“Poem for the First Day of the Poetry Unit in Language Arts Class” (Video + Text)

To celebrate RELEASE DAY, Button Poetry posted one of my favorite poems from the new book!

I think a lot about context and audience, about how a poem “lives” in the world, and this piece is really about leaning into that: it’s literally a poem that I hope can be useful for both teachers and students on the first day of the poetry unit in language arts class, haha. Beyond that very practical, down-to-earth function, I hope the poem also speaks to the deeper importance of expression, telling our stories, and building community with one another.

In that spirit, be sure to check out my new Spoken Word and Slam Poetry Resource Hub.

I’ll share the full text of the poem below; it’s also in my book, “Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough,” available now!


Not everyone who studies the sky has to become a begoggled balloon pilot. Some just like looking at the clouds because they’re pretty. Some are more concerned with weather patterns and their effect on crops. Some are simply charting a course from point A to point B, a matter of routine. 

It is okay if you don’t like poetry. I don’t really like the sky. Sun gives me a migraine. Wind blows in my face. It snows on days I don’t want it to snow. You will never find me in the gondola of a hot air balloon, a thousand paces from where I should be pacing.

But language has made me weightless, if only for a moment. A poem, once or twice, has guided me home. So I want to say something like when your teacher makes you write a poem, don’t think of it as an assignment; think of it as an opportunity. But that’s kind of corny. A lot of things that are true are kind of corny. 

This isn’t a very good poem. I wrote it today. And yeah, it would be better if it were better, but sometimes you see a stage and it’s the sky, waiting for you to scream something alive into it.

So tell your story, whether it rhymes or not. Tell the truth, whether it gets a good grade or not. Write something that means something to you, even if you don’t perform it, or publish it, or share it with anyone. Poetry is not just how elegantly we can put some words next to some other words. Think of all the materials with which you could quilt a giant balloon into being—the flags of a hundred nations, the banners of a hundred warriors, the baby blankets of a hundred lost children—but no matter how beautiful, or colorful, or well-constructed the balloon itself is, none of that makes it fly.

In this class, we will study the balloon. We will read old maps. But your job is not just to look up and imagine; it is to look down and laugh. Your job is not just to understand flight; it is to fly.

Because you, I would guess, are more than whatever container currently holds you, more than the scraps from which you have been sewn together.

And the poem you will write does not have to be the first step on your illustrious career as a professional poet. The poem does not have to “save” anyone. The poem does not even have to be good. Let it be honest, and let that be enough. Let it say this is who I am, and this is what I believe, and let that fill as much space as it can, rise off the ground, and meet the sky.

The first poem I ever wrote was about the end of the world. I’m old enough now to have lived through the end of many. I don’t remember the words, just a landscape for the dark cloud in me to rain upon. Just the feeling of rising through that cloud and, for the first time, seeing the stars beyond it. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the light, and I’ve been walking in its direction ever since.