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Kwame Alexander Recommends 3 Poetry Books For The Holidays

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Rachel Martin, in this holiday season, joined by our poet in residence Kwame Alexander. Hello, Kwame.

KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Hello. I'm so excited to be here at this time of year. Like, do you know what one of my favorite songs is?

MARTIN: No. Tell me.

ALEXANDER: I literally just gave you a hint. One of my favorite songs - (singing) raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

MARTIN: Oh, I love that song.

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Bright copper kettles.

MARTIN: (Singing) And something mittens.

Is that just the segment? Us singing?

(LAUGHTER)

ALEXANDER: I love it.

MARTIN: There's purpose in this because we are talking about our favorite things.

ALEXANDER: Yes.

MARTIN: Or at least yours. So in that spirit, can you recommend your top three books of poetry for the holidays?

ALEXANDER: Hm. Kwame's top three. OK, book No. 1 for the holiday, for kids 12-and-up and their parents - "Ordinary Hazards" by acclaimed poet and children's book author Nikki Grimes. It's a gorgeous memoir in verse. It's about how words and faith guided her and protected her as life came hard, one harrowing experience to the next, from childhood to her teenage years. And she conquered the hazards, ordinary and extraordinary, of life. Here's a poem from it. It's called "New Digs" (ph).

(Reading) The new apartment we found was two doors down from the grandmother I had no use for. Mom reminded me Grandma was the only mother she had and asked if I could please consider giving her a second chance to love me. I was not so inclined. However, God kept pestering me about this thing called forgiveness, which seemed 10 kinds of impossible. I was still mad at her for leaving Carol (ph) and me in foster care and mad at God for letting her. Still, I did see Grandma trying to make amends with gifts and sweet treats. I eventually got the drift. Maybe it was time to heal the rift.

MARTIN: That's such a good example of how poetry can help kids digest really difficult issues sometimes, right?

ALEXANDER: Absolutely.

MARTIN: So what about kids who are on the younger end of things?

ALEXANDER: All right. Have you ever heard of the book "Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site"?

MARTIN: Have I heard of the book.

ALEXANDER: Well, the author Sherri Duskey Rinker has teamed up with the illustrator A.G. Ford to create "Construction Site On Christmas Night."

MARTIN: Love it.

ALEXANDER: It's a beautiful holiday picture book written in verse and full of surprises. Here - do it with me.

MARTIN: OK.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) Down in the big construction site, there's work to do on Christmas...

MARTIN: (Reading) Night (laughter).

ALEXANDER: (Reading) The last big project of the year, the team is slamming into...

MARTIN: (Reading) Gear.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) A special house is being built, the trucks are racing at full...

MARTIN: (Reading) Tilt (laughter).

ALEXANDER: Yes. It's a great book. You really got to read this book.

MARTIN: So wait - what's the special house they're building?

ALEXANDER: You have to read the book and see.

MARTIN: Ooh, cliffhanger. All right, so let's move on up - grown-ups, adults, the older folks. What do you have?

ALEXANDER: "I: New And Selected Poems" by Toi Derricotte, award-winning poet, professor emerita at the University of Pittsburgh, founder of Cave Canem. I've been reading her poetry for 20 years. Her poems begin in ordinary experiences, and they become these extraordinary and accessible observations on identity, on history, on love and loss. This is a book I will most definitely gift to the women and the men in my life. I think perhaps you should share an excerpt, if you would, called "The Proof."

MARTIN: OK.

(Reading) After 30 years, I was done with talking I had told him I was leaving, but still, we'd sit at the dinner table - me to his right - and I'd watch him. He'd put the forkfuls in his mouth and chew, a calm look on his face.

ALEXANDER: (Reading) How I wanted him to suffer, to see that there was some register where it mattered. If he would just turn his eye, like a great planet, slowly, as if over epochs. I wouldn't have left if he had looked at me with sorrow or perhaps not even sorrow but to turn to me with sudden awareness.

MARTIN: (Reading) Why were tears pouring down my cheeks? It wasn't that he was angry. That would have been a kind of recognition. If anything confirmed my going, it was that absence, not even cool, as if there was nothing between us that couldn't be dissolved by will, nothing that could be altered by desire.

Wow.

ALEXANDER: Powerfully intimate and just gripping. Her book was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry.

MARTIN: So poetry recommendations for all the people in our lives. Kwame Alexander, he is the innovator in residence at The American School in London, the author of a whole lot of books of poetry, including "Out Of Wonder: Poems About Poets" (ph). Happy holidays.

ALEXANDER: You as well, Rachel. Cheers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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