I love poems that introduce and explore places, particularly places I've never been. Here are some books that explore America in poetry.
Home to Me: Poems Across America, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is described this way in the Editor's Note (written by Lee).
Where we live—the place we call home—strongly influences our way of life.This particular anthology is comprised of 15 commissioned works by poets from across the U.S., including Jane Yolen, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Tony Johnston, Janet Wong, Ann Whitford Paul, Joan Bransfield Graham, Alice Schertle, Joseph Bruchac, and others. There are poems here about home in the desert, the prairie, the New Jersey shore, the mountains, a reservation, a cattle ranch, a farm, and more. Here is an excerpt from one poem.
Whether on lives on a prairie where a child ". . . pedals through grasses/bone dry, needle thin", a reservation where "Mother Earth is always beneath our feet", or a city where one wakes up to hear "sputters/of sweepers/swooshing litter/from gutters", home is an integral part of growing up, being, becoming.
Home to Me reveals home and heart, the pulse that makes our country so unique—the beat that makes us all individuals—yet one.
My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is a collection of 50 poems grouped by geographic region. It includes the northeast states, Capital, southeast states, Great Lakes states, plains states, mountain states, southwest states, and Pacific coast states. The section for each region is prefaced with a map and facts about each state, including capital, nickname, motto, bird, flower, tree, area, and one "great fact." Here's a poem from the Pacific coast region.
My Desert Home
Here on Table Mesa
I look down on endless sand
That seems to spread forever
Over barren lonely land.
My home is on the stony ridge
Of a prehistoric sea
Where brittle bushes shine their gold
In shade of a single tree.
A cactus like a one-armed man
Is pointing to the sky.
Poem ©Lillian M. Fisher. All rights reserved.
California MissionsTour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art, written by Diane Siebert and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson, is a collection of 26 poems of varying length about a range of places and things around the United States. In her author's note, Siebert explains how a summer motorcycle trip across the U.S. turned into a 10-year journey around the country. In TOUR AMERICA she wrote about some of her favorite sights, including the Everglades, gargoyles, Lucy the Elephant, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful, The Golden Gate bridge, and more. The book opens with a map of the U.S. with dots and illustrated captions highlighting the sights. Here's a poem about one of my favorite places.
They're tall and sturdy,
four feet thick,
built of stone
and mortar, brick.
Through quakes and plagues
each ancient wall
has stayed in place
and stood up tall.
No mouth to speak,
no ears to hear,
yet they hold tales
of ancient years.
I sit inside
and listen well
to every word
their silence tells.
Poem ©Ann Whitford Paul. All rights reserved.
Niagara FallsEach poem in this collection is accompanied by a brief bit of informational text. Here's the text for this poem.
great tumbling walls
all pouring down
rainbowed by the light
Poem ©Diane Siebert. All rights reserved.
NIAGARA FALLS - Although half of the water from the Niagara River is diverted into tunnels for use in power plants downstream, about 500,000 gallons of water still pour over the cliff's edge every second. Over the years, daredevils have plunged to the bottom in barrels and other containers. A few have even survived.The illustrations beautifully complement the poems. In the artist's note Johnson says "And so, in keeping with the forms, contents, and moods of Diane's poems, my artwork, in a variety of mediums--acrylic, charcoal, colored pencils, collage, gouache, graphite, ink, oils, pastel, photography and watercolors--celebrates the colors, diversity, and rich textures of America."
If you are interested in more poetry about places and using poetry to teach geography, consider these links.
- Poetry of Place - This site encourages the reading and writing of poetry in geography instruction and includes many fine examples of student work.
- Travel Pals - In this geography unit, a class sends out four different stuffed animals across the United States to learn about U.S. geography through the eyes of the Travel Pals. Poetry books can be used to support instruction.
- For additional poetry books with a geography theme, try these titles.
- A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Alison Jay
- GOT Geography!, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Philip Stanton
- Pair poetry and music while studying places in the U.S. and try this lesson on Music From Across America.
- The Picturing America gallery (particularly the landscapes) offers some nice images for writing ekphrastic poems.