Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Valentine for Earnst Mann, has always been one of my favorites poems. I first heard it in a workshop years ago when Georgia Heard shared it with us. And since then, I've become a fan. Her poem "Famous" is also a favorite of mine (thank you Donalyn Miller for sending it to me just when I needed it most)!
Valentine is one of those pieces of poetry that has become memorable for me as a reader and writer. I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day today. Why not write your loved one a poem, or two. Wrap your words with a bow across a page just for yourself. Or better yet, write a poem and "put it in your pocket" and hand one to a stranger you meet today! What a surprise that would be...
Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
This poem is published in Paul Janeczko's book The Place My Words are Looking For, which is a wonderful collection of poetry and advice from poets. I'd forgotten what a great book it is. This book and Seeing the Blue Between are two important books to have in our collections. Helping young writers find that "place" is something I think we need to focus on more... a child's writing place isn't necessarily found in a "power paragraph" or a "five paragraph essay." With our state tests looming around the bend, let's not forget the real reason writers write. Let's not forget to help children learn to fall in love with words and language and their own creativity. Let's not forget to read beautiful poetry out loud to students. Let's not forget to model our own writing and the ways our writing gives us a voice.
Happy Valentine's Day. And, thank you Naomi Shihab Nye for your beautiful voice and for sharing your words with us. I can't think of a better way to start today!