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An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments & Links

      When we are children, adults are so strange to us that we are likely to turn to animals to talk to.
      When we think someone is being more emotional than a creature or event deserves, we say that person is sentimental. We may feel a little sorry for people we consider sentimental; even though we like them, their sentimentality makes us lose some respect for their judgment. We are afraid they can't distinguish intellectually or emotionally between more important and less important things.

      To explore how much feeling is appropriate and how much is sentimental, read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, "A Poem for Carol”:


Nikki Giovanni

when i was very little
though it's still true today
there were no sidewalks in lincoln heights
and the home we had on jackson street
was right next to a bus stop and a sewer
which didn't really ever become offensive
but one day from the sewer a little kitten
with one eye gone
came crawling out
though she never really came into our yard but just
sort of hung by to watch the folk
my sister who was always softhearted but able
to act effectively started taking milk
out to her while our father would only say
don't bring him home and everyday
after school i would rush home to see if she was still
there and if gary had fed her but i could never
bring myself to go near her
she was so loving
and so hurt and so singularly beautiful and i knew
i had nothing to give that would 
replace her gone eye

and if i had named her which i didn't i'm sure
        i would have called her carol

      In these days when very few of us live on farms, it has become easy to be sentimental about animals. We no longer participate in are even watch the killing of animals for food. It is hard to believe that a Big Mac was once a new-born calf, stuttering on stiff legs. Neither do we, in our modern cities and towns, depend on animals as people do whose lives still depend on camels, horses, dogs, caribou, and other animals. For us, animals are pets, creatures who are only important to us emotionally. Knowledge that animals can be necessary as food or helpers does not check on our sentimentality, so it is very difficult for us to write unsentimentally about animals. We have no way of judging how much feeling for an animal is appropriate.
      Avoiding sentimentality does not mean having no feelings; it means having those feelings which are appropriate, and, if we are writing a poem, asking our readers to have the feelings which are appropriate under the circumstances. Carol isn’t just an animal; she is a creature who can inspire love. The poem is written in praise of the girl’s ability to love, and it is unsentimental because the girl--and we readers--must face the fact that we inevitably lose what we love; we learn that the price for loving is grief.

      The opposite of sentimentality is inhibition--the unwillingness to commit feelings--being cool in the sense of being cold. (That is the safe way, because if you commit no feelings, you don't get hurt.) Does the girl in Nikki Giovanni’s poem strike a balance between sentimentality and inhibition?

      We don't like to give our feelings--or, to use that old fashioned phrase, to give our hearts--when the chances are good that our feelings will be hurt by loss. We may later regret our timidity, but, at the time, it wasn't possible.
      Write a poem like Nikki Giovanni's "A Poem for Carol" about an experience you had when committing your feelings wasn’t possible. The way to avoid sentimentality or inhibition is to describe accurately--to face realities squarely--to be honest.


William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Andrew J. Grossman

Sometime the cow kick your head
Sometime she just moo

Even the cow don't know
What she going to do

Until she look at you
Knocked out upon the ground

And she say"Woo
My leg do that to him"


Michael L. Johnson

These two holes are where
his wet nostrils sniffed
the scent of his prey.

And these two are where
his keen eyes observed
the look of his prey.

And these two are where
his furry ears heard
the sound of his prey.

And this one is where
his sharp white teeth chewed
the flesh of his prey.

And this one is where
a hollow-point slug
smashed its thoughtless way.


Aaron Ballance

Dug out the deep hole
with rock bars and shovels
along the shade tree path
while the herd was in lower
fields, and left the rifle in the truck
because people believed
horses know intentions,
and the ancient Paso Fino,
too sick for the molasses
we dripped on grain and in water,
came and stood over the grave
when it was still morning,
waited there past lunch,
like a blinking statue,
never swatting a fly,
never pawing the fill dirt
mounded above the hole
we had left open to sun
in case that warmth
touched him when he fell.

A working animal or a pet. Either way, we take on the responsibility for a life and for death. If you have owned an animal, write a poem that illustrates the responsibility you took on. (Compare this poem to Corrine Hales’ poem “Testimony” in “The Lives of Girls and Young Women” section.)


Olive Senior

Birdshooting season the men
make marriages with their guns
My father's house turns macho
as from far the hunters gather

All night long contentless women
stir their brews:  hot coffee
chocolata, cerassie
wrap pone and tie-leaf
for tomorrow's sport.  Tonight
the men drink white rum neat.

In darkness shouldering
their packs, their guns, they leave

We stand quietly on the
doorstep shivering.  Little boys
longing to grow up birdhunters too
Little girls whispering:
fly Birds Fly.

      Write a poem about hunting, either from the point of view of a child who says "Fly Birds Fly" or from the point of view of a child who wants to grow up to be a bird hunter.


Robert Sward

I did not want to be old Mr.
Garbage man, but uncle dog
Who rode sitting beside him.

Uncle dog had always looked
To me to be truck-strong
Wise-eyed, a cur-like Ford

Of a dog.  I did not want 
To be Mr. Garbage man because
All he had was cans to do.

Uncle dog sat there me-beside-him
Emptying nothing.  Barely even
Looking from garbage side to side:

Like rich people in the backseats
Of chauffeur-cars, only shaggy
In an unwagging tall-scrawny way.

Uncle dog belonged any just where
He sat, but old Mr. Garbage man
Had to stop at everysingle can.

I thought.  I did not want to be Mr.
Everybody calls them that first.
A dog is said, Dog!  Or by name.

I would rather be called Rover
Than Mr. and sit like a tough
Smart mongrel beside a garbage man.

Uncle dog always went to places
Unconcerned, without no hurry.
Independent like some leashless

Toot.  Honorable among Scavenger
Can-picking dogs.  And with a bitch
At every other can.  And meat:

His for the barking.  Oh, I wanted
To be uncle dog--sharp, high fox-
Eared, cur-Ford truck-faced

With his pick of the bones.
A doing, truckman's dog
And not a simple child-dog

Nor friend to man, but an uncle
Traveling, and to himself--
And a bitch at every second can.

      If at the age of five or seven or nine you envied the life of some animal, write a poem about the animal and what it was about the animal's life which you envied.


Wendell Berry

 Her fate seizes her and brings her
 down.  She is heavy with it.  It
 wrings her.  The great weight
 is heaved out of her.  It eases.
 She moves into what she has become,
 sure in her fate now
 as a fish free in the current.
 She turns to the calf who has broken
 out of the womb’s water and its veil.
 He breathes.  She licks his wet hair.
 He gathers his legs under him
 and rises.  He stands, and his legs
 wobble. After the months
 of his pursuit of her, now
 they meet face to face.
 From the beginnings of the world
 His arrival and her welcome
 have been prepared.  They have always
 known each other.

Look for a chance to watch an animal or a bird that doesn't know that you are watching. If you are very lucky, it can ber an animal giving birth. But whatever the animal is doing, watch carefully and make notes for a poem.


for Ron Lampard, Nisqually

Bill Ransom

We learned that you don't shoot
things that are wiser than yourself:
cranes, crippled bear, mountain beaver, toads.
We learned that a hunter who doesn't eat his game
is a traitor and should wander the earth,
starving, forever.
We learned to fish the shadow side of creeks
and to check traps every morning before the dew lifts.
It is a kindness in our savagery
that we leaned to owe our prey
a clean death and an honorable end.
We learned from our game
to expect to be eaten when we die, 
learned that our fathers
learned all this before us.
Because of this you are brother
to cranes, mountain beaver, toads and me.
And to one old crippled bear
that neither of us will ever see.

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