'Morning Edition' Listeners Stitch Together A Community Poem
NOEL KING, HOST:
There is no shortage of classic holiday literature. Think "The Night Before Christmas," "A Christmas Carol," "The Polar Express." Well, MORNING EDITION listeners, get ready to add another work to the canon. Here's our co-host, Rachel Martin.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Earlier this month, we asked you to help us write a poem about the holidays. And you delivered. You seriously delivered. We asked you to send a single line about what you like about this time of year. And we got around a thousand responses - very heartfelt, very thoughtful.
So then we put all these responses to our friend, Kwame Alexander. It was up to him to stitch them together into a kind of community poem. And Kwame is with us in the studio now. We should say he is the New York Times best-selling author of "Solo." He's also the host of "Bookish," which is a new literary variety show on Facebook. Hey, Kwame.
KWAME ALEXANDER: Hello, my friend.
MARTIN: So before we hear the finished product that you have made...
MARTIN: ...From people's submissions, as you were reading what people were reflecting on, what stood out to you?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think there were two things, Rachel. One, the number of poems about cinnamon.
MARTIN: Oh, really?
ALEXANDER: People love cinnamon.
MARTIN: There's a lot of cinnamon in people's lives in the holidays (laughter).
ALEXANDER: You know, like, during the ancient times cinnamon was regarded - highly regarded as a gift from the gods. So I get it.
ALEXANDER: I guess the other thing that really connected with me was I felt really good after reading these entries. I often talk about how poetry can help us become more human.
ALEXANDER: Well, I tell you. After reading these lines from these listeners, I felt better. I felt good. I felt inspired. And I felt connected.
MARTIN: Wow. OK, so let's listen to one of the lines that we got. This is a submission from our listener Cara Houssam (ph).
CARA HOUSSAM: I like listening to my father play the same classic Christmas songs on the piano like he does every single year.
MARTIN: Yeah. And we got a lot of responses from children. We want to give a shoutout, many thanks, to the teachers out there who got their entire class to submit lines.
MARTIN: Very awesome.
ALEXANDER: Go teachers.
MARTIN: So this is a line from Evan Puji (ph).
EVAN PUJI: I like opening presents and playing baseball with my cousin while the adults are drinking wine.
MARTIN: I don't know what you're talking about, Evan. I have no experience with that at all.
ALEXANDER: The humor and the authenticity. Poetry allows us to capture, like, the human soul entire, all of us, into these really fun, functional and oftentimes, like Evan showed, funny lines.
MARTIN: Right. So for a lot of people, the holidays bring up tough memories of people they have lost. And that was the case for listener Jenny Keener (ph).
JENNY KEENER: I like my dreams where my mamaw (ph) visits me. She smells of cinnamon and cloves and warm apple strudel. We discuss love and the Great War and how to make a great potato soup.
MARTIN: I love that because it is a universal experience, grief, but so specific as pertains to potato soup.
ALEXANDER: (Laughter) You find the joy through the pain, you know?
MARTIN: Right. Right. So community-sourced poems, the thing that we are doing here by taking all these lines and making them into a thing in and of itself, this is something people - artists, writers - have been doing for a long time, right?
ALEXANDER: These are - yeah, these are puzzle pieces, you know, which we, you know, fit together and compose into something, you know, hopefully intelligible and emotional. You have these poems called spine poems, which are where kids go into the library and they choose books, and they place the books on top of each other so that the titles of the spines face out, and they create a poem. It's really fun.
MARTIN: Yeah, love it. You and I can do that.
ALEXANDER: Now, the librarians may not like it 'cause the books get all strewed out...
ALEXANDER: ...Everywhere, but spine poems...
MARTIN: It's in the name of poetry (laughter).
ALEXANDER: Exactly - really cool way.
MARTIN: All right, without further ado, let's get to our community. We asked all of you to send us a line about what you love the most about the holidays. Kwame, you made an epic poem out of all these lines. And you and I are going to read this thing, right?
ALEXANDER: We are.
MARTIN: OK. Let's do it.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I like the deepening silence on Christmas Eve after everyone has gone to bed. I lie in my bed waiting, waiting for the promise of a morning in pajamas without the frenzy of rushing to work, the promise of time to cherish my children's smiles and laughter.
MARTIN: (Reading) I like going to my grandma's Hanukkah brunch and eating latkes with all my family. I like meemaw's (ph) oyster dressing stuffed in a 20-pound turkey, tamales to tickle my tastebuds.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I like poinsettia and pine cone wafting through the air, the smell of cinnamon and how it almost tickles the inside of your nose in a warm home on a cold day.
MARTIN: (Reading) I like the extra people in the house, the erasing of miles between family.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) Wild cousins that you only see once a year, eccentric aunts with boozy breath that insist on giving you big hugs.
MARTIN: (Reading) I like the hugs and the food and the conversation with presents and inflection and eye contact that we can't replicate in this digital world as much as we try.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I like the look on their faces when I get the present right. I like the kaleidoscope of light set to a holiday rhythm, "Christmas In Hollis Queens" (ph) by Run DMC played by b-boy on his drum machine.
MARTIN: (Reading) When we were stationed abroad, I liked bundling up with my mom and delivering hot chocolate to all the MPs patrolling our base. I like the sights and sounds and sense of awe as we'd place wreaths on the graves at Arlington Cemetery.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I like the bittersweet memories of what Christmas once was and to give in that day to the weeping that waits.
MARTIN: (Reading) What I like at Christmas time is when my mom makes me and my sisters have to wait on the stairs, then takes pictures. And then we go downstairs to open our presents. I like doing this because it's a tradition. And even though it annoys me, I like doing it anyways.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I like how people tend to be extra, extra good and extra, extra nice. I like hearing my 2-year-old say, wow, lights everywhere we go like it's magic because it is, little sparks of joy reminding us to have hope in the darkness.
MARTIN: (Reading) I like the way the handmade ornaments tell stories of my family. And when my daughter asks, Mom, where did this ornament come from, I like to tell her the stories, knowing that those memories will travel into the future.
MARTIN: We did it.
ALEXANDER: We did it.
MARTIN: Everyone out there did it. Thanks so much to all of you for contributing to this poem. Thank you, Kwame, for making it what it was. We appreciate it.
ALEXANDER: Happy holidays to all.
MARTIN: Kwame Alexander, New York Times best-selling author of "Solo" and host of "Bookish" a new show on Facebook. Happy holidays, Kwame.
ALEXANDER: Same to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE O'NEILL BROTHERS GROUP'S "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS (INSTRUMENTAL VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.