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Poetry. Heart music, soul song. There is something about this particular arrangement of words that digs a deeper meaning out of a word, a phrase. While I don’t know how April was chosen as National Poetry Month, it seems fitting, as Virginia sheds her winter coat and bursts into bloom, that we celebrate Virginia’s poets. In a series of three posts this month, we will visit our 2020 Library of Virginia Literary Award-honored poets and encourage you to accept the invitation into their worlds.

Week 1

Before we dive in, consider these points as you read a poem:

  • Read the poem aloud, using line breaks and punctuation as a guide, first considering whether the poem rhymes, or has clusters of sounds. Don’t worry too much about the meaning on the first go.
  • Read the poem aloud for a second time, considering the meaning this time. Do you “hear” ambiguity, or double entendre?
  • Ask questions of the poem:
    • To whom is it speaking?
    • What emotions arise? Joy, sadness, confusion?
    • What are the circumstances or situation of the poem?
    • What does the title suggest about the poem?
  • Read it aloud once again for the full effect, understanding that both the poet and you bring your own meaning to the poem.

For additional information about reading poetry, visit PBS Newshour’s Guide.

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

The 2020 Virginia Literary Award-winning poet Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley belongs to the Onondaga Nation in New York, and is an assistant professor of poetry and non-fiction at Old Dominion University’s Master of Fine Arts program. In addition to his 2019 collection Colonize Me (Saturnalia Books), for which he won the Virginia Literary Award for Poetry, he has published Not Your Mama’s Melting Pot (Backwaters Press, 2018), winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry; Dēmos (Milkweed Editions, 2020); and contributed to anthologies and journals too numerous to name.

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley is an Affrilachian poet, referring to his complex heritage and identification as a Black man living in Appalachia. His lived experience is the focus of his body of work.

Before submerging yourself in the story of the poem below, get to know Kingsley. Listen to this interview with Kingsley by Milkweed Press. Hearing his voice, seeing his face, will enliven the experience.

Ready? Here we go:


  1. What emotions surface during reading of the poem? What emotions does the child experience? Are they the same?
  2. Have you ever been so hungry you had to trade something precious? What did it feel like? If not, what would you trade if you had to?
  3. Love took the form of a bag lunch in this poem. What are some expressions of love that surprise you? Especially ones you can’t have?
  4. Kingsley plays with space in all of his poems. What do you think the newspaper column style but with breath breaks in the form of space and dashes was meant to convey?

Want to talk about it? Join our Literary Virginia Book Discussion. More information found here.

Craving more? Purchase featured poets’ books at the Virginia Shop, supporting not only the poets and their publishers, but the Library of Virginia through the Library of Virginia Foundation.

Nan Carmack

Director, Library Development & Networking

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