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Teens write their OWN poetry

April is coming to an end and that means the end of National Poetry Month. Instead of focusing on books on writing poetry for teens, here are a few books about teens who write their own poetry.  This includes books where teens write song lyrics because there are so many similarities between song lyrics and prose poetry.  Good poetry contains effective imagery, compelling themes, originality and emotional evocativeness – also found in good song lyrics.

Adios, Nirvana (2011) by Conrad Wesselhoeft, selected as one of the winners of YALSA’s 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults, is a new book that does that so well.  Jonathan, 17, is a former star student; talented poet and musician who is just careening through life, fueled by Red Bull and No-Doze, still reeling from his twin brother’s death. He’s also facing the possibility of repeating his junior year.  The only things standing between him and failure are his devoted best friends or “Thicks,” an understanding principal and his English teacher.  What will ensure that he makes it to senior year? He must attend class every day, help an 88-year-old WWII veteran write his memoir, and perform his principal’s  favorite song, “Crossing the River Styx,” at graduation on a legendary guitar donated to the school by rocker hero Eddie Vedder in honor of his talented musician brother.  Jonathan’s poetry is scattered throughout the novel “Chaos XIII – O sleeping bum of a building, you cradle the litter of our streets under your fake Doric columns…”   and shows his talent as a poet and prose writer.

Open-mic poetry nights are used to highlight a number of poetry-writing teens in a lot of older teen books:   

Bronx Masquerade (2001) by Nikki Grimes gives the students of a high school teacher in the Bronx a forum to express themselves (“The world ain’t but one big surprise after another”) and forge unexpected connections with one another.




Linda Oatman High’s Sister Slam & the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip (2004) written in verse,features Laura Rose Crapper, who changes her name to Sister Slam and then takes off with her friendTwig on a road trip to a poetry slam in Tin Can, NJ.  




Elisa uses her gift for poetry by writing romantic lines for boys to send to other girls (“Dear Lori, Last night I left my window open and a firefly flew through. So much light and all I could think of was you. Love Matt”), until one winter when she realizes she loves one of these boys in Beth Kephart’s Undercover (2007).



In Orphea Proud (2004, out of print), by Sharon Dennis Wyeth , 17-year-old orphan Orphea Proud uses the stage to tell the story of how she fell in love with her best friend Lissa, who died in a accident a day after their first kiss.

Teens writing their own poetry are found in a lot of books but it isn’t necessarily the main plot of the book so it’s not easy to identify those types of books.  These are some of the more memorable ones I’m familiar with.  I know there are others.  I’d love to have your suggestions!

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin and Illusions by Aprilynne Pike

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Sharon Rawlins

Sharon is the Youth Services Specialist at the NJ State Library in Trenton, NJ