Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another Poem for Martin Luther King Day, Simple with Rhyme

click for MLK pageToday is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. He was born January 15, 1929, and tomorrow the nation celebrates. President Ronald Reagan signed the order for the holiday on November 2, 1983, and Coretta Scott King, according to, said then "This is not a black holiday; it is a people's holiday."

I remember when whether or not to make his birthday a national holiday was bitterly debated in the U.S.A., and now I look at how the celebration has grown, especially the movement to make the day a day of service, and I think that Dr. King would be proud. Americans should be proud also that its legislators listened to the people and approved King's birthday as a Federal holiday and that at least once a year we contemplate his life, the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, and the significance of social justice in a nation with a Declaration of Independence espousing the unalienable rights of humans.

When I started this post, I had planned to only post the image above and say, "Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day," but as I wrote, a simple poem emerged with some other thoughts about poetry's place in the country. The poem and my thoughts are posted below the line here.

Marking Martin's Day
By Nordette N. Adams

Some mark this day with service.
Some mark this day to shop.
Some mark this day to tell us
the struggle never stops.
Some grimace, grumbling still
that we mark this day at all,
but Martin's shout for justice
helped us answer freedom's call.
He moved America
to strive for its ideals
to uphold its Declaration
and recall its founding zeal to build
a glorious nation
that stands for liberty.
King pricked the people's
conscience to seek equality.

© 2012 Nordette Adams

I present this poem not only in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth and legacy, but also in honor of my mother, a school teacher who died November 12, 2008. She required that her students and her daughter memorize and recite poetry. She loved special school programs for which she would have her elementary students learn and recite poems, often poems with messages about making a better world or striving to attain a nobler character.

As a poet, I know that we poets keep an eye on poetry critics and academics and are influenced by advice to not ever write didactic, accessible verse: if you want to wreck your reputation as a contemporary poet, then write for the masses. Experts in the ivory tower will scorn you. But lately, looking at this nation and in particular the violence in the cities, especially my city, New Orleans, I've been thinking less about the poetry police and more about whether poets can make any difference in the lives of children by writing poetry on current issues that a school teacher can use.

There was a time when ordinary people knew the names of poets. What happened? Are we sure television's popularity only is at fault? Perhaps the poets themselves deserve some blame for withdrawing to caves, to chambers concerned only with themselves.

I don't remember my mother's students resenting her because she made them memorize poems. I remember them loving her for it and the joy on many of her students' faces as they recited these poems in groups. Perhaps some poets forget that it was most likely an accessible poem with a clear rhythm and rhyme that drew us to poetry when we were children ourselves. We grew and learned that there's more to poetry than rhyme and tales of flowers and teen love.

Yes, but there is also more than ego to poetry and more to loving language than an appreciation of Shakespeare or T.S. Eliot, both of whom wrote lighter verse sometimes. Children do not fall in love with poetry because their fourth grade teachers assigned them to read or recite "The Waste Land."

I'm sure this topic is also on my mind because every year starting around December I see people looking for poems about Martin Luther King Jr. because they end up at my poem "Remembering a Life," a poem honoring King that I wrote for my children. I'm glad it's reached other children.

1 comment:

Gloria (The Little Red House with the White Porch) said...

Beautiful poem, Nordette. You are gifted. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to you and, if you get a chance, visit my blog... I think you will like the post I did in honor of Dr. King. Short but sweet... I am a "quote" lover, and Dr. King has given many fabulous ones for us to remember and try to emulate...