Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 15, 2010

Margarita Engle Talks about Poetry and History

Some of my favorite books tell history through verse. I love Carver, by Marilyn Nelson, and her 2009 book, Sweethearts of Rhythm, a book about an integrated all-women’s swing band in WWII. My favorite Karen Hesse books are those in verse, such as Out of the Dust and Aleutian Sparrow. And I’m amazed by Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees from Cuba, which just won a Sydney Taylor Award, and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. I’m excited to have an article I wrote about using these three novels-in-verse in the classroom published in the January/February issue of Book Links. You can read Green Paths and Open Views online at:

I was lucky enough to interview Margarita, which Book Links also makes available online. She answers questions about blending history and verse, writing outdoors, and what she does when she’s stuck. Here’s a taste: “Anyone who observes and listens can probably write a bit of poetry, but one has to be receptive, i.e., willing to let go of the constant chatter of daily life. Poetry loves open spaces.”

If you’re attending ALA this weekend, you can pick up a copy of the magazine, which features the lovely Raul Colon cover to Tropical Secrets, at the Book Links/Booklist booth. I hope to see some of you in Boston! (and for those I won’t, I’ll post pictures when I get back). For more poetry on a Friday, please visit Great Kid Books at



  1. “Poetry loves open spaces.” I love this line. And the idea that poetry requires letting go of “the constant chatter of daily life.” That feels right. (Says one who struggles with constant chatter and with poetry both!)
    See you in Boston, Jeannine!

  2. Wow! Love your article and interview. What great questions :)! Like Loree, my favorite line is “Poetry loves open spaces.” *swoon*
    Thank you so much. I really feel like I’ve gotten a deeper sense of who Margarita really is, and of course, I’m stoked to read her books!

  3. Yes that line is so beautiful and true. Thanks for commenting, Loree, and I look forward to seeing you in Boston — tomorrow!

  4. Jama, thanks for your kind words. Good luck with finding your open spaces!

  5. I am knee-deep “in the constant chatter of everyday life” just now — so it’s an extra-special treat to stop and savor these articles. You ask so many thoughtful questions, Jeannine; I’d love to see how students respond. And that interview!
    “I am especially fond of old-fashioned field botany, the kind of science that requires muddy boots.”
    Me, too. 🙂

  6. Thank you, Amy. I know, that muddy boots phrase sent my heart fluttering, too. Margarita has a picture book about artist/scientist Maria Sibylla Merian coming out this fall, and I can’t wait! She is married to a scientist who does some field work, and she helps train rescue dogs; composing poetry in her head while she hides in the mountains and waits for a dog to find her.

  7. I’m not a poet by any means, and I’m having a hard time finding those “open spaces” about now. My own life seems so small and insignificant when measured against the tragedies unfolding in Haiti…
    Wish I could find a poem to express how I’m feeling.

  8. I understand about having a hard time finding the open spaces. it is hard when your heart is breaking. But your life is so so not insignificant. We need you to keep singing, when you’re up for it.

  9. Wonderful article and interview! Thanks for pointing us to them. And I’m voting for the line “Poetry loves open spaces” too!
    I tend to have to write long sentences and overly wordy paragraphs and then cut them open so they can breathe. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Susan, thanks for stopping by. I guess it’s unanimous: we need those “Poetry loves open spaces” t-shirts, or maybe just a note on our computers. I do think you know how to let things breathe, but reminders don’t hurt any of us.

  11. I’m so grateful to be introduced to Margarita Engle. Thank you, Jeannine!

  12. We are LJ friends after all! Yay! So great to meet you. Looking forward to your book! Squee!

  13. It was great to meet you in person, too, and make the Massachusetts connection!

  14. “Poetry loves open spaces.” I LOVE that. Thanks for posting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: