Friday, May 19, 2017

Poetry & Play with Poet/Educator/TEDx-er Darius Phelps

Darius Phelps
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Keisha from Whispers From the Ridge for Roundup. I am delighted to be in my own home this weekend! I love to travel, but Dorothy had it right: there's no place like home. I look forward to checking in with all of you, today. I've missed you!

If you'd like to catch up on my adventures, you can click to read about
- good eats, good friends & good B&B in Camden
- my time in Gee's Bend
- fun (and quilts!) with West Alabama Quilters Guild
- book signing at Tuscaloosa's only indie bookstore Ernest & Hadley

Poets stick together.
And now: oh boy do I have a treat for you -- an interview with Darius Phelps! I met Darius this past March when we happened to sit at the same table for the Awards luncheon at the Children's Book Festival in Athens, GA. When I told him I was a poet for children, he said, "me, too!" and that's pretty much all it took for us to know we should exchange cards and keep in touch. And since he hadn't heard of our wonderful Poetry Friday community, I volunteered to introduce him. So.... please welcome Darius!

IL: You recently gave a TEDx talk at University of Georgia. Tell us about that experience – biggest challenge, biggest reward?
DP: Honestly, the entire experience have been life changing for me. Never in a million years, did I dream that I had the both the talent and confidence to even be considered gracing the stage. The biggest reward was regaining my confidence to do anything that I set out to do.
learning to fly...
My biggest competition in life has and always will be myself. Being selected for a TEDx presentation, challenged me as a writer to come out of my comfort zone and be willing to tell such a personal part of my journey to the world. I don’t speaking on the impact of  losing my grandfather or how Burke helped me heal in more ways than one, often. Retelling the story of meeting Burke on that stage reignited my passion for teaching, helped me realize that is time to start a new chapter in my career, and say goodbye to both people and a place that no longer serve me a purpose. I’m so excited about getting back to that feeling and starting anew. Sometimes you have to let go, live in the moment, embrace every mess, and be open to accepting change.

"Embrace every mess." - Darius Phelps (yes!)

IL: Congratulations on your Child Caregiver of the Year Award (from the Georgia Association on Young Children)! How has your work with young learners changed you?

DP: Thank you! Receiving that particular accolade still feels like a dream. I’ve only been teaching for five years, with the last two being in my own classroom as a Lead Teacher so I still consider myself a “new teacher”. Working with primarily infants and toddlers have taught me to cherish the little things in life. Adults often take life way too seriously and don’t even realize it. Children can open up your eyes to a whole new world. They’ve helped me learn to laugh and truly smile again.

IL: When we met at the Children's Book Festival, you said you wanted to write poetry for children. What inspires you to write poetry for children? Would you please share some of your work with our audience? What do you most hope to achieve as a poet for children?

DP: When it comes to being a teacher, we are the ones who should know our students the best. We should be able to identify both their strengths  and challenges, so we can find a balance between the two and focus on how we should support our students in a way that teaches them a way to effectively utilize their skills. We should stress the importance of students becoming reflective learners  and what we as teachers can do to mold the child into the blossoming reader that they are meant to be.
We have the power to help students recognize that they have power. I can’t think of any better way than through language, literature, and specifically poetry! My inspiration comes from me growing up loving the arts, beginning with my childhood. Writing and illustrating has always been my form of therapy, and without it, I would not have gotten through the tough times in my life.

My goal is to combine my love of poetry, illustrating, and children’s literature all into one. I am working on a few special projects right now, including a trilogy of children’s books known as the “Our Lasting Legacy Trilogy” that deals with grief and a book that chronicles the love of two dads from two completely diverse backgrounds, all in poem format.
Mother holding tight...
My hope is that I can change the life of at least one person with any of my writing. Children, especially with the way the world is and how hard life can be, need to know and feel that they are supported. Here is a piece I wrote called, “Infants 226” that details a mother’s struggle with letting her son go on his first day at preschool.

Infants 226

"Your child will be in infant classroom 226, with Mr. Darius"

the sky was an overcast that day.
no traffic plagued the streets
just the three of us, riding in silence

his tiny  chubby sausage shaped  fingers
gripped mine in the backseat
as daddy drove us to the place

where my little love bug,
oblivious to the fact,
that he would be starting a new chapter

"he's almost one",
my husband kept saying
I wasn't ready

Ready for him to take his first steps under the care of someone else
Ready for him to look at them with those round beady brown eyes
That charming smile that could melt the heart of any man or woman

those chubby little gummy toes
I wasn't ready

his love was my burden to carry,
bore him for nine long months
working on my blistered feet non stop
I wasn't ready
to let him go

- Darius Phelps

IL: What needs to you see in children's literature? Are there any “gaps” you've noticed, and what advice would you give to those of us who are writing in the field today for how best to serve our audience?

DP: There is not and never will be enough children’s books that tackle what are known as the “hush” subjects such as grief, bullying, freedom to love whomever, and most importantly being yourself. It  is critical that we expose our students to characters that looks or behave like them, as well as those that don’t.  By implementing this strategy in our classroom and in literature,  we are allowing our students to see the world and the people in it in a new perspective, opening up the door to discussions and new realizations about the world we live in.

Advice wise, I would tell them to listen to their heart and just write. Don't be afraid of where it winds up taking you. Sometimes that particular place can be very dark and depressing, but the message is one intertwined in light. Trust the process.

IL: Give us some examples of your favorite poems or books of poetry for kids.

DP: I just ordered and received the book “Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets" by Kwame Alexander in honor of National Poetry month last month. It’s a beautiful children’s picture book that shines spotlight on various poets and the poems that have brought them success. I also love “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson and “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thahhna Lai.

IL: How/where can we find you in the future? Will you be at NCTE in St. Louis?)

Unfortunately, I will not be in St. Louis!  I wish was, but a lot of things are up in the air concerning my fall schedule, at the moment. I have a my own website for my aspiring writing career, where I will be sharing some exciting news soon. You can also find me on both instagram, twitter, and my facebook page:

IL: If there is anything else you'd like to share with us, Darius, please do!

DP: At the beginning of next month, I will be releasing a few e-book collaboration with a good friend of mine titled, “Bruised, but not Broken,”,which will be a collection of poems that explore the internal dialogue of one-sided relationships, the often romanticized negative exchanges that take place along with the hush topic of males being in abusive relationships. Abuse takes on many forms and everything I do is autobiographical/semi-autobiographical. I’ve also just relaunched an open mic night at one of Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA known as “Speaking Pages”. It’s a beautiful way to encourage and foster the arts in the community.

Thank you, Darius! We're so glad to have you in this wonderful world of children's poetry!


  1. Welcome Darius to the Poetry Friday Community. Your interview with Irene is full of positivity. Congratulations on your new project. Thank you, Irene, for bringing Darius into the spotlight. This interview was well done!

    1. Darius, your poem, Infants 226, touched me since I am "readying" myself for the birth of our first granddaughter.

  2. What an inspiring interview! I think for so many of us, we're our own worst enemies and our harshest critics.

    I work closely with early childhood educators, and they are such incredible heroes, supporting and loving our youngest and most vulnerable children. Early childhood is such a critical time in a young person's life, and the right teachers can absolutely set children up for success throughout their entire lives. We definitely need more positive, loving, dedicated, creative teachers like Darius!!

  3. Welcome to P.F. Darius! You couldn't have met a better person to introduce you to the poetic community than Irene. Keep up the great work, Darius!

  4. Welcome,Darius. And Irene, a serendipitous moment for you to sit by Darius at that conference, a good thing for you both I think. The poem is so poignant in that mother saying goodbye to her son in pre-school. Those "those chubby little gummy toes", oh my. Great post about your new friend.

  5. Enjoyed meeting Darius -- welcome to the PF community! Thanks for sharing the touching poem and info about your projects, and thanks to Irene for this wonderful post. :)

  6. Darius, welcome! Today I am celebrating one year of devoted writing to Poetry Friday. I can tell you that I learned and grew as a writer and reader of poetry because of my time with this incredible community.
    I can also tell you, as a Teacher-Librarian for tweens/teens that one of the topics adults MOST ask for when dealing with kids is grief. There are precious few books that deal with it directly with compassion and tenderness needed at the time. There ARE books. But, situations differ and existing books don't always fit the bill. So, please do write about grief and loss. It's needed!
    I will absolutely follow you on twitter. I really enjoy the community that exists with writers and especially poets. They are the most loving but also reflective and in need of time to observe. A wonderful tribe. Have a great summer and best of luck as your teaching continues. No two years or classes of kids is EVER even REMOTELY the same or even similar. Your TedX Talk was've got all the makings of a person who can save lives, celebrate lives, build lives and cherish it all along the way. Enjoy!

  7. Thanks for the introduction and interesting questions, Irene. All the best, Darius, as you pursue your dreams. I love your heart of compassion and solidarity with those who can't speak for themselves.

  8. Welcome to PF, Darius. Great interview, Irene! I wrote a picture book mss on grief, and I'm subbing it in the next week. Fingers crossed someone will take a chance on it. Even very young children struggle with grief, as I well know. Your words give me hope that my book might find a bookshelf one day, Darius.

  9. It was a pleasure to meet Darius today, Irene! Thanks to you both for the interview. I especially appreciate Darius's heart and passion for bringing more attention to those "hush" subjects. So important. And accepting change! Accepting change is what it's ALL about.

  10. Embrace the mess. Trust the process. Such wise words! It was a wonderful interview to introduce us to Darius. He is a true mentor to all of us as writers and dreamers. Thank you, Irene!

  11. Welcome, Darius, to POetry Friday! I look forward to reading more from you. And thank you, Irene, for introducing us!

  12. Thanks for sharing your poetry and thoughts with us Darius, we're fortunate to have you involved with young children and poetry! And thanks Irene, for introducing Darius Phelps to us.

  13. "Sometimes you have to let go, live in the moment, embrace every mess, and be open to accepting change." YES!

    Looking forward to hearing the voice of Darius Phelps develop and sing. We'll be able to say, "We knew him when..."

  14. Darius sounds like a parent's dream -- such a loving teacher! Welcome to Poetry Friday! Hope you share more with us.

  15. Great interview. Thanks for introducing Darius. I'm looking forward to reading more of his poetry -- will never forget the emotion of the pre-school drop-offs.


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