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The Poetry of Foster Care

Poetry of Foster Care

The further away you get from a place, time, or situation — especially traumatic formative experience — the more vivid it gets, it seems. Because oftentimes, when you are in the eye of the storm, you are simply trying to survive.

You feel everything in tidal waves, but it’s a constant surge of information, saturation, and pain, and so you start to sort of live in that space of stress and darkness without realizing its effects — both short and longterm.

It’s only when you get some space that you can make better sense of it, or see yourself from outside of yourself. At least that was my case after I aged out of foster care. I was young — so it was school all day, then back to my foster parent’s house, then school again. I was so ashamed of my situation that that shame cloaked me in class or in the hallways or during my walk home. All I could feel was the being in it, the present-ness of it, the seemingly-eternal sense of loss.

All throughout my life, I’ve written poetry, and I found myself writing poems all throughout my time in foster care (I even still have some notebooks, but I can’t say it’s good). The poems were messy, raw, and painful. Now, when I write about my experience in foster care, inhabiting that orphan mentality, the poem’s have got a clear depth and a self-understanding. Here is a poem, and here is another poem I wrote about my experience, although I often also write essays on the topic.

A few of my favorite poems by or about foster youth are below:

Lemn Sissay

Although this poem isn’t about being foster care per se, Sissay is a well know poet, speaker, and memoirist who speaks openly about his experience in foster care. This poem (which you can hear here) is about not having a family to turn to when in difficult situations, and I think it painfully underscores a lack that many people don’t understand truly. I deeply recommend reading My Name Is Why, a memoir that chronicles his life in the foster care system.

 ….there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield…..

Lemn Sissay

Terry Wolverton

Terry Wolverton is a writer, poet, and memoirist, as well as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

….Each time we come to a new place
I try to hide one shirt
beneath the mattress
just to keep the smell of home.
Sometimes they find it,
squeeze it through the wringer;
hid long enough, the cloth absorbs
the air around it, loses its memories.

Poetry Foundation

Cristi Donoso Best

Over at Entropy Magazine, an ongoing foster care series shares several poems, essays, and memoir pieces on foster care. This poem is not from the foster youth’s perspective; rather, it encounters the grief of seeing a child move on from the foster home. The liminality, transformation, pain, and temporariness of foster care can have an impact on everyone involved.

how does a person so small leave

so many things behind

a crib full of air, the nibbled books

days grow long here

among your tiny, linted socks

the sound of you not calling and your name—we are learning

what our hands are for

we wait to hear of you

to know, what our love has fostered


it is better for you to remember us

or to forget



ReMoved is a poetic video short designed to “to serve in bringing awareness, encourage, and be useful in foster parent training, and raising up foster parents.”

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Poet, editor, and author of Light Magic for Dark Times. Editor of Luna Luna Magazine.