Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - More Music! (Musical Poetry, Part 2)

Yesterday I began this topic looking at poetry books about jazz. Today I'm focusing on music in a range of musical styles, so put on something you love to listen to and read along.
Song Shoots Out of My Mouth, written by Jaime Adoff and illustrated Martin French, is a collection of twenty four poems that reflect a variety of musical styles and instruments in content and form. The poems sing with the same rhythms you would expect to hear in the music. They are perfect for read aloud and almost demand to be sung, or swung, tapped, rapped, drummed, and more. Here is a poem related to jazz.
Jazz Bath

            Be Bop bubbles go
up my nose and I blow into my horn.
            Pass the soap and the eighth notes, drip
into my eyes.
            No more tears
            no more fears.
My sax speaks for me. Says what I can't say. Which is a lot
these days. Now, teenage.
            I trade 4's and 8's with Bird and Trane.
Outside my bathroom door;
            I hear the roar of the crowd,
the roar of the crowd!
            The roar of my sister screaming,
            "GET OUT!"

Poem ©Jaime Adoff. All rights reserved.
The back matter for this book includes a section called Backnotes which includes musical terms and descriptions, as well as an overview of selected artists and suggested listening material. If you haven't seen this one, you're really missing something special. (If you didn't know it, this book was named an honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 2003.)
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World, written by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, is the story an all-female, racially integrated swing band that toured the United States during World War II. What makes this story unique is that it is told in poems, each in the voice of a band members’ instrument, each titled after a song of the era. It all begins in a pawnshop where a tenor saxophone describes its glory years in an all girl band. Other instruments begin to respond, and soon enough, all of them are sharing stories about days gone by.
With a twilit velvet musky tone
as the pawnshop door is locked,
an ancient tenor saxophone
spins off a riff of talk.
“A thousand thousand gigs ago,
when I was just second-hand,”
it says, “I spent my glory years
on the road with an all-girl band.”
From a shelf in the corner, three trombones
bray in unison: They say
they, too, were played in a gals’ swing band
way back in the day.
Then effortlessly, a blues in C
arises out of a phrase
and the old hocked instruments find the groove
and swing of the Good Old Days.

Poem ©Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.
And now for a musical interlude, courtesy of the Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Call Down the Moon: Poems of Music, selected by Myra Cohn Livingston, is a collection of 136 poems divided into 12 sections, arranged by how we listen to and remember music, as well as by type of instrument (keyboard and strings, fiddles and cellos, banjos and guitars, woodwinds, brass and percussion). In a volume so extensive, I have many favorites. Here is one of them.
Music Becomes Me

as water
becomes the creek
trilling, filling it
giving it voice.

Music becomes me
like sparks
through electric wires
making light of dark.

Music becomes me
as wind
becomes the storm
swishing, swaying me
tapping my feet
thrusting my hands up
like castanets chattering.

Caught in its breath
I dance on winter's roof.

Poem ©Marni McGee. All rights reserved.
In this volume you'll find poems by Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Edward Lear, X.J. Kennedy, Valerie Worth, April Halprin Wayland, and many others.
Roots and Blues: A Celebration, written by Arnold Adoff and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is a collection of poems and prose that traces the history of the blues while celebrating its culture and the strength of the people who created it. As Adoff takes readers through a historical journey, he introduces readers to many blues performers including B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and others. The history of the blues is a difficult one, so the poems are filled with high emotion. The works themselves are visually appealing, crafted so that the spacing of letters and breaks in lines give each their own rhythm and shape. While they need to really be seen and reflected on, they also demand to be read aloud.

I've seen a lot of poems from this book floating around already, so instead of adding another to the mix, please take some time to visit the thoughtful reviews at Writing and Ruminating and Poetry for Children to read excerpts from the book.

Here are some resources that you may find useful in examining a range of musical forms in the classroom.
  • Kirkus has produced a useful booklist entitled Music and Harmony in Children's Poetry.
  • The SFSKids site has interactives about the instruments of the orchestra, a music lab, the tempo of music, and more.
  • The New York Philharmonic Kidzone has a wealth of material to explore including sections like the composition workshop, meet the composers, instrument storage room, instrument lab, and more.
  • Classics for Kids has a wealth of information about classical music and jazz, as well as audio clips, interactive games, lesson plans and more.
  • The Blues Classroom has a number of lesson plans, teacher's guide, blues glossary, and more.
  • EDSITEment has a terrific lesson for elementary students entitled Learning the Blues.
Have I missed a favorite musically-inclined book of poetry? Please let me know so that I can include it here.


  1. Ooh, I don't know Song Shoots Out of My Mouth (love the poem you shared) and I think I read Call Down the Moon ages ago, but time to find both of these for a good read. Thanks!

  2. I utterly adore those Sweethearts of Rhythm - oh, how I wish someone would revive that group!

  3. It should come as no surprise that Jaime Adoff has inherited his mom and dad's love of words. I have loved reading The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth over and over again. Now, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of Roots and Blues. So much wonder in the world of books!

  4. Happy to see Sweethearts of Rhythm here, and to get the video! And I also loved Becoming Billie Holiday. Thanks for all the richness!