Poetry was my first love.
When I was a child, I wrote poems in a journal and often created hand-made birthday or holiday cards for family and friends with my own poem penned on the inside written especially for my loved one. On Valentine’s Day, more than chocolate—I wanted a poem. I enjoyed the exchange of Valentines with my schoolmates, how we showed care for each other and took one day of the year to make sure each person in our class felt special. By high school, Valentine’s Day was no longer about friendship but more about relationships— was dating, who wasn’t. All of a sudden love was only about romance.
I’m all for romance but I also think it’s important to practice loving myself, to remember that I have much to be grateful for. I hope that everyday—not just on Valentine’s Day—I show people how much I care about them and that I focus not only on grand gestures but simple, daily offerings of appreciation.
This Valentines Day I am celebrating the publication of Piecing Me Together. I am thinking about the character Jade and the many people, places, and things she loves. Jade loves her mom even though her mom is struggling. She loves her neighborhood, even though some of its buildings could use some TLC. She cares deeply about her friends and more and more she is connecting to her roots, her history, and falling in love with herself.
Jade is a visual artist and her best friend, Lee Lee, is a poet. I think the two of them would spend Valentine’s Day making cards and choosing poems for their family and friends. They might even host an open mic and ask people to bring a poem that isn’t the typical love poem but poem that celebrate and honor all the there is to love about life. I am sure these are a few that they’d have on the list.
Valentine’s Day Alternative Reading List: not your typical love poems
1. Poetry Should Ride the Bus by Ruth Foreman: A poem about loving the simple things, about finding beauty in ordinary places. In this poem poetry plays “hopscotch in a polka dot dress” and sings“red revolution love songs.” Poetry is for everyday people doing everyday things and just like Jade, it finds the beauty in what others may discard.
2. Congregation by Parneshia Jones. A poem about loving and honoring tradition. This is an homage to family, to cooking together, and breaking bread with one another. It is about what is passed down from one generation to the next. It is having a belly full of food, a heart full of joy. Jade loves her mother’s cooking and the kitchen is a place where they share what is going on in their lives, where they heal and laugh, and bond.
3. Raised by Women by Kelly Norman Ellis. A poem about loving the people who raised us. I recognize each of the women in this poem—the scholar, the debutante, the artist. The dancing, finger-popping, tell-it-like-it-is women who have something to say. Jade knows these women, too. She is being raised by determined women, by flawed women, and by women who have a fierce love for her.
4. For My People by Margaret Walker. A poem about loving where you come from. This is an ode poem, a poem of praise that specifically honors the plight of African Americans in the United States of America. Jade is discovering the legacy she is a part of and finding strength in learning about African American men and women who came before her as activists and artists. In many ways Jade feels invisible and this is a poem that says, I see you… I am bearing witness to your experience.
5. Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. A poem about loving yourself. This poem is a powerful declaration that no matter what tries to pull us down, we can rise. Jade is pulled down by low expectations, stereotypes, and assumptions. She finds strength from within to rise and learns how to advocate for herself and use her voice to speak up for what she wants, and what she deserves.
6. won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton. A poem about loving the journey. This is one of my favorite poems by my absolute favorite poet. I think it connects to Jade’s story because like the speaker in the poem, Jade was “born nonwhite and woman” and has no model of how to go about achieving the goals she has. Like so many girls I know, piece by piece she is making something of her life and everyday something has tried to kill her dream, her passion, her self esteem and has failed. There has been a lot of pain for Jade, yes. But there is much joy and so much about her life to celebrate, to love.
Renée’s one woman show, Roses are Red, Women are Blue, debuted at New York City’s Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.
When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and New York City. She also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers and artists.
One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma. She has facilitated poetry and theatre workshops with young girls coping with sexual and physical abuse, children who have witnessed violence, children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and children who relocated to New York City after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Renée graduated from The New School, where she studied Creative Writing and earned a certificate in Drama Therapy.
Renée currently lives in New York City.
Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.
But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.
Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.