Poetry Friday: “A Poem!” from Etched In Clay

andrea chengAndrea Cheng is the author of several critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her most Guest bloggerrecent novel, Etched in Clay, tells the story in verse of Dave the Potter, an enslaved man, poet, and master craftsperson whose jars (many of which are inscribed with his poetry and writings) are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery. Etched in Clay recently won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

April is National Poetry Month, so we asked author Andrea Cheng to share one of her favorite poems from Etched in Clay:

FEATURED POEM

Etched in Clay, p. 65

A Poem!

Dave, July 12, 1834

The summer’s so hot,

it’s like we’re living

in the furnace.

The clay doesn’t like it either,

getting hard on me

too quick.

I better hurry now,

before the sun’s too low to see.

What words will I scrawl

across the shoulder

of this jar?

I hear Lydia’s voice in my head.

Be careful, Dave.

Those words in clay

can get you killed.

But I will die of silence

if I keep my words inside me

any longer.

Doctor Landrum used to say

it’s best to write a poem a day,

for it calms the body

and the soul

to shape those words.

 etched in clay jar

This jar is a beauty,

big and wide,

fourteen gallons

I know it will hold.

I have the words now,

and my stick is sharp.

I write:

put every bit all between

surely this jar will hold 14.

Andrea Cheng: There are three poems in Etched in Clay which speak directly about the act of writing.  In the first one, “Tell the World,”  (EIC p. 38) Dave writes in clay for the first time.  Using a sharp stick, he carves the date, April 18, into a brick; he is announcing to the world that on this day, “a man started practicing/his letters.”  In the poem called “Words and Verses,” (EIC p. 52) Dave thinks about writing down one of the poems that has been swirling around in his head as he works on the potter’s wheel.  Finally, in “A Poem!” (EIC  p. 67) Dave actually carves a couplet into one of his jars.  His words are practical and ordinary; he simply comments on the size of the jar.  But he is no longer silent.

Further Reading:

Andrea Cheng on Writing Biography in Verse

An interview with Andrea Cheng about Etched in Clay in School Library Journal

A look at how Andrea Cheng made the woodcut illustrations for Etched in Clay

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