of the railing, he excitedly welcomes his spectators to his death.  But then he sees Violet Markey, also atop the bell tower and possibly planning her death as well.  Violet is looking for any reason to live, while Finch (bipolar and obsessed with death) can't find a reason not to die.  Together, they embark on a journey to find all of the "bright places" that Indiana has to offer (for a school project, of course)--finding scenes such as a vacant lot of book-mobiles and a man who builds roller coasters in his backyard.  The story delves into the harsh reality that it is a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Niven's book has just the right amount of everything you want in a young adult novel: from romance and adventure to heartbreak and bullying.  This book wasn't afraid to discuss mental illness, and for that I really respect Niven.  It's hard to write about something as real and harmful as depression, but it's also very important for teen readers to understand the effects that mental illness has.  Teens need to understand that they are not alone and that they do not have to feel the things they feel--and Niven does a beautiful job of portraying mental illness for what it is: parasitic and very, very destructive.

If you're looking for a young adult novel that isn't afraid to stray from the norm every now and then, check out Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places.  You won't be disappointed.