This is the 1998 winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award:
The Invisible Ladder; An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers compiled by Liz Rosenberg (Henry Holt, 1996)
Here is a Digital Trailer for THE INVISIBLE LADDER created by graduate student Melissa Carroll (with teen help).
Here is a Readers' Guide for THE INVISIBLE LADDER created by graduate student Jeanie Lively.
Rosenberg, Liz. 1996. The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-3836-1
Recommended Age Levels 12-18
Summary of Book
The Invisible Ladder is an anthology of contemporary American poets. Editor Liz Rosenberg read other anthologies of poetry for young people and was dissatisfied. The poems were either too silly or by poets who were long dead. She wanted an anthology of good poetry that would show the reader how poetry can influence their lives today and in the future. Rosenberg grew up with poetry. The poems she read as a child evolved and changed as she grew up, allowing her to build a relationship with them. Today they are still an important part of her life. She wanted to create the same experience for her readers. To that end she chose some of the best contemporary American poets to include in the anthology. The beginning of each poet’s sections includes a current picture and a picture from childhood. The poets also write an introduction describing when they started writing poetry and what drew them to the art form. Why do they believe poetry is important? What place does it hold in our world? The book shares the work of 38 poets including Robert Bly, Rita Dove, Martin Espada, Allen Ginsberg, Nikki Giovanni, Galway Kinnell, David St. John, Alice Walker and Robley Wilson. As you can tell from this partial list not all of these poets are considered “children’s poets”. But they are all good poets whose work is vibrant and demanding and makes you think and feel and that is exactly what Rosenberg wants for her young readers.
“Celebrated poets such as Rita Dove, Galway Kinnell and Stanley Kunitz preface their poems with commentary and black-and-white photos of themselves in childhood and adulthood in The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers, edited by Liz Rosenberg. The anthology introduces readers to an admirable range of poems written for adults but accessible to a YA audience. The poets' seductively personal and iconoclastic explanations of how they got hooked on their craft are likely to nab new converts.” - Publishers Weekly
“A striking array of poems by ``living poet[s]'' who do not write in a ``children's poetry ghetto,'' including Robert Creeley, Carolyn Kizer, Nikki Giovanni, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, and W.D. Snodgrass.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Teachers and researchers often discuss links between reading and writing, connections we hope students make in our classrooms and in their own lives. Poet Liz Rosenberg designs a collection to help readers make connections to their own writing-connections which encourage experimentation, freedom, thought, and development of personal style…What a treasure to share with young people! Rosenberg's philosophy, selections, and respect for students as intelligent readers and developing writers create a volume of pleasure and endless possibility.” - VOYA
"This anthology combines modern American poetry with commentary by the poets and photos of them as children and adults. Like...other fine YA anthologists, [Rosenberg] introduces many exciting new adult voices to young people." - Booklist
Awards and Honors Received
• Hungry Minds Book of Distinction, 1997
• Claudia Lewis Poetry Prize, 1997
Questions to ask before reading the book
Before introducing the book ask the class these questions to begin a discussion about the preconceptions of poetry and to start the students contemplating the place poetry has in their lives.
• What is poetry to you? Is it interesting or boring? If someone gives you a book of poetry as a gift are you excited about it?
• Do you think poetry has any connection with your world or your life? Does it matter in today’s world? Do you think it can make a difference in our lives?
• Do you like to read poetry? Why? Why not?
• When you read poetry do you understand it?
• Do you like to write poetry?
• Why do you think people create poetry? What kind of a person is a poet? Do you think poets are mainly men or women? Should everyone be able to write poetry or just certain people?
• What do you believe is the topic of most poems? Are some topics more suitable for poetry than others?
Suggestions for Reading Aloud
• Poetry Contest: Students will choose their favorite poem and present it to the class. The students will vote on which of the presentations were the best. If more than one class is studying poetry the top readers from each class can compete against each other.
• Partner Practice: If students are shy about reading in front of a group first have them practice presenting their poems to a partner. Then divide students into small groups and have them practice presenting in that setting. Finally have students present to the entire class.
• Readers Theater: Some of the poems in the book such as “The Need for Shoes”, “Tires Stacked in the Hallways of Civilization”, “Tree” and others would work well with multiple performers as reader’s theater. Groups of students can choose a poem, divide it into parts and present it together. This would be good for students who are uncomfortable presenting in a solo setting.
Follow Up Activities
• In “Ways To Use This Book” Rosenberg recommends that teachers ask their students to create one new poem a month based on a poem written by someone else. The students choose a poem from the book and then write a poem in response to it. They can base their poem on one of the lines in the other poem. They can answer a question the other poem asks. They can ask their own question based on the poem. The student poem can be a response to the emotion evoked by the other poem. If the students memorize both their poem and the one on which it is based, at the end of the year they will know 24 poems by heart.
• Jane O. Wayne’s poem “The Eavesdropper” is about a small girl listening in on the conversation of others. Teens hear and see everything around them. Have each student keep a notebook that records what they see and hear. Use the entries in the notebook as prompts for writing poetry.
• Many of the poems in The Invisible Ladder are biographical. “The Portrait” by Stanley Kunitz is a good example of a biographical poem. Many students have events in their lives that are just as strong as the one in the poem. This would be a good opportunity to write a poem about that event using the biographical poems as a model.
• Many of these poems feature different voices: the parent and child, the judge and defendant, etc. Choose one of the poems that feature different voices and analyze each voice along with the students. Students can then create their own poem using one of the voices they have studied responding to the original poem.
• The poems of Martin Espada are political in nature. Study his poems along with “They are Planning to Cancel the School Milk Program to Fund a Tax Cut for the Middle Class” by Liz Rosenberg and “Remember” by Alice Walker. How do the poets use the imagery of poetry to discuss important political and social issues? What are some current issues or historical events that are important to the students? Lead the students in expressing their feelings about these issues through their own original poetry.
• In his introduction Marvin Bell talks about music and how the lyrics of contemporary music are a form of poetry. The students will pick their favorite song and evaluate how the lyrics use the elements of poetry: rhythm, rhyme, sound, language, imagery and emotion.
• The students will pick a poem from the book that reminds them of a song. They will read the poem to the class and then talk about the music they have chosen. They will explain why they chose that music. What was it about the poem that made them think of that particular piece of music? The student will then play the music for the class.
Related Websites and Blogs
• Poetry 180: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/. Part of the Library of Congress this site was created by former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins. It offers one poem for each day of school for high school students. The poems are meant to be read out loud to and by students.
• Poetry Out Loud: Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest for teens. It starts locally and moves up to the national level. It includes tips on how to present poetry and audio clips of various writers and actors reading poems. http://www.poetryoutloud.org/
• Poets.org: Sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. A place to find all sorts of information on poets and poetry in America including updated bios and pictures of many of the poets included in the book. The site also has videos and interviews of poets. http://www.poets.org/
• Teen Ink: A website of poetry and other writings by teens only. Teens can read and comment on the poetry written by other teens as well as upload their personal writings.
• Rosenberg, Liz ed. 2005. I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy. Boston: Graphia.
• Rosenberg, Liz ed. 2001. Roots and Flowers: Poets Write About Their Families. New York: Henry Holt and Family.
• Franco, Betsy, ed. 2001. You Hear Me: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Works by Individual Poets
• Angelou, Maya. 1994. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. New York: Random House.
• Bly, Robert. 2011. Talking Into The Ear of A Donkey: Poems. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
• Dove, Rita. 1986. Thomas and Beulah. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon.
• Ginsburg, Allen. 2007. Collected Poems: 1947-1997. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
• Rosenberg, Liz. 2002. 17: A Novel in Prose Poem. Chicago: Cricket Books.
• Rosenberg, Liz. 2008. The Lily Poems. New York: Bright Hill Press.
• Stern, Gerald. 1999. This Time: New and Selected Poems. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
Walker, Alice. 2010. Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems. Novato, CA: New World Library.
About Liz Rosenberg
Liz Rosenberg is a children’s book author, poet and novelist who teaches creative writing at SUNY in Binghamton, New York. Her books of poetry include The Angel Poems, Children of Paradise, The Lily Poems and Demon Love. Besides The Invisible Ladder anthology she has also worked on I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness and Joy and others. Her novels include Heart and Soul and Home Repair. Her children’s books include Adelaide and the Night Train, The Scrap Doll and I Did It Anyway.