Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Voices From Other Lands

I love poetry that gives me a glimpse of life in other places, but I also like the affirmation that comes from knowing others so far away may not be so different from me. Here are two books that bring these other voices to life.

This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, is a collection of poems in a range of styles from sixty-eight countries. The poems are divided into six sections--Words and Silences, Dreams and Dreamers, Families, This Earth and Sky in Which We Live, Losses, and Human Mysteries. Here are two of my favorite poems, both from the section Human Mysteries.
by Sunay Akin (Turkey)
translated by Yusuf Eradam

I used to drop my pocket money
into the rain grates by the road
taking them for piggy-banks--
that's why it's the sea
that owes me most

by Yehuda Amichai
translated by Stephen Mitchell

On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight;
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City
a kite.
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can't see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they're happy.
To make them think that we're happy.
The book ends with notes on the contributors, a world map showing their locations (centered on Eastern Russia, Japan and Australia--a very interesting way to view the world that for us is so often centered on North America), and suggestions for further reading. Readers will also find an index for countries and one for poets. This is a wonderful collection that will allow readers to see how varied cultures are both distinguished and united under one sky.

The Tree is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems & Stories From Mexico, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye and illustrated with paintings by Mexican artists, is an amazing collection from a wide range of Mexican writers. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction.
Now I live in one of the most Mexican of U.S. Cities, in an inner-city neighborhood where no dinner table feels complete without a dish of salsa for gravity, and the soft air hums its double tongue. For some, this may not qualify me to gather writings of a culture not in my blood. I suggest that blood be bigger than what we're born with, that blood keep growing and growing as we live; otherwise how will we become true citizens of the world? For twenty years, working as a visiting writer in dozens of schools in my city and elsewhere, I have carried poems by writers of many cultures into classrooms, feeling the large family of voices linking human experience. We have no borders when we read.
The book is divided into two sections--People and Earth and Animals. It contains extensive notes on the contributors and folktales. There are indexes of titles in English, titles in Spanish, and writers and artists. Here is one of my favorite poems, in the original Spanish and in translation.
La luna, un plátano
by Jesús Carlos Soto Morfín

Un plátano se fue
de noche
en un avion

Desde entonces
se quedó pegado
en el cielo
y le llaman luna

The Moon, a Banana
by Jesús Carlos Soto Morfín
translated by Judith Infante

A banana left
at night
on a plane

Since then
he's been stuck
in the sky
and we call him moon
Both the poems and illustrations come in a wide range of forms, exposing readers to the beauty of Mexican culture. This is a lovely volume that brings the magic of poetry to life.

Here are some additional resources related to this topic that you may find useful.


  1. Thanks for this. I am enjoying all these links. I love Nye.

  2. I am a great fan of Nye as well. Hope you are okay, safe from the tornados.

  3. Thanks, Jone. Yes, we are far from the path. I wish others had been as fortunate.

  4. i picked up The Tree is Older Than You Are after reading this post. I LOVE IT. thank you. so many great poems. what an amazing compilation.