When I was in junior high, I enjoyed reading stories, writing to pen-pals, keeping a journal, and creating poetry. Fast forward a few years and now I blog about these passions: reading and writing. But now my “pen-pals” are my blog readers with whom I share book reviews, writing tips, insights on the process of writing historical fiction, and an occasional poem or two. Please leave a comment and join this conversation on literacy.
After quoting one of Brod Bagert’s poems in a previous blog, I decided Hormone Junglewas worthy of its own post. This collection of 50+ poems is “written” by 11 fictional characters, the self-proclaimed “Digital Poets.” The book is presented in the form of a scrapbook compiled by the girl whose poem, “Middle School Payback,” began a middle school poetry war. Bagert did such an excellent job of writing the poems from different point-of-views that several times I had to remind myself that he is the behind-the-scenes real author of the entire collection.
Middle school voices are authentic and compelling. Consider this final verse from “Middle School Payback” by Christina Curtis:
This ain’t elementary anymore,
You’re in a brave new world,
You’re a boy in middle school
And buster, I’m a girl!
So down on your knees and crawl, slime,
Middle school is payback time.
The poetry matures as the pre-teens develop into teenagers. No adolescent anxiety is left untouched. Body odor, self-image, fear of love, fear of rejection, sports trauma, school … Bagert’s “Digital Poets” uncover them all. What middle schooler won’t relate to:
“Bored” by Steven Gilley
Forty-three stations on the radio,
Ninety-seven channels on cable TV,
Thirty-nine thousand books in the library,
And the whole world on the Internet.
So why am I totally bored?
I’m lying in bed, I smell like cheese,
And half the day is through.
I think I get so bored because
There’s too much stuff to do.
Or, how about “Underarm Charm” by Ryan Spalding:
Last night at the drugstore,
My mother smiled discreetly and said:
“Look, Ryan, deodorant.
Would you like the roll-on or the spray?”
I may not have big muscles,
And I may not have a tan,
But I’m growing hairy armpits,
And I’m smelling like a man.
Although many of the poems are humorous, some are serious such as “The Door Unopened,” by Emma Mackey:
In our house there are doors—
A front door.
A back door.
A door to the patio.
Doors that open to the light.
But there’s another door—
A door that moves on rusty hinges
To steps that sink through silence,
Past the whisper of broken promises,
Into the dust of forbidden memory.
In my house there are lots of doors,
And among them
There is one door
I can never open again.
Christina Curtis opens the book with a flippant narrative about the Digital Poets, and ends with a somber reflection about Steven Gilley that brought me to tears. Bagert has woven together poetry and fiction into an award-winning book that will be appreciated by students and teachers alike. Art work by “real” middle school students at PK Younge Laboratory School in Gainesville, Florida, complements the book. (Maupin House, 2006)