Young People’s Poet Laureate

On June 1, 2015 I began a two-year term as
Young People’s Poet Laureate.

Wondering what that is? The Poetry Foundation’s website describes it this way: “the young people’s poet laureate aims to raise awareness”. As young people’s poet laureate, I will serve two years advising the Poetry Foundation and will engage in projects designed to instill a lifelong love of poetry in children.

From Brown Girl Dreaming — Poetry As Memoir


I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory.  Too slow
the teacher says.
Read faster.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don’t want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly
from where it’s settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the second,
third, tenth,
hundredth time.

how to listen #7

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

a girl named jack

Good enough name for me, my father said
the day I was born.
Don’t see why
she can’t have it, too.
But the women said no.
My mother first.
Then each aunt, pulling my pink blanket back
patting the crop of thick curls
tugging at my new toes
touching my cheeks.
We won’t have a girl named Jack, my mother said.
And my father’s sitters whispered,
A boy named Jack was bad enough.
But only so my mother could hear.
Name a girl Jack, my father said,
and she can’t help but
grow up strong.
Raise her right, my father said,
and she’ll make that name her own.
Name a girl Jack
and people will look at her twice, my father said.
For no good reason but to ask 
if her parents were crazy, my mother said.
And back and forth it went until I was Jackie
and my father left the hospital mad.
My mother said to my aunts,
Hand me that pen, wrote
Jacqueline where it asked for a name.
Jacqueline, just in case
someone thought to drop the ie.
Jacqueline, just in case
I grew up and wanted something a little bit longer
and further away from

From Locomotion — Poetry As Fiction

Group Home Before Miss Edna’s House

The monsters that come at night don’t
breathe fire, have two heads or long claws.

The monsters that come at night don’t
come bloody and half-dead and calling your name.

They come looking like regular boys
going through your drawers and pockets saying

You better not tell Counselor else I’ll beat you down.
The monsters that come at night snatch

the covers off you bed, take your
pillow and in the morning

steal your bacon when the cook’s back is turned
call themselves The Throwaway Boys, say

You one of us now.
When the relatives stop coming

When you don’t know where your sister is anymore
When ever sign around you says

Group Home Rules: Don’t
do this and don’t do that

until it sinks in one rainy Saturday afternoon
while you’re sitting at the Group Home window

reading a beat-up Group Home book,
wearing a Group Home hand-me-down shirt

hearing all the Group Home loudness, that
you are a Throwaway Boy.

And the new just sits in your stomach
hard and heavy as Group Home food.

From The Other Side — Poetry As Picture Book

That summer, the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.
We lived in a yellow house on one side of it.
White people lived on the other.
And Mama said “Don’t climb over that fence when you play.
She said it wasn’t safe.

That summer, there was a girl who wore a pink sweater.
Each morning she climbed up on that fence and stared over at our side.
She never sat on that fence with anyone, that girl didn’t….

From “Show Way” — Poetry as History

When Soonie’s great grandma was seven, she was sold
from the Virginia land to a plantation in South Carolina
without her ma
or pa
but with some muslin her ma had given her and two needles
she got from the Big House and thread
dyed bright red with berries from the chokecherry tree.
In South Carolina, Big Mama raised Soonie’s great grandma
Raised most the slave children on that large patch of land….

From Each Kindness —Poetry As Empathy

Every little thing we do, Ms. Albert said.
Goes out, like a ripple
into the world.