Friday, November 4, 2011

History into Poetry: Luigi Del Bianco

Partway Knitted Tote Bag
Photo by Amy LV

Driving last Friday, I listened to a story from npr's Story Corps series. The story was about Luigi Del Bianco, the man who carved many of the details in Lincoln's Mount Rushmore face. His daughter, Gloria, shared her memories of her father with nephew Lou, and I was struck by this quote,

"And when I was little, my father wanted to carve me, but being the rambunctious, impatient child that I was, I wouldn't sit for him...And my mother would say, 'Please go sit for your father -- he won't keep you long, just a little bit.'"

I drove along the quiet roads of Alexander, NY thinking about this talented father wishing to immortalize his little girl. And I wanted to write about it. (You will notice the direct quote from Gloria in this poem.)

Students - At the top of this post, you may have wondered about why there is a photo of my current knitting project. Well, it's  going to be a tote bag, and it's knitted from scraps of yarn that I've had around the house. No need to go to the store for the yarn; it is old yarn. In the knitting world, we call this a stash.

So too, can we use "old yarn" for our poems. This world is full. Full of stories. The world is a stash! Every person you meet is a story-container. And so is every social studies book, each folded photograph, piece of clothing, or worn out tool. In any object or memory or person live unlimited possible-poems. We just have to go in there and get them! Faces from stone. Bags from old yarn. Poems from scraps of the past. We are makers, we humans.

Try this today. Open up your social studies book. Or an old one. Or any picture book that talks about the past. Remember something about the past that a family member once said. And open it up into poetry.

Teachers - in her book, PRACTICAL POETRY, Sara Holbrook discusses many ways to thread poetry through all of the disciplines. And with the new Common Core Standards, poetry is a beautiful way to incorporate writing in history, science, art, and math.

This Monday at Literacy for All and later this month at the NCTE annual convention, I will speak about writing poems from and about history. With Karen Caine and Barry Lane ( name doesn't rhyme!), I will share some ideas and resources for ways to weave poetry and history study. If you would like the handouts from these soon-to-be sessions, please just send me an e-mail to, and I will be happy to share them along.

If you're looking for a book just for you (or your YA students), I cannot recommend highly enough Allan Wolf's THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT. This verse novel takes on 24 voices, from Captain to undertaker, refugee to Colonel. It is beautiful. It is haunting. It is on your to-be-read list.

For more information about Luigi Del Bianco, visit the Mount Rushmore site or listen to his children talking about him in this YouTube video.

And to read more about using poetry with social studies, don't miss Sylvia Vardell's recent post at Poetry for Children - Notable Poetry in Social Studies or this one about poems of war and peace.

Laura Purdie Salas is hosting today's Poetry Friday at her sharp new WordPress blog, Writing the World for Kids. Thank you, Laura!

(Please click on POST A COMMENT below to share a thought.)


  1. Hi Amy! Lots of goodies in your post, as usual. I like the connection you make between the little girl and Lincoln -- very nice. That's a beautiful partially-made tote bag in your photo. I love the idea that the world is a stash! So many bits and pieces we can pull out and fit together.

  2. Wonderful, fulsome post, Amy! And great poem. Those lines, "he won't keep you long/just a little bit" struck me like rock, and then to read the story behind them makes it even more rich. Good ear, and what a great discussion of what poems can be made of!

  3. Great post, Amy. The image of carving the details of Lincoln's face capture me. I'm a knitter, too, so I appreciate your point about scrap yarn and poetry.

  4. Isn't it always what we wish for our children, to last forever? Lovely thought you've woven from your stash. And, the post is so full of things to ponder. I would wish to read it with a group, to sit together and talk it over. Thank you!

  5. Amy, so many things on which to comment! I love the connection you made between your tote-bag-from-the-stash and writing ideas. I'm going to send this post to my teen writing group.

    Also, love your poem and the idea and image behind it. The thought, "He won't keep you long, just a little bit," is so intimately tied to raising our children and letting them go, and yet holding on to a piece of them forever ... lovely.

  6. Wow...a teasure trove of literary goodies. I love the way you captured a father's voice wanting to capture the spirit of his child.

  7. Well, what a lot of info! Love your poem--although that second line gave me pause! Great story/metaphor with your knitting, and I must get Practical Poetry. Thanks, Amy!

  8. Oh, I love this poem and hearing your process, the blend of stories behind stories: learning not just about the man, his work, and his family, but a way to construct a poem. Awesome post! (I like the knitting project, too.)

  9. Wonderful post, Amy. Persona poems are great for getting into the minds of historical figures. I just used my stash of small cotton yarn balls to knit a small dishcloth. "We are makers, we are humans." Love it.

  10. Love the "old yarn" and the connection of poetry and history. Integration is so important!