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About this poet

On April 26, 1946, Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Melvin M. Nelson, a U.S. serviceman in the Air Force, and Johnnie Mitchell Nelson, a teacher. Brought up first on one military base and then another, Nelson started writing while still in elementary school.

She earned her BA from the University of California, Davis, and holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (MA, 1970) and the University of Minnesota (PhD, 1979).

Her books include My Seneca Village (namelos, 2015); How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Press, 2014); Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012); The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005); The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997), which was a finalist for the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the 1997 National Book Award, and the PEN Winship Award; Magnificat (Louisiana State University Press, 1994); The Homeplace (Louisiana State University Press, 1990), which won the 1992 Annisfield-Wolf Award and was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award; Mama's Promises (Louisiana State University Press, 1985); and For the Body (Louisiana State University Press, 1978).

She has also published collections of verse for children and young adults, including American Ace (Dial Books, 2016); Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World (Dial Books, 2009); The Freedom Business: Including A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa (Front Street, 2008); Carver: A Life in Poems (Boyds Mills Press, 2001); The Cat Walked through the Casserole and Other Poems for Children, with Pamela Espeland (Carolrhoda Books, 1984) and Halfdan Rasmussen's Hundreds of Hens and Other Poems for Children (Black Willow Press, 1982), which she translated from Danish with Pamela Espeland.

Her honors include the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2001–2006, she served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut. Nelson was also awarded the 2017 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, given in recognition of a “storied literary career exploring history, race relations, and feminism in America.”

In 2013, Nelson was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Fellow Chancellor Arthur Sze praised her selected, saying: "Marilyn Nelson's poetry is remarkable for its sheer range of voice and style, for its historical roots, and for its lyrical narratives that, replete with luminous details, unfold with an emotional force that, ultimately, becomes praise. ...She is a vital ambassador of poetry."

Since 1978 she has taught at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she is a professor emerita of English.


Selected Bibliography

Poems

My Seneca Village (namelos, 2015)
How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Books, 2014)
Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012)
The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005)
The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997)
Magnificat (Louisiana State University Press, 1994)
The Homeplace (Louisiana State University Press, 1990)
Mama's Promises (Louisiana State University Press, 1985)
For the Body (Louisiana State University Press, 1978)

Children’s Literature

American Ace (Dial Books, 2016)
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World (Dial Books, 2009)
The Freedom Business: Including A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa (Front Street, 2008)
Carver: A Life in Poems (Boyds Mills Press, 2001)
The Cat Walked through the Casserole and Other Poems for Children, with Pamela Espeland (Carolrhoda Books, 1984)
Hundreds of Hens and Other Poems for Children, with Pamela Espeland (Black Willow Press, 1982)

The Continental Army

            George Washington passes through Lyme, CT 10 April 1776

As I lifted the kettle from the hob,
I heard the sound of drums from far away.
I paused a moment. Then that hot water
got heavy. But I listened while I worked:
a steady rhythm, now and then a fife.
I washed, wiped and put the dishes away,
then dried my hands and hung up the dishrag.
Now I heard hoof beats and many men’s boots.
I took my shawl and stepped into the dusk.

Out front, a white man with golden shoulders
and a sandy pigtail sat a gray horse
as if they were one being longing to prance.
Most of the town was lined along the street
clapping and cheering. A white army marched,
black booted feet in perfect unison,
toward the church, in identical cocked hats,
white sashes, blue coats with silver buttons,
fawn weskits and breeches, and knee high boots.
They carried muskets fitted with bayonets.
Never had I seen such terrible power.

They marched to the cadence the drummer set,
left right left right left right, for many ranks.
Some of us gathered behind McCurdy’s house
whispering what we had heard and understood
of all this commotion. Zacheus swore
he saw some brothers among the soldiers.
The drummer they marched to brought up the rear.
We stood silenced when we saw his dark face.            

Copyright © by Marilyn Nelson. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © by Marilyn Nelson. Used with permission of the author.

Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson

Born in 1946, Marilyn Nelson is the author of over eight books of poetry, as well as many collections of verse for children and young adults. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

Joseph and Margaret Cavanaugh, ca. 1847

There’s Bridget and Michael and Catherine and Ann,
there’s Francis X., Moira, Theresa, and Sean:
none of them shivering, everyone fed,
head to feet sleeping, four butts to a bed.

 

The 1845 Irish potato crop failure resulted in widespread

poem

What if to taste and see, to notice things,
to stand each is up against emptiness
for a moment or an eternity—
images collected in consciousness
like a tree alone on the horizon—
is the main reason we’re on the planet.
The food’s here of the first crow to arrive,

poem

(ca. 1847)

Miss Charlotte Thompson, daughter of Ada
Thompson of Seneca and the late John,
and Timothy James Seaman, son
of the late Nancy Seaman, on Sunday.
Reverend Rush performed the ceremony.
The bride (twenty-four) was educated
by a literate friend, and by seeing
the