Thursday, 23 January 2020

Welcome to Poetry Friday! Each week, one PF blogger shares links to blog posts, book reviews, and original poems from around the Kidlitosphere. The Wonder from Down Under, Kat Apel, is hosting this week. Visit her blog here.

Quick post this week, my poetry friends.

One of my first reads of the new year was David F. Walker’s fantastic graphic biography, The Life of Frederick Douglass, illustrated by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise (2019). (Publisher info here.)

I’d taken this book out of the library. As soon as I returned it, I went out and got a copy for my own shelves.

Among many aspects of this book that appealed to me were the pages devoted to historical context. These:

  • helped me understand the progression of slavery in the United States from 1619 to the Civil War,
  • illuminated how African slaves initially had rights similar to indentured servants but were increasingly disenfranchised by laws rooted in greed and racism,
  • and made clear that slavery was *the* institution at the center of the Civil War.

All of this was shared alongside Douglass’s personal story, the “Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom” — which is the book’s subtitle.

Frederick Douglass did write poems, but I was unable to find them within the public domain.

Perhaps the most famous poem about Douglass is by poet Robert Hayden. (Read more about Hayden at the Poetry Foundation.)



Frederick Douglass
By Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro  …

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation or watch Hayden read the poem, with a wonderful introduction:

And another powerful reading, by 2013 Poetry Out Loud winner Shawntay A. Henry.

22 responses to “Poetry Friday: Frederick Douglass”

  1. Frederick Douglass was a brilliant, brave and articulate man. He spent a lot of time in Upstate NY and attended abolition meetings here in Syracuse. I’d love to read that graphic biography. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thank you, Janice. The book does a good job covering Douglass’s travels, especially his time spent in the Rochester area of NY.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    Well, from FB you know I have it. I’m reading the new “The First Dinosaur”, fascinating about science & discovery & then will read this one, Laura. Oh, that line in Hayden’s poem: “gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians”! Thanks for sharing that, too.

  3. Kathryn Apel says:

    What a wonderful way to be remembered; “with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
    fleshing his dream…” Thank-you for sharing, lovely Laura. xx

  4. Karen Eastlund says:

    This is a wonderful and moving poem about Frederick Douglas… a beautiful human being. Thank you for sharing…

  5. KAY MCGRIFF says:

    Thank you for sharing both the book and poem about Douglass. The more I learn about him and other slaves who were able to tell their story, the more impressed with them I am–and the more horrified I am at the institution of slavery and the repercussions that still effect us today.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      That’s true, Kay. I am reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer right now and its speaks to those repercussions.

  6. jama says:

    Wow, great poem, and thanks for the heads up about the Douglass graphic biography. Will have to look for it!

  7. Tara says:

    Well, I wish there had been this book and this poem when I was teaching about Douglass! Such a rich post, Laura.

  8. Linda Mitchell says:

    Shawntay’s recitation is stunning. I wish I had what it takes to do that. What a poem…what a vision. Amen! The book intrigues me. I think I need it. Thanks for the rec. I’ve been wondering what you’re up to with your pics on fb. All in good time.

  9. Powerful post Laura, especially the two readings of Robert Hayden’s “Frederick Douglass poem–
    “this beautiful
    and terrible thing, needful to man as air,– yes! “Thanks also for sharing “The Life of Fredrick Douglas,” I’m looking forward to reading it!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Michelle. “Beautiful and terrible” would be an interesting phrase to discuss with middle and high schoolers, wouldn’t it?

  10. Being from Syracuse originally, I visited a basement room in a church that was run by abolitionists on the slave trail to freedom. This made an impression on me as did the story of Frederick Douglas. These lines from the poem,” visioning a world
    where none is lonely, none hunted,” are still haunting us. Thanks for the information about the graphic novel, Laura.

  11. Ruth says:

    Thank you for this rich post!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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