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How I Discovered Poetry

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  618 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-aware
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Dial Books
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Leslie Reese
Mar 17, 2016 Leslie Reese rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
When I read that Marilyn Nelson had a new book coming out called How I Discovered Poetry, I said to myself hurray! I was thinking she might deliver a prose narrative that uncovered the background magic of why her poems touch me so. I had high expectations but when I saw the little volume with its sparse, undramatic illustrations (by Hadley Hooper) and realized the book consisted of 50 unrhymed sonnets, the sides of my mouth did sag a little bit. Marilyn! That’s not what I wanted from you! (I may ...more
David Schaafsma
A memoir covering ages 4-14 in the form of 50 non-rhyming sonnets by Nelson, who has been three times nominated for the National Book Award. I think it reads more for younger readers in places, as Nelson has written many books for children, so I think of this as an ideal YA text for a poetry unit, or one about African American history, or as a supplement to any text about growing up. To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on white people's experience of civil rights mid century, but it tells little about ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Angela rated it it was amazing
Edward Sullivan
Jan 04, 2015 Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, poetry
Moments from Nelson's life, ages 4-14, beautifully captured in 50 sonnets.
Rich in Color
Mar 15, 2016 Rich in Color rated it it was amazing
Review Copy: purchased

Reading How I Discovered Poetry is like looking through a photo album with a loved one while they share memories. Here a laugh, there a tear, sometimes even an admission of mischievousness. Marilyn Nelson has crafted fifty sonnets that begin with the simplicity of a pre-schooler and progress to the complexity of the early teen years. Each sonnet is a snapshot of family life, but many also give glimpses of the cultural changes that were occurring in the wider world.

What I lo
Donna Merritt
Dec 07, 2014 Donna Merritt rated it it was amazing
HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY by Marilyn Nelson is a series of unrhymed sonnets based on her life and what was going on around her during the 1950s. It spans a decade, beginning with the innocent voice of a 4-year-old and ending as a 13-year-old who is still a child, but beginning to understand the world and her place in it as her father and family relocate numerous times to Air Force bases around the country. I was born on an AFB in Rome, NY, and my brothers were born on one in Fort Worth, TX. Maybe ...more
May 05, 2014 Emma rated it really liked it
This collection of 50 unrhymed sonnets reveals the life of author Marilyn Nelson, a young African American girl growing up in the 1950s. The poems trace her development from the age of four to fourteen, her growing self-awareness, and her experience of a world in tension. The Cold War, the “Red Scare,” the civil rights movement and women’s liberation all provide context for her poems. Nelson explains that, “each of the poems is built around a ‘hole’ or ‘gap’ in the Speaker’s understanding.” ...more
Greg Holch
Two books.
Each about an African American girl growing up in the U.S.
Each written in verse.
Each by a Newbery Honor award winning author.
Each published by "an imprint of Penguin Group."
Each with an author whose name is incredibly similar to the other.
Which one is somehow missing the titles of the author's previous work, while the other one has all the author's books listed on the front sales page along with major reviews on the back cover?
Which one looks like its dreaming of winning all the awards
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I expected this book to be about how poet Marilyn Nelson discovered poetry as a child. However, it was more about her childhood growing up in the '50s in a military family, and about the political events (civil rights, Emmett Till, riots, women's lib) happening then. I really enjoyed reading about this time period, when I myself was born. I was especially interested in what school was like then, and what she read from the library. She had a hard time understanding racism, reading because she ...more
Apr 02, 2015 elissa rated it really liked it
It's incredible how much of a story Nelson can tell with poetry, and how clear a picture a poem can paint (certainly when Nelson is the poet). I am not a huge fan of poetry, but am in awe of all of the books that I've read by this author. I couldn't put this one down, as has been true every time I've read a book of hers. The fact that I now know Nelson's younger sister makes this all the more mesmerizing for me, but I was mesmerized by Marilyn Nelson's writing long before I met Jennifer (only a ...more
Jun 07, 2016 Tali rated it really liked it
I finally read my first book of the summer 2016! This also happens to be the first poetry book I've ever read! It was a unique experience, but I enjoyed it a lot! I found myself covering the pages in annotations.
Nelson's poems are straightforward and easy to read, yet they made me think a lot afterward. I appreciate how she weaves together a complex picture of 1950's America coupled with undercurrents of racism, the Red Scare, the civil rights movement, and the cold war. The poems feet very much
Kristine Hansen
May 19, 2015 Kristine Hansen rated it really liked it
Memories set artfully to the sonnet form, sixteen lines sufficient to capture the feeling, the moment, life of a transient child growing up during a turbulent time in our history. Here we see life in the 50's from the point of view of a black girl who wonders about racism. The military background makes this even more interesting - especially as it seems on base she is more untouched by the prejudices of the time. It's only as she grows older (becomes more aware?) that we see her own struggles ...more
May 18, 2014 Maggie rated it it was amazing
Stunning autobiographical series of 50 unrhymed sonnets by Marilyn Nelson that tell the story of her 1950s childhood as the daughter of African-American military officer. Each poem provides a snapshot of her life; some are funny, some are poignant; all show a moment of insight or growth. I read it in one sitting and then promptly started to read it over again. Because Nelson was a military brat, this slim volume is literally set all over the country, and as such it is really a remarkably ...more
Semi-autobiographical poems set in the 1950s. Using a narrator very similar to herself, Nelson takes readers from coast to coast with a military family and addresses Civil Rights issues such as segregation and reveals the influences that led up to Nelson's writing career.

An author's note explains Nelson's approach to the collection of poetry found here and mixed media artwork supports the tone of the memoir.

Recommended for grades 9 and up, especially as part of a class unit on Civil Rights in hi
Jun 05, 2014 Christine rated it it was ok
I can't seem to reconcile the book's title with it's content. It is poetry yes, but it doesn't really tell us much about why she enjoys it so. Marilyn gives us little glimpses into her life growing up in the 50's and 60's but if you didn't grow up in that era the references are so vague that it will likely not make sense to you.
Aug 31, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
"Both a snapshot of a person’s life and an unforgettable time period in American history, How I Discovered Poetry is also tribute to the power of words arranged in lines and stanzas and couplets." More at Reading Rants:
Dec 30, 2015 Precious rated it liked it
How I Discovered Poetry is a strong memoir about the life of Marilyn Nelson. in this story she talks about how she had to deal with Jim Crow laws and civil rights. I believe that as she grow up she began to gain a deeper understanding of what's going on around her which sparked her beginning into poetry.
Jul 07, 2014 Whitney rated it really liked it
Lovely unrhymed sonnets from Marilyn Nelson, telling the story of her childhood growing up in a military family in the 1950s. Touches on family relationships, race, and civil rights. One downside is the brevity -- just 50 poems in these 100 or so pages. This would probably work best in a guided reading as some historical elements might need to be explained to younger readers.
Brenda Kahn
Apr 07, 2014 Brenda Kahn rated it it was amazing
Fifty sonnets cover a decade of the author's life, from age 4 to 14, as she relocates repeatedly due to her officer father's military assignments. Significant Civil Rights events occur and are processed by the young Speaker. Unique and evocative.
Mar 11, 2014 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Wonderful evocative poetry that put me completely in the Speaker's shoes. Excellent range of topics and emotions and had me writing down lines to keep and remember. LOVED this!
Aug 26, 2015 Kaye rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, poetry
For category: a memoir
Cindy Mitchell
Nelson, Marilyn How I Discovered Poetry Illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Dial Books, 2014. $17.99. 99 pgs. Content: G

Marilyn Nelson has woven the story of growing up in America during the time of segregation in a series of autobiographical poems. There are also many black and white photographs of Nelson and her family to accompany the story the poems tell. Each poem can stand alone, but together the story they weave is tearful, powerful, thought provoking, and wonderful. This book is a great additi
Paige Snair
Dec 05, 2016 Paige Snair rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
Author Mariyn Nelson recalls her childhood an growing up in the 1950s era. The book is set up in 50 different poems from different times in her life.

I really did not enjoy this book. I'm not too huge on poetry unfortunately, so I found this book very difficult to read. I just was not able to give it a chance. Since I will be teaching elementary students, I am not sure if this is a book I would keep on my shelf. I might just in case a student is interested in something like this but I cannot see
Louis Major
Oct 30, 2016 Louis Major rated it liked it
I liked the way the author used poems instead of actual chapters. It gave the title more meaning in my opinion. Easy to read, and quick.
Richie Partington
Dec 01, 2013 Richie Partington rated it it was amazing
Richie's Picks: HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY by Marilyn Nelson and Hadley Hooper, ill., Dial, January 2014, 112p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3304-6

"Bomb Drill
(Lackland AFB, Texas, 1952)

Nothing belongs to us in our new house
except Mama's piano and our clothes.
I'm the new girl in Dick and Jane country,
the other children faceless as grown-ups.
I read through recess and take some books home.
I read to Jennifer while Mama plays.
I read while the television talker
talks about career and the hide drajen bomb.
Mama says s
Patricia Powell
Jun 08, 2015 Patricia Powell rated it it was amazing
Marilyn Nelson tells a story of growing up black, in the fifties, as her family criss-crosses the nation to follow her father’s air force career in “How I Discovered Poetry” (Dial 2014).
From Ohio they move to Connally Air Force Base, Texas. Nelson writes “I’m the new girl in Dick and Jane country . . . the other children faceless as grown-ups . . . We ducked and covered underneath our desks . . . from the hide dragen bomb.”
We’re reminded of a very early understanding of death—the narrowness o
K. freehill
Sep 19, 2016 K. freehill rated it really liked it
This book is about a girl by the name of Marilyn whose dad is in the Air Force. Her family moves from base to base once her father is called up for active duty. They lived in the United States and overseas. With all this moving life got pretty lonely at times. It was through poetry that Marilyn discovers that words, provided a way to express her feeling when they became too much to handle. Marilyn story is told through 50 free-verse poems that takes readers on a journey through history and ...more
Nov 20, 2016 Roben rated it really liked it
Nelson based the poems on her memories of growing up and moving from base to base with her family. But she also admits that there are parts she could not remember so - she filled in as best she could. Each poem could stand alone - but together they do tell the story of growing up African American (her father was one of the first African American officers in the Air Force) and the both blatant and subtle racism they experienced plus the anxiety of the Cold War and the hope of the Civil Rights ...more
Splendidly accessible and infinitely suited for rereading, the fifty unrhymed sonnets in this book speak powerfully of one girl's coming of age in many ways. The narrator, whose life experiences seem to have mirrored many of Marilyn Nelson's own experiences, begins to question everything that she has held to be true and wonders about the conditions of the world around her. An Author's Note explains that the verses are set during the 1950s when she was four and end when she is fourteen. Thus, the ...more
Nov 20, 2015 Gretchen rated it really liked it
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson is a collection of 50 unrhymed sonnets telling the story of her childhood from 1950 to 1960. Nelson tells of how her family moved from place to place because her father was in the air force, how her mother was a career woman, and how she was often the first and only African American in a school or town.

Nelson writes about identity, which is especially poignant for an African American in the 1950s. Nelson’s mother makes it clear to Nelson that these are i
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Marilyn Nelson is the author of many acclaimed books for young people and adults, including CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS, a Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, a Printz Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book. She also translated THE LADDER, a picture book by Halfdan Rasmussen. She lives in East Haddam, Connecticut.

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