Young Adult Literature

13 Moving and Engaging Poems by YA Authors

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So many of today’s incredible YA authors are themselves poets, and it shows in their gorgeous prose, as well as in the ways they incorporate verse right into their novels. Authors like Renée Watson, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Jacqueline Woodson have woven their poetry right into their works. But how often have you sought out their stand alone poetry not related to their books? Even pulling out standalone poems from their books can be an incredible experience of language, imagery, and sheer talent.

Some of these poems by YA authors will be full texts, while others will be excerpts or from social media. Likewise, note that some of these poems deal with heavy topics like mental health, suicide, and loss.

Poems by YA Authors

“Drum Dream Girl” by Margarita Engle

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed

of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongó drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.

But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums

so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.

Continue reading the full poem

“You Mean You Don’t Weep At The Nail Salon?” by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Stomp” by Nikki Grimes

I come home,
feet about to bleed
from angry stomping.
“Boy!” says Mom.
“Quit making all that racket.”
But what does she expect
when, day after day,
haters sling words at me
like jagged stones
designed to split my skin?
I retreat to my room,
collapse on the bed,
count, “One. Two. Three…”
When I get to ten,
I snatch up journal and pen,
flip to a clean page,
and unload my hurt, my rage
’til I can breathe, again.
Letter by letter,
I rediscover
my power to decide
which words matter,
which words don’t,
and whose.
Calm, now, I remember:
I get to choose.

from Poetry, March 2021

“Continental Army” by Marilyn Nelson

“This Is The Honey” by Mahogany L. Brown

There is no room on this planet for anything less than a miracle
We gather here today to revel in the rebellion of a silent tongue
Every day, we lean forward into the light of our brightest designs
       & cherish the sun
Praise our hands & throats
       each incantation, a jubilee of a people dreaming wildly
Despite the dirt
beneath our feet
or the wind
pushing against
our greatest efforts

Soil creates things
Art births change
This is the honey
       & doesn’t it taste like a promise?
Where your heart is an accordion
       & our laughter is a soundtrack

Friend, dance to this good song—
look how it holds our names!

Continue reading the full poem

“We Can’t Breathe” by Zetta Elliott, from Say Her Name

“Where You From?” by Renée Watson

“Burn Lake” by Carrie Fountain

For Burn Construction Company

When you were building the i-10 bypass, 
one of  your dozers, moving earth 
at the center of a great pit, 
slipped its thick blade beneath 
the water table, slicing into the earth’s 
wet palm, and the silt moistened 
beneath the huge thing’s tires, and the crew 
was sent home for the day. 
Next morning, water filled the pit. 
Nothing anyone could do to stop it coming. 
It was a revelation: kidney-shaped, deep 
green, there between the interstate 
and the sewage treatment plant. 
When nothing else worked, you called it 
a lake and opened it to the public. 
And we were the public.

from Poetry Foundation

#MeToo by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Nature Lesson” by Christine Heppermann from Poisoned Apples: Poems For You My Pretty

“Six Months After Contemplating Suicide” by Erika L. Sánchez

Admit it—
you wanted the end

with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling
mist, the fibrous

whisper?

To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn’t you?

Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.

You lit a flame

to your shadow
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers.

So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.

The malevolent smell
of soap.

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower,

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir
of crickets singing

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird
turned to you

with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.

At dusk,
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat’s face

and kissed
his trembling horns.

The ghost?

It fell prostrate,
passed through you

like a swift
and generous storm.

from Poetry, December 2015

“The Rider” by Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me 

if he roller-skated fast enough 

his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him, 

the best reason I ever heard  for trying to be a champion. 

What I wonder tonight 

pedaling hard down King William Street 

is if it translates to bicycles. 

A victory! To leave your loneliness 

panting behind you on some street corner 

while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas, 

pink petals that have never felt loneliness, 

no matter how slowly they fell.

via The Library of Congress

“For Every One” by Jason Reynolds, excerpt from For Every One


Want even more poetry? Dig into these poetry books for teens, YA verse novels, and powerful depression poems.