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Poetry Moment: 'why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird', by Dawn Leas

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

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Welcome to Poetry Moment.

Many of us grew up reading Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Today’s persona poem, written in the voice of lawyer Atticus Finch, focuses on the moral growth of his daughter Scout. In “why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird,” Dawn Leas reminds us that what we teach our children matters, that words and actions have consequences, and that taking a stand for others impacts everyone.

Dawn Leas is a writer, writing coach, editor, and arts educator who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania. She is the author of A Person Worth Knowing (Foothills Publishing), Take Something When You Go (Winter Goose Publishing), and I Know When to Keep Quiet (Finishing Line Press).

Lawyer Atticus Finch, from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, adamantly counters the once-popular advice of his judgmental contemporaries. His witness and wisdom encourage his daughter Scout to look more clearly at those around her, eventually opening her eyes to empathy, understanding, and action.

I am not surprised that Dawn Leas wrote this poem in response to Banned Book Month.

Here’s “why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird” by Dawn Leas

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They say, daughter,
that children should be seen—not heard.

I say, daughter, speak up! Let them hear
your voice rattle the windows of Main Street.

They say, daughter, listen to your teachers
and their chalk-caked books.

I say, daughter, get your own hands dirty. Read a book,
newspaper, magazine, no matter your age.

They say, daughter, girls wear dresses
not brother's hand-me-down overalls.

I say, daughter, dresses or britches,
pressed or patched, do not make the person.

They say, daughter, you are unschooled,
unpredictable like a thunderstorm, a tornado.

I say, daughter, you have been more rock
than shriveling stream, sturdy oak than willow.

They say, daughter, shield the child,
no need for her to see the ugly side of town.

I say, daughter, open your eyes—from courtroom
balcony to Radley front porch to tense street

on a summer afternoon to a dark October
night. These are the places you will learn
why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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Published in Southern Women’s Review (Fall 2016/Spring 2017 Issue) and included in the poet’s chapbook, A Person Worth Knowing (Foothills Publishing, 2021)

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That was “why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird” by Dawn Leas. Thanks for listening.

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.