Monday, April 30, 2007

Adam Selzer -- a National Poetry Month interview

For the last day of National Poetry Month, I have an interview to share with you.

As you can probably tell from my review on Saturday, I was highly amused by Adam Selzer’s book, How to Get Suspended and Influence People. So amused by the book that I contacted Adam to ask if he’d grant me an interview. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Before we get to my questions for Adam, a little background on why this qualifies as a National Poetry Month event. See, there's poetry inside the book, even though most of the book is in prose.

Adam’s book is about an eighth-grader named Leon Harris, one of the gifted students at his local middle school. One of his friends is Dustin Eddlebeck, a sex-obsessed teen who enjoys writing poetry and reading classical literature. "Dustin would not be satisfied until he'd read every sex scene in classical literature, and he was pretty sure that just about every character in every classic book was having sex with every other character if you read between the lines -- the writers just had to be sneaky about it in the old days." (p. 58)

We learn that Dustin had spent seventh grade writing limericks. One of his works is featured on p. 90 of the book:

There once was a kid named Dan
Who got his butt stuck in the can
But before you say "dumbass"
Remember -- he missed class
(He was really a very smart man)

We're told early in the book, however, that in eighth grade, Dustin has "graduated from writing naughty limericks on the bathroom walls to writing naughty sonnets, which were much longer."

I think that background tells you enough – now for the interview:

1. How long have you been writing poetry? How did you get started -- free verse or forms?

I got my start writing depressing poetry in seventh grade. I had poems with titles like "Death in Life" and "Suspension in Limbo." They were free verse, and generally bad. I wasn't really all that depressed, as seventh graders go; my friends and I just thought that depressing poetry was cool. These days, when I write a poem, it's almost always free verse

2. Have you written a lot of limericks? While you have posted some of your poetry at your site, I didn't notice any limericks in that selection.

Not very many. I have one song, "Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps," that's really a collection of spooky limericks, but that’s really about it. I'm pretty mercenary with poetry - if I come up with a good poem, in any sort of form that isn't free verse, I'll usually try to turn it into a song sooner or later. I did once try to come up with a bunch of "man from Nantucket" limericks without using the F word - dancing around that word is a big part of my job

3. Let's move on to talk about sonnets -- it's a form that seems to work in all ages, at least in my opinion. Dustin uses it to great (and comedic) effect in the two sonnets he composes to be the voice-over for Leon's avant-garde sex education film, La Dolce Pubert.

The first of the sonnets is:

We were weirdos once, and young,
Naked against the dawning of our teen years,
with thoughts we'd never express with a tongue,
about lust, and doubts, and dreams, and fears.
But all was normal, everything, every change,
every thought that kept us up, feeling like hell,
and even though at first it felt strange,
all of the whacking was normal, as well.
Renegade pituitary glands controlled our minds
like the school system only wished it could,
but as we grew older, each of us would find
that it was totally normal, and generally good.
We stood against adulthood's door,
trying to comprehend, and hoping to score.

One can't help but notice that you've chosen to write using the Shakespearian sonnet form (ababcdcdefefgg), both in this sonnet and in the other sonnet in the book, a continuation on the theme of puberty including references to pubic hair, more whacking, and the gradual development of a more adult form.

Did you consider other poetic forms (besides the sonnet) for Dustin before you settled on sonnets? Did you consciously go with Shakespearian sonnets? If so, why?

Shakespearean made the most sense - Dustin was probably more likely to be exposed to that than Plutarchian, and I could probably use it without going into a discussion about the types of poem. People were less likely to look at it and go "wait, is that REALLY a sonnet?"

The first poem begins "We were weirdos once, and young", which reads to me like a deliberate riff on "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young", a book about Vietnam by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway, the title of which was inspired by a line in a poem by A.E. Housman, who wrote a lot of terrific War Poems. And I can see a resemblance to some of the language or ideas of war poems in this sonnet -- more a war of bodily development and raging hormones than anything else. How much of that was conscious decision on your part, and how much of that is me reading into things?

A bit of both - at the time I wrote that line, "We were weirdos once, and young" was going to be the title of the book. I wasn't trying that specifically to conjure up raging hormones (rage, rage!) but it was sort of in the back of my mind.

The second sonnet, equally funny, includes a line that reads "Our bodies slouched toward sweet maturity". Was this a deliberate nod to Yeats's "The Second Coming", which asks "what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" Or is this just my own crazy free association?

Yeah, that's intentional on my part - though probably not on Dustin's. If Dustin ever discovers Yeats, he'll have to go through a Yeats phase, they way he goes through a Ginsberg phase in the sequel.

4. Your second novel, Pirates of the Retail Wasteland involves Leon and Company taking on suburban sprawl by staging a takeover of a corporate coffee shop, but the subplot involves Dustin E. and James Cole [note from Kelly:a French-speaking pot smoker known for his catch-phrases du jour, such as "Bonjour, ass monkey"] trying to convince the gym teacher, Coach Hunter, to kill himself (or at least quit his job) by sneaking anonymous, depressing beat poems into his office.

Adam has been kind enough to share some of "Dustin's" handiwork from Pirates of the Retail Wasteland.

"The Final Pushup"

Oh, Coach, where is thy sting?
At the bottom of the empty bottle
of Gatorade, the last few drops are
turning into crust
like the last drops of blood
in your cold heart,
pumping slowly, like
a 700 pound sixth grader
trying to do that third and
final pushup
wobbling a bit,
and then crumbling on the mat
like a crushed paper cup,
discarded, scattered to the four winds
et ou sont les neiges, et ou sont les neiges.
If it's better to burn out than fade away
like an athelete dying young on the finish line
his heart bursting like a sudden solo
in a Miles Davis record,
then it's better to put your head in the oven
just like Sylvia Plath, who never
did a sit-up to my knowledge,
than to dry up like the last few drops
of aforementioned blood,
sitting in your wheelchair,
trying with the little strength remaining
to sputter "drop and give me twenty"
to the nursing home attendant.
Drop. Sputter.
Drop. Sputter
Drop and give me.

The first lines harkens back to biblical verse (or at least to Christina Rossetti), "O death, where is thy sting?" But it quickly becomes more of a beat poem, with reference to jazz music and Plath and a bleak future in a nursing home. My favorite part? The repetition of the French phrase "ou sont les neiges?" Where, indeed, are the snows?

"ou sont les neiges" is a line from a Villon poem that gets projected on the screen in "The Glass Menagerie." I remember reading that and thinking "wow, how delightfully, shamelessly artsy!"

5. Another poem you shared clearly takes its inspiration from "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg:

by The Same Guy

&emsp I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by gym class.
&emsp &emsp &emsp Starving, hysterical, sweating, dragging themselves around
&emsp &emsp &emsp one more lap in fifth period, waiting for the angry bell.
&emsp &emsp Who climbed to the top of the rope and cried Holy and studied
&emsp &emsp volleyball, basketball, dodgeball, while the floor
instinctively vibrated at their feet at the foul line.
&emsp &emsp Who allowed themselves to be made the subject of paramilitary
&emsp &emsp rage and wailed with joy when the vein in the coach’s neck
twitched and his eyeball also twitched.
&emsp &emsp Who were awash in a sea of squats squats squats and rubber balls
&emsp &emsp &emsp and cried out “Rage! Rage!” against the starting of the
&emsp class
&emsp &emsp Students of the world, I'm with you in gym class.
&emsp &emsp I'm with you in gym class
&emsp &emsp &emsp where we circled in an eternal square dance
&emsp &emsp I'm with you in gym class
&emsp &emsp &emsp where we longed for the days of playing with parachutes
&emsp &emsp I'm with you in gym class
&emsp &emsp &emsp Trying to see up your shorts when you stretch, checking out
your butt when you present the coach with pushups
&emsp &emsp I’m with you in gym class
&emsp &emsp &emsp Hearing the action movie music in my head as the rubber
&emsp &emsp &emsp ball flies toward your head like a missile in the musky air
&emsp &emsp I’m with you in gym class
&emsp &emsp &emsp where the sad coach wailed the lonely wail that begged to
&emsp &emsp &emsp become a cry from the grave.

Is Ginsberg a particular favorite of yours?

I enjoy Ginsberg quite a bit - I like all of the beat writers, really. I like hanging out in dimly-lit coffee shops and wandering the streets of Chicago after dark. I think that most of the beatniks probably would have gotten on my nerves after a while, though.

I ask because you have on your webpage a parody of the complete text of "Howl" entitled "Howl (for Mayor McCheese)", a poem closely related to your loss for the race for Mayor of McDonaldland owing to your inability to identify what Grimace was supposed to be. "Howl howl howl robble robble robble" indeed.

I love "Howl," but I think it lends itself to parody really, really well. I also think there's something about McDonalds and all of the McDonaldland characters that's just hilarious.

6. In addition to writing poetry, you've written a lot of song lyrics. Do you find any difference between writing poems vs. lyrics?

Yes and no. With lyrics, you have to sort of keep in mind that there's going to be a melody behind it, and working in free verse or a complicated rhyme scheme can really mess you up there in the long run. Another thing is that poems have to have an ending, whereas in a song you just wrap things up in the narrative, repeat the chorus, and then end it in the music. Even the most poetic songs (Dylan, etc.) don't tend to work as stand-alone poems, since it's two different rhythms.

7. Your first novel, How to Get Suspended and Influence People, features Leon Noside Harris, a kid with a peculiar middle name and even odder parents. Your own bio indicates that you were raised by wild Iowan orangutans. Enquiring minds want to know -- do you yourself have an odd middle name? Peculiar parents?

Not particularly; my middle name is Richard, after my father, and my parents weren't quite as goofy as Leon's - though my dad shares Leon's dad's fondness for posters with motivational phrases, and my mother share's Leon's mom's fear of the F word (unless it's being said by someone with a British accent).

8. The title of the book gives away one of the plot points -- Leon gets suspended. For the sake of art, as it turns out. I couldn't help but notice that in an interview you did with Bookshelves of Doom, you "battled with a group of censors who took issue with The Basketball Diaries." Care to elaborate?

I should point out that, after growing up in Des Moines, I went to high school in Gwinnett County, GA. My old high school has been in the news a lot in the past year or so because there are STILL people there trying to ban Harry Potter. The movement to police the libraries was going on back in my day - but Harry Potter hadn't made such a splash yet, so the group at the time was trying to remove The Basketball Diaries from the public library on the grounds that it glorified drug use (which it doesn't). But defending the book was a waste of time - if the library found in favor of the book, the group would have just moved on to the next one on their list. These guys were hardcore. I seem to recall talk of attempts to have librarians arrested as "smut peddlars," a term which found its way into the book.

Did that experience influence you in the writing of How to Get Suspended?

Thumbing my nose at those people was certainly on my mind - they've gotten a lot more vocal in the past several years. The movie E.T. could not be made today without a major script overhaul, because the Inappropriate Police would object to the language, which is so mild and used so naturally that most people don't even realize it's there. Considering all the trouble there is in the world, I really don't understand the people whose biggest problems are the use of swear words that have been around as long as any other word in the English language.

9. Ever been suspended? And, if so, is that how you learned there's no such thing as a permanent record?

I got half-a-day in-school for getting into a shoving match in 7th grade. I think I still believed in permanent records at the time

10. In your book bio, it says you're not just a guide for Weird Chicago Tours, but are also a part-time ghostbuster. Details?

In addition to ghost tours, I also assist on ghost investigations now and then - it's fun! We get to run around all over old buildings looking for cool stuff. And we find some cool stuff, too!

In your opinion: Ghosts -- real or legend?

I know enough about science to be very skeptical, but we do run across things that have forced me to keep more of an open mind. I always tell people that there's really no such thing as "good" ghost evidence - even in the weirdest pictures we get on the tours, there's no way to prove we didn't fake it, and there's no way to tell if we're looking at some weird environmental anomaly or some sort of psychological echo or what. All we can look for is "cool" ghost evidence.

11. Speed round:

Cheese or chocolate?

I’ll take good cheese over bad chocolate.

Coffee or tea?

coffee (though I drink a LOT of tea to keep my throat in shape)

Cats or dogs


Favorite color?

dark grey and flat enamel orange (tied)

Favorite snack food?

Jelly Bellys

Favorite ice cream?

Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked

Water or soda?

soda (though I’m trying to cut back)

What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now?

Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs

What's the last movie you memorized lines from?

Probably Clerks II

An enormous thank you to Adam for taking the time to answer all my questions, and for sharing his thoughts on poetry, censorship, and more. I can’t wait for Pirates of the Retail Wasteland.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

One day to go -- a National Poetry Month post

Today was a difficult day. Unlike in Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, however, tomorrow will not be better. Today was difficult because we got a new puppy. An adorable, fuzzy black puppy, who is sweet and loving and loveable and a complete time suck of a being. Until said puppy, whose name may or may not be Wally, is house-broken, my life will consist of a lot of ins and outs (and ins and outs) and cleaning up mess. But I digress.

Tomorrow, as you know, is the last day of April and hence the last day of National Poetry Month. I'll be ending the month with my promised interview with Adam Selzer, author of How to Get Suspended and Influence People, which I reviewed yesterday. For those wondering, I read the book and loved it so much that I contacted Adam and asked if he'd let me interview him. So I'm not pandering a book for an established friend. More like I'm pandering for an interview with someone whose work I already admire. Just in case any of you are in the Read Roger camp on these sorts of thing. Which I doubt.

Today, I'm sharing a poem by A.E. Housman. It is a hopeful sort of poem, I think. And because it is late, and I am tired, and I think this one is so clear and perfect, that nothing more need be said:

Stars, I Have Seen Them Fall

by A.E. Housman

Stars, I have seen them fall,
&emsp But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
&emsp From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
&emsp Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea,
&emsp And still the sea is salt.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

How to Get Suspended and Influence People -- a review

I meant to get to this much earlier today, but hubby & I went out and somehow, hours and hours passed, and I'm only just now home and able to do it. Hopefully you folks will all see it anyhow, before Monday's interview of the author, Adam Selzer.

How to Get Suspended and Influence People is Adam's first novel. When I tell you that it is laugh-out-loud funny, you will doubt me. You will think I'm exaggerating or outright telling an untruth, because that is what I think when I read reviews that make such a claim. But I am kidding you not here.

The main character of How to Get Suspended is Leon Noside Harris. According to his wacky parents, his middle name is "a responsibility" -- it's "Edison" spelled backwards, and it's meant as an affront to Thomas Edison, even if he is long dead.

Things we learn early in the book:
1. Leon is in the 8th grade.
2. Leon's parents are embarrassing. His dad is a full-time accountant and part-time failed inventor. His mother has a penchant for cooking truly awful food -- on purpose -- and won't allow Leon to ride the bus to school because there are blow jobs on the bus, and she doesn't want him exposed to such a thing.
3. Leon is in the talented and gifted pool at school.
4. Leon has a huge thing for his friend Anna, but is too chicken to act on it.
5. Leon's friends in the gifted pool are quirky, good fun.

Shortly after school starts, Leon and the rest of the gifted kids in advanced studies (including Anna, a pervy kid named Dustin, a pyromaniac named Brian and his anarchist girlfriend, Edie, and James -- a French-speaking pot smoker) are assigned to make educational videos for the sixth and seventh graders. The list of possible subjects included eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, smoking and, to Leon's surprise, sex education.

Leon chooses sex ed, and, inspired by noted filmmaker Federico Fellini (and later, Salvador Dalì), decides to make an avant-garde film called La Dolce Pubert using film footage of nudes from the art world. As his knowledge of avant-garde film improves, he incorporates other elements, including some of the foods from his mother's collection of kitschy cookbooks, develops a soundtrack, and gets a friend to help him write an "appropriate" voice-over -- one that will let kids know that not only the changes to their bodies, but also masturbation, are perfectly normal. Only when the self-righteous advisor to the gifted pool, Mrs. Smollet, catches wind of it, she brands Leon a "smut peddlar" and gets the school principal to suspend him.

As I've already mentioned, this is a very funny book. But it tackles some pretty serious subjects. Not just letting kids know that the changes to their bodies and masturbation are perfectly normal, but also letting them know that everybody thinks their own parents are weird and/or embarrassing. Some are just more obviously weird and embarrassing than others, and a lot of the time, you can't figure out why your friend thinks their parents are weird (and vice versa).

A more serious issue (as I see it) is the injustice of many school systems, which are quick to take action without getting full information, and which frequently don't listen to the students they ostensibly serve. In this book, Leon is suspended summarily, without being given much of a chance to explain himself. Only when concerned adults from the community and the school intervene is he given due process.

This is directly related to the most serious issue of all, that of censorship. Leon is suspended because his film is deemed smut by one person, and is told that he won't be allowed to complete the film or show it to the younger grades. The school principal's willingness to believe a single complaining adult and to confiscate the film and suspend Leon without anything resembling a hearing parallels the many school districts who have pulled books from their libraries and even from their curriculum because one parent got their knickers in a twist, without first undertaking any sort of investigation or according due process.

Leon ends up determined to complete his film and distribute it to the masses despite the disapproval of the school, not just because he's interested in filmmaking (which it turns out he is), or in nudity (ditto), or to impress Anna (ditto again), but because he really wants the sixth and seventh graders to get the message that change is normal and things will be all right for them. And his dedication to not only his art, but also the message to the masses, is what really carries this book through to the end. The believably quirky side characters in this book help make it an over-the-top funny (and satisfying) experience.

The writers among you will love this one for its voice, its humor, its believable characters (even the eccentric ones ring true), and its "rule-breaking." I point you to Brian Farrey's blog article on the book, "The Book That Made My Brain Explode" for a thorough description of what Adam Selzer did "wrong," resulting in a book that was oh-so-right.

The poets among you will love it for the poems it includes -- stop back Monday to see what I'm talking about.

In the meantime, if you get the chance, by all means read the book.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Get Suspended and Influence People -- a teaser

This is the way National Poetry Month ends, not with a whimper, but with an excellent interview of Adam Selzer, author of How to Get Suspended and Influence People, a book so funny that I laughed aloud (and, I might add, in public) many times while reading it. I'd already read a review of it over at The Edge of the Forest, so I expected it to be funny (and good). And it was both. And I'd also read Brian Farrey's Open Letter to Adam Selzer, so I knew better than to put food or beverages in my mouth while reading it. And thank heavens I heeded the warnings!

Why do I say it's a National Poetry Month event? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, brace yourselves folks. Because come Monday, I'm posting the interview I just did with Mr. Selzer. And tomorrow, I'm posting a book review. But for now, I'm just posting this here teaser.

Nyah nyah.

Pattens -- a Poetry Friday post for National Poetry Month

Shoes for ladies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were fairly daintily constructed, usually with fabric like silk or satin on the outside. They wouldn't hold up for a walk in the muddy lanes and byways so prevalent at the time. (Poorer women or those in the working classes, on the other hand, usually had sturdier shoes made of leather.) With so many of the gentry living in the countryside, some sort of overshoes had to be concocted to allow the women to, say, walk to church, and that is where pattens came in.

A patten was a sort of overshoe used for several centuries in England (and other places) to keep one's foot out of the muck. The person wearing a patten would fasten it over top their regular shoes, thereby elevating their feet from the ground and (hopefully) avoiding the mud. That said, in particularly muddy seasons, many of the women belonging to the gentry were essentially housebound because they could not avoid their feet sinking into (and possibly getting stuck in) the mud, to say nothing of the state of their skirts and petticoats.

Pattens were used to allow for surer footing, and so many dairy maids used them when milking, and housemaids used them when cleaning floors to avoid slipping. Pattens started to fall out of use once galoshes came along, but were still worn at least as late as WWI in rural areas in England.

If you're guessing that I know all of this because of my Jane research, you're correct. And yesterday, I completed a poem about pattens for my Jane book. But it had one stanza that truly doesn't fit for Jane, yet works as a nice poem about pattens, and so, without further ado, here 'tis:


Balanced on an iron perch,
Maids wear pattens mopping floors.
Please remove them while in church--
Wear in boggy lanes and moors.

If you'd like an interactive closeup of the patten above, by all means check out the online exhibit at the Bata Museum. And here are some of the prettier pattens for use in town:

Looking at today's rainy weather, I'm thinking I could probably use some pattens myself.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Lateness of the Day -- a National Poetry Month post

This poem is appropriate for today's late post -- it was "take your kids to work" day and both of mine opted to come to work with me. Breakfast, then working with a friend at Borders for 3 hours, then lunch, then meeting with another writer friend at the library for an hour and a half, and then, off to the local pounds to see the pound puppies.

The poem I'm about to share with you is one of my favorites. It rattles around in my head from time to time.

I first heard it at a poetry seminar last June, when the poet, Dan Maguire, recited it from memory in his glorious baritone. Dan is a helluva poet, as you're about to see. The poem is in iambic hexameter and features lots of lovely internal rhyme and repetition, alliteration and assonance. The envoi (the three lines at the end) breaks away from the hexameter entirely, drawing from the earlier three stanzas to pull everything together to the perfect ending. But you will see that for yourself:

The Lateness of the Day
(For Patricia Weatherby)

by Dan Maguire

It is the lateness of the day that turns my head,
that turns my mind and winds my head to ticking clocks,
the clocks that mock the destinations and designs
of all the things that I would do and be, set down,
lined up, like stops upon a route. They stretch away,
much farther than they first appeared. And time, still young,
still running on ahead in cruel surprise; too far
ahead, too far to call back now and ask to wait,
to ask if there is light enough to travel on.
It is the lateness of the day that turns my head.

It is the thinness of the light that hurts my eyes,
that squints and strains my eyes until they burn and blur;
blurred and burning with resentment at this light
which lacks the will to cast a shadow, form a shade,
a dimness into which unfocused eyes might peer,
imagining a face, the movement of a form--
a face and form unable to be seen again
by other means than these . . . it does not mean I mourn.
I'm inconvenienced by the lateness of the day.
It is the thinness of the light that hurts my eyes.

It is the darkness of the night that chills the heart,
that tells the heart the quiet lie it longs to hear:
that there is life within the noises of the night--
the creaking board might be a footstep on the stairs,
the wind which mumbles through the window frame becomes
the rise and fall of voices from another room
where dusty emptiness conceals itself and waits
to brand its barren, useless truth upon the soul . . .
the universe looks on, obscure and unconcerned.
It is the darkness of the night that chills the heart.

It is the darkness of the night, the thinness of the light,
it is the lateness of the day that tricks me into whispering
your name.

Many thanks to my friend Dan for giving me permission to post his lovely poem on my blog. Dan Maguire frequently does readings in the Greater Philadelphia area, including southern New Jersey. He will be reading in Deptford, New Jersey tomorrow night at 7:15. The program is part of Art and Poetry in the Courtroom Cafe, at the Deptford Municipal Building - 1011 Cooper St., Deptford. He will also be reading at the Poetry and Spoken Word Corner of this year’s Fairmount Arts Crawl, Sunday, April 29, 2007 at Ward Park, a small veteran’s pocket park at the corner of 24th and Aspen Streets from 2 to 5:30 pm. Dan is scheduled to read at 3:30. By all means, go see him read if you get the chance (whether at one of these events or otherwise).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Animal Poems -- a National Poetry Month book review

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Animal Poems by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Steven Jenkins.

Let me say this about that: WOW!

The book features poems about twenty-three different animals. Some of them are Very Different Animals, such as the Star-Nosed Mole that is the penultimate creature in the book. And some of them are common animals, such as the Squirrel, the Groundhog, the Wasp and the Spider. And some of them are routine staples of poetry collections about animals -- like the Elephant, the Hummingbird, the Owl, and the Jellyfish. Why these last four are so, I don't know, but I have a lot of poetry collections these days, and I've seen the popularity of those animals as subjects trending upward. However, since Ms. Worth is no longer with us, having died in 1994, I'm pretty sure she wasn't following any trend, although she may have been predicting one.

The poems are all told using free verse -- not a typical choice in collections for children these days (at least not when it's the sole type of verse). And these poems are spectacular. In fact, I have to confess to having true difficulty picking out what to share with you, because I really want to sit here and read them all to you, each and every one, and then sit and discuss her vibrant images and excellent word choices and the fine details of observation that she managed to cram into succinct poems. But I can't, and so I will stick with a handful of choices.

Here's the text of the poem "Squirrel":

Late autumn rains
Fall colder than snow,
When the wet wind's floods
Wash down from the trees
Their last ragged leaves --
Except where the creaking forks
Of the high black boughs hold fast
These rough brown bundles, woven so deep
Not a drop nor a draft may seep
Inside, to the nest where
The gray squirrel sleeps:
Wrapped snug in his fat,
And his fur, and the curl
Of his tail.

I don't know about you, but that poem made me sigh with complete, satisfied happiness when I hit the end. The description of the rain, and of the bareness of the tree, and then of the nest, and the squirrel curled inside. *Sigh*

And that reaction was even more intense for me when I saw the art on the facing page, which is made by Steve Jenkins of cut and torn paper:

I know! That squirrel is inconceivably cute. And while I'm not certain that the on-screen image is nearly as evocative as the one in the book -- which looks truly touchable and dimensional -- it is nevertheless adorable, no? The squirrel poem is part of a two-page spread with the poem on a white page on the left, and the squirrel on the right. But the poem called "Bat" is a two-page spread done on black where the art extends into the neighboring page.

The poem begins

The bat sees
Only in the dark
Side of earth,
Taking dust and
Clay for his
Colors, holding
Aloor from
The gaudy sun;

The imagery and description, pitting night-bound bat against the sun, continues for two additional stanzas, each of them a thing of beauty.

Squeamish readers are advised that the poem called "Cockroach" features a few very convincing cut-paper specimens. This doesn't apply to , who has her own pet hissing cockroaches, but it does apply to, say, , who, like me, doesn't particularly care for the buggy critters.

Especially when the last lines of the poem are:

Today I dart from
Behind the sugar, tomorrow
I skulk in her sneaker
And twiddle her toes . . .
(italics in original as well)

To be fair, this particular poem is written decidedly from a human point of view, and those last lines are thoughts attributed to a cockroach by a particularly squeamish person. But still, eww.

Steve Jenkins's artwork throughout the book is simply spectacular. The jellyfish has a translucence to it that shines through, even though he's made it from paper. The porcupine (one of my favorite images) is convincingly prickly, but with a spot on his snout, just above his nose, that looks so velvety soft that I actually want to pet it. The hummingbird, while made of paper, looks as though its wings and tail are made for actual flying. And the groundhog -- well, he's cuter than any paper animal has a right to be. He appears to have been made from a particularly furry sort of paper, and but for a bit of a glint in his eye that appears to be a warning and some pretty sharp (and long) claws, he'd be the perfect object of a good cuddling.

Before I go, one more image, from "Bear"

and a line to go with it: "The bear's fur/Is gentle but/His eye is not". The poem concludes by coming back around to tell how the bear's "Hot eye/ Stings out/From the dark hive/Of his head/ Like a fierce/Furious/Bee." Oh, how I love the tying together of the bear with a bee, and the metaphor of a bear's head as a hive, and his eye being the stinging bee. *Happy sigh, again*

The two things this book is sorely lacking are not the fault of the poet or the illustrator. It should have both a table of contents and page numbers, to allow folks to find their intended poem choice more easily when sharing this one. That way, I'd be quickly able to tell you that "Snail," the first poem in the book, is not to be missed, and is on page 4, and that "Camels", the fifth poem in the book, is also not to be missed, and is on page 12. The eye of the camel is most excellently rendered, I must add. As is the evocativeness of the poem's reference to camels "munching and belching/Like smug old maids/ Remembering their ancient/Sway, when bearded/Traders sailed them over/The starry sand-waves."

By all means, have a look at this one if you possibly can. But don't say I didn't warn you about the missing page numbers and table of contents.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

While repetition in poetry can add quite a lot to certain types of poems, that is not today's topic. It may, however, be tomorrow's topic if I can get permission from a friend to post his poem and discuss it.

Today, I've decided to wholesale cut and paste into the body of this post an older post on one of the most entertaining books on poetry I've ever had the privilege to read. The name of the book is The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry, and it is all about writing poetry. But it only about the subset of poetry known as form poetry.

If you'd like to know why, then Fry tells you in an essay that begins on page 172 and terminates on page 178, entitled "What is Form and Why Bother with It?: Stephen gets all cross". Here are some of my favorite bits from this essay:

Poetic forms too can be cross-bred, subverted, made sport of, mutilated, sabotaged and rebelled against, but HERE IS THE POINT. If there is no suggestion of an overall scheme at work in the first place, then there is nothing to subvert or undermine: a whole world of possibility is closed off to you. (173)

He then launches into a most excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking bit about Ezra Pound, "generally regarded as the principal founder of modernism." Pound essentially "declared war on allexisting formal structures, metre, rhyme and genre. We should observe that he was a researcher in Romance languages, devoted to medieval troubadour verse, Chinese, Japanese, Sicilian, Greek, Spanish, French and Italian forms and much besides. His call to free verse was not a manifesto for ignorant, self-indulgent maundering and undeducated anarchy." (173-74)

Fry believes that these days, it is some of Pounds's ideas that have become dry and boring, then goes on to call much of the free verse written in the past 50 years or so "prose-therapy" or "emotional masturbation", and even "auto-omphaloscopy" ("gazing at one's own navel"). His conclusion? "Let us reserve the word 'poetry' for something worth fighting for, an ideal we can strive to live up to." (175)

As an example of the sort of free verse that he's condemning, Fry concocts a bit of free verse that is not atypical of much of what you'll hear at some local readings. Lots of wordplay in the form of new verbs, odd line breaks, highly creative punctuation, etc. And immediately after presenting the poem, which some would claim is a good poem because of the very things I've just mentioned, Fry says:

There's the problem. The above is precisely the kind of worthless arse-dribble I am forced to read whenever I agree to judge a poetry competition. . . . It is like music without beat or shape or harmony: not music at all, in fact. (177)

I've only touched on bits and bobs from this particular essay in hopes that it will tempt you to read the entire thing. And I'm not just talking about those of you who actually write poetry (or want to read about writing poetry). I'm talking about anyone out there who is writing anything, because Fry's authorial voice is omnipresent in this book, and it's riveting.

And now, as promised, a reprise of my post from over at my LiveJournal blog last September:

Last month, a somewhat unlikely poetry teacher emerged on the international scene. Known for his acting skills (most notably as Oscar Wilde in Wilde), Stephen Fry has crafted a book that explains poetry and the poetic forms in a highly accessible way. I first read of his book in a book review in the New York Times. At the time, I semi-scoffed. But when I reached the bookstore the other day, this volume called to me from the table up front, and I had to have a look-see. And then I bought it.

Who is this book for?

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within is recommended reading for the following sorts of people:

1. People who feel stupid about poetry. They've read some poems in school, and sort of like the idea, but feel that they don't know enough to read and/or write it. Or they remember being flogged with terms like "iambic pentameter" while reading Shakespeare, but never quite knew what the heck the teacher was talking about.

2. People who would like to write poems, but aren't sure how to get started. Sure, maybe they've scribbled some ideas down randomly. And hey, isn't that what "free verse" is? Only their verses don't really seem as coherent as some of the poems they've read. So the would-be poets feel, well, silly.

3. People who write poetry, but would like to understand their craft better. These folks already write some form of poetry -- rhymed couplets, perhaps, or limericks, or sonnets, but they're stuck in a poetic trench. They can write in their chosen form, but they aren't entirely certain how to make their poems truly shine and take their writing to the next level.

4. People who write poetry, but would like to expand into a different category of poetry. Maybe they write free verse and would like to work in classic forms. Or vice versa. Or they'd like to move out of rhyme into non-rhyme. Or whatever.

5. People who like to learn and/or be entertained.

If that sounds like an awfully comprehensive list of potential readers, then you've gotten the point.

The stated purpose of this book is to give people the confidence and ability to start writing poetry, but it does more than that: it builds knowledge and self-esteem. It entertains you while making your mind stretch, even if just a wee bit. And Fry manages to make things like iambic pentameter accessible to the everyday reader, both through careful explanation, through writing exercises, and through example. On page 18, he presents a list of what he came up with during timed free-writing of iambic pentameter. My personal favorites:

I haven't time to take your call right now,
So leave a message when you hear the tone.


Your sharpness rips my paper heart in two.

But he doesn't stop there. This is one of the most comprehensive teaching texts on poetry I've had the opportunity to pick up, and one of the best, if by best you mean "use-able, accessible and comprehensible." The book is split into four sections: metre, rhyme, form, and "diction and poetics today". Within each section are lessons and activities, as well as explanations and observations galore.

And Fry is a pleasure to spend time with. He's not stuffy or "academic" in tone. If he were, he wouldn't have labelled a bad free verse poem he wrote as an example of, well, bad free-verse poems "worthless arse-dribble". He says later on the page:

My 'poem' is also pretentious, pretentious in exactly the way much hotel cooking is pretentious -- aping the modes of seriously innovative culinary artists and trusting that the punters will be fooled. Ooh, it's got a lavender reduction and a sorrel jus: it's a pavane of mullet with an infusion of green tea and papaya. Bollocks, give me steak and kidney pudding.

This one is well worth your money and, more importantly, your time.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Prickle Ball Tree -- a National Poetry Month post

Yesterday, my husband spent hours in our front yard, raking up lots of gum balls. And not the candy-coated chewy kind either.

Today, I decided to share with you an original poem I wrote a while back in honor of these @%^Y$#&^ trees, of which we have two.

The Prickle Ball Tree
by Kelly R. Fineman

I have a prickle ball tree in my front yard.
You may argue with me,
saying, “that is not its name.
It’s a sweet gum tree,
in Latin, Liquidambar styraciflua L.
Call it what you will.
A prickle ball tree by any other name
still makes a mess of the lawn.

This one comes with a nod to William Shakespeare, whose Sonnet 116 I posted on Saturday. But the source idea comes from Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc. ii:

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Here's hoping your day has more roses than prickle balls.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Song of Proserpine -- a National Poetry Month post for Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

The one day of all the year that we focus on the earth, how much we owe to it, and what we can do to give back to it.

That's a bit harsh, I'll grant you. Many of us think about issues of ecology all year 'round, and do what we can to help out. We recycle, turn off lights and appliances when not in use, try to reduce our carbon footprints, etc. Conversely, there are many folks who, even on Earth Day, sail "obliviously on". Which reminds me of a poem by Calvin Trillin called "The Effect on his Campaign of the Release of George W. Bush's College Transcript":

Obliviously on he sails,
With marks not quite as good as Quayle's.

I believe the current president's marks on the environment aren't much better, frankly, so that is one of our Earth Day poems after all.

But here's another, written in the 19th century by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Song of Proserpine

Sacred Goddess, Mother Earth,
Thou from whose immortal bosom
Gods and men and beasts have birth,
Leaf and blade, and bud and blossom,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.

If with mists of evening dew
Thou dost nourish these young flowers
Till they grow in scent and hue
Fairest children of the Hours,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.

I love the images of Mother Earth here, a nurturing goddess. Now, for all of us to learn to nurture her back.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cotton candy, popcorn -- I'm going to the Carnival!

The Carnival of Children's Literature, that is, being hosted over at Jen Robinson's page.

Book reviews are separated into Kiddie Rides, the Ferris Wheel, and the Roller Coaster. And then there's a Merry-go-round of booklists, a Calliope of poetry, "Performance Artists" (which is, to my mind, a kinder version of "freak show"), featuring a number of articles about writers, the writing life, and writing in general. There's a section called "Fried Dough, Cotton Candy and Sno-Cones", featuring a variety of kid-lit related posts, "The Midway" full of prizes and awards, and finally, "The Entertainers" -- a pair of humor pieces you don't want to miss.

If you look closely while you're over at the Calliope, you'll find my review of Hey You!: Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes and Other Fun Things.

Certain treats are not to be missed, like Alkelda the Gleeful's take on Children's Books that Never Were. While one is featured, Alkelda has presented several of them. By all means, click on the label for "children's books that never were" to see the treatment given to the unholy triumvirate of children's books (The Rainbow Fish, I'll Love You Forever, and The Giving Tree), as well as to other beloved children's books.

Also excellent? "Penguin Pride" from Jay Asher, one of The Disco Mermaids. If you've noticed that I'm focusing on stuff that makes me laugh, well, you're correct. But there is lots of stuff to make you think as well, and many reviews and interviews of interest.

What are you waiting for? Grab a cold beverage and head on over to the Carnival!

Sonnet 116 -- a National Poetry Month post

Today, in honor of my umpteenth viewing of Sense & Sensibility, I share with you Sonnet 116 from William Shakespeare. Fans of the Emma Thompson version of the movie will recognize it as the one recited by Marianne and Willoughby when he first visits her after rescuing her from a twisted ankle in the rain.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
&emsp If this be error and upon me proved,
&emsp I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I'm not certain I agree with Will here -- in my experience, love does change over time. Still, there's something wonderfully charming about the notion that is "an ever-fixèd mark."

What say you on the subject?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Samurai Song -- a Poetry Friday post for National Poetry Month

Who am I, if not a loyal member of the Colbert Nation?

Last night, on the Colbert Report, Stephen engaged in a Meta-Free-Phor-All with Sean Penn. The moderator was Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the U.S., who judged whether the correct metaphors were given as answers. Sadly, Mr. Penn won (10,000,000 to 1). However, Mr. Pinsky wanted to promote his poetry, and "Samurai Song" was selected to be the next "#1 poem in America." (Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" is close to being on notice.)

The poem, "Samurai Song", comes from Pinsky's collection Jersey Rain, which came out in 2001. "Samurai Song" has since made it into some collections as well. Pinsky based the poem on a 14th century Japanese poem, and he used the form to structure his poem.

Here's the first two stanzas:

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

Here is a link to the complete text of the poem, which is worthy of a Poetry Friday mention even had Stephen Colbert not ordained it so. The focus on the life of a samurai, and on the idea of poet as samurai, is lovely, the imagery just right.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars -- a National Poetry Month book review

During my poetry-buying frenzy a few weeks back, I bought myself a copy of the latest poetry collection from Douglas Florian, called Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings.

I am an occasional fan of Mr. Florian's books. I happen to love-love-love Autumnblings, which was full of word play and fall imagery. I happen to have had a rather lukewarm reaction to Handsprings, last year's book -- the poems didn't feel fresh, and I didn't care for the art that accompanied it. But let me say this -- Mr. Florian is back in my good graces, and then some, for his lovely new book about space. Most of the book is about the solar system, and I can tell you from first-hand experience dealing with school children over the past three days, the solar system is a Very Popular Subject.

The poem I read most often from the book was "Pluto," Mr. Florian's last-minute change to the book. Heaven knows what the original Pluto poem said, but just as this book was going to print, Pluto's license was revoked and it was downgraded from "planet" to "dwarf planet" in a rather controversial vote (occurring after a number of delegates to the conference had left).

Mr. Florian's genius in explaining this situation is clear:


Pluto was a planet.
But now it doesn't pass.
Pluto was a planet.
They say it's lacking mass.
Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Till one day it got fired.

That about sums it up, don'tcha think? Other poems work equally well -- such as the one about Mercury, depicted as having a perimeter of feet (clever for the association with the messenger god, Mercury, and for its correlation to the description of the planet as racing around the sun).

The facts appear to me to be correct, the rhymes work well, and the artwork makes this one really shine. Moreso than the art, even, is the book design -- many of the pages have "peekaboo" cutouts that lead to the next page, and they totally work in this book to show the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of space.

Here's a look at the pages featuring "The Moon":

The poem explains the phases of the moon, from new through crescent to half, then to full (no mention of gibbous, I note). Here's an excerpt about the full moon, shown above:

A FULL moon is a sight to see
Circular in perimetry

After full, the moon will wane
Night by night, then start again.

If you've got kids around who are interested in space (and from what I can tell, all elementary school kids are vastly interested in space), you'll be reading from this one in the same manner as the moon is described in that last line: "night by night, then start again."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Portmanteau words -- a National Poetry Month post

I've been thinking about "portmanteau words." That's the term Lewis Carroll invented to explain the existence of words like "frabjous", a conflation of fabulous and joyous (still not sure where the R came in, but it works). I've been performing Jabberwocky for class after class of school kids (with 2 classes left to go today), and I've been talking about portmanteau words with the kids a bit. How it can be okay to use a made-up word, as long as the reader can still get your drift. Some of this hearkens back to a now-old post about nonsense words, so long-time readers may think it sounds vaguely familiar.

A few weeks ago, S invented a portmanteau word when attempting to describe one of the pillows on the couch. She called it "pluffy," because she tried to say "plush" and "fluffy" at the same time. And I think it's a perfect sort of portmanteau word, because if I were to wax on about the pluffy pillows, you'd all know what sort of pillow I was describing even if I hadn't told you the root words.

When speaking with my mother, she and I still use the word "roop" (it's a short "oo", not a long one) to describe something that is not a good value. It's a portmanteau word that came about when I was a teen, and tried to say "rip-off" and "rook" at the same time. And it wasn't all that long ago that I coined a new pejorative term when I referred to one of the contestants on Project Runway (Santino, to be exact) as a "jick". It's a conflaction of "jerk" and "dick," of course. M overheard me and still uses it from time to time. What's the parental guidance rating on a portmanteau version of a minor curse word? I have no clue.

Thus far, the portmanteau words we use within my family have been accidental, even fortuitous, discoveries. But Lewis Carroll, one of the founders of the Oxford English Dictionary, was almost certainly creating his terms purposefully. Perhaps so that he could document the term's earliest usage (something the OED sets out to do). Perhaps to show off his knowledge of archaic terms and root words (something he excelled at). Perhaps he just took exceeding joy in language. Or maybe he just wanted to mess with people -- it is possible, you know, that that was just what he was setting out to do. But I tend to believe it was more a combination of those first three reasons, and not so much the last one -- that was just a happy side-benefit.

Have a frabjous day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back to school, redux -- a National Poetry Month post

Today, as I head off to the elementary school to talk about poetry with the second and third graders, I thought I’d share one of the poems I wrote for a collection about the moon. I’ll be sharing this poem with second graders this afternoon, but you guys get to see it first.

Day Moon

On a walk the other day,
I didn’t know quite what to say.
Although it was still afternoon,
In the sky, I saw the moon.

I’m just hoping the clouds lift enough to see the sun today, to tell the truth. And that my voice holds out. And that I manage to wake up a bit more before I have to "go on."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lawnmowers -- a National Poetry Month post

Today I will be going back to school. All the way back to elementary school, in fact. I’ve been asked to be the visiting poet for one of our local schools as part of their observation of National Poetry Week.

And so, today, I will be sharing with the kids some of my original poetry in addition to quite a lot of poetry by other, better-known, poets.

Here’s one of the pieces I’ll be sharing with the kids today:

by Kelly Fineman

&emsp &emsp for Jack

Sometimes there’s a racket, other times a hum–
Either way the sound tells you the lawnmowers have come.

They skim across the yard, cutting as they go.
Sometimes they move very fast, and sometimes they move slow.

The old man down the street pushes his uphill;
If he went the other way, I’m sure he’d take a spill.

His mower is quite old; it has blades that twirl.
They make a click-clack noise as he takes it for a whirl.

Our lawnmower at home uses gasoline.
Once I get the motor started, it sounds very mean.

Dad says I must use it. I don’t get a vote.
But if it were up to me, I’d choose to buy a goat.

Enjoy your day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

It Is a Beauteous Evening -- a National Poetry Month post

Today is decidedly a yucky weather day here, so I'm hoping tonight will be better. It put me in mind of a Wordsworth poem:

It Is a Beauteous Evening

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the might Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder -- everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

For those of you who've been reading along lately, I'll pose a question: Do you recognize the form?

If you said "sonnet," then give yourself a nice pat on the back. You are correct. Fourteen lines, end rhyme and iambic pentameter give it away. But it's a weird one -- a "nonce" poem, in the same way that Frost's The Oven Bird is.

In the case of the Wordsworth sonnet, it starts out looking like an Italian/Petrarchan sonnet:
ABBA. But in the second half of the octave, he skews it -- instead of ABBA (again), he goes to ACCA. And then, in the closing sestet, he departs from any of the traditional rhyme schemes for the ending (DEFDEF, DFDFEE, DFDFDF,DFEEFD) and goes DEFDFE.

It makes the rhyme scheme less obvious, of course, when you move it around semi-unpredictably like that. Now, maybe Wordsworth moved the rhyme around because he couldn't say what he wanted otherwise, or maybe he made a conscious choice to half-bury the rhyme.

For those of you interested in back story, this is a good poem. The poem was written shortly after Wordsworth decided to visit his former mistress, a French woman, with whom he had a 10-year old daughter he'd not seen before. It is believed that this poem was about time spent walking with his daughter.

I hope you all have a beauteous evening.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Three War Poems -- a National Poetry Month post

As promised in yesterday's post, here's a look at Wilfred Owen's famous poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est". The title of the poem comes from one of Horace's Odes, written in Lattin (of course): Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which is quoted in full at the end of the poem. The translation for the Latin is, roughly, "It is sweet and seemly to die for one's country." This poem, one of the most famous of the War Poems from WWI, is a condemnation of war and its atrocities.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This is the sort of poem that really brings home the horror and desperation of war, the sort of poem that should give thinking men pause before committing troops to a conflict. Yet too few of the world's decision-makers read poetry, I think.

Owen was killed in combat just a week before the end of WWI. News of his death reached his home town in England as the bells rang out to celebrate the armistice.

Other famous War Poets include Rupert Brooke, who wrote far more "patriotic" war poetry -- most famously, a sonnet entitled "The Soldier":

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Brooke's poem was widely imitated, and, as the horrors of the war became widely known and the world fell into a general disillusionment in its aftermath, the poem became dismissed in some camps for its idealism. But oh, the aching beauty of it.

For those who keep track of such things, it's worth noting that Brooke mixed two sonnet forms in this one. The octave (first 8 verses) is in the Shakespearian vein (ABABCDCD), while the closing sestet is Petrarchan (EFGEFG).

A final favorite war poem is "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. Flanders is, for those who aren't aware, Belgium. The poem is in the form of a rondeau, which explains (in part), the repetition of the phrase "in Flanders fields." McCrae was a Canadian, and part of his poem is on the Canadian $10 bill.

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Oven Bird -- a Poetry Friday post for National Poetry Month

The Oven Bird
by Robert Frost

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

I've returned to this poem often throughout my life, after studying it in a course in college. It's the question in the last line that sticks with me, that pulls me back: "what to make of a diminished thing." I thought of this line today, as I was casting about thinking what poem I might want to post to mark the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, whose books meant so much to me when I was a young adult reader. Not a teen, mind you -- I came to him when I was in my twenties -- but I loved his vision and his prose. And the world is diminished a little by his passing, I think.

But enough of elegies, let's look at the poem. It's got ten syllables to each line (Frost treated "showers" and "flowers" as single-syllable words here), and it ends decidedly iambic, although it starts a bit shifty, if you must know. It has its own peculiar rhyme scheme (AABCBDCDEEA'FA'F), which makes it a "nonce" form -- a nonce form is a poetic scheme invented for a particular poem. This one has fourteen lines, so it's kinda like a sonnet, but it doesn't fall into a recognized rhyme scheme, not even as a Pushkin, or Eugene Onegin, stanza. Still, I think it likely started as a sonnet, and that Frost decided deliberately to depart from the usual sonnet rules to create something new -- a lovely bit of form meeting function, I believe, if you believe, as I and some others do, that Frost was announcing a new kind of poetry for a changing world.

If you'd like, you can read this as a simple nature poem -- an observation on the call of the oven bird (a loud "Teacher, Teacher", if you didn't know). The oven bird is loud at a time of year when many other birds are not, and Frost tries to decipher what his call means. And if that's how you read the poem, it is an excellent poem.


The poem also works on a deeper level. The oven bird becomes not just the "teacher" implicated in his call, but is a symbol representing the poet. This poem was, in some respects, a war poem.* It was written in 1916, and reflects the sense that it is the world that has diminished, with "dust . . . over all". And the poet is left to ask what is to be done. Can art go on? Can poetry continue in the face of such ruination? (This is not unlike the question implied in yesterday's poem, "Sonnet: To Science", in which Edgar Allen Poe explores the effect of science on creativity and myth.) In the early twentieth centuries, with the horrors it brought along with it in the form of trench warfare, mustard gas, and mechanized warfare, and in its greed and vanity (think about the robber barons we studied once upon a time, and the practice of child labor, and the inhuman working conditions faced by so many people), how can one respond to such indignities and horrors?

Another reading of the poem focuses closely on the line "he knows in singing not to sing." Some commentators believe this line is the answer to a question posed in an earlier poem by a Victorian poet named Mildred Howells, "And No Birds Sing", a Keatsian poem in which Miss Howell asks how the bird can sing with winter approaching.

"And No Birds Sing"
by Mildred Howells

There comes a season when the bird is still
&emsp Save for a broken note, so sad and strange,
Its plaintive cadence makes the woodlands thrill
&emsp With sense of coming change.

Stirred into ecstasy by spring's new birth,
&emsp In throbbing rhapsodies of hope and love,
He shared his transports with the listening earth
&emsp And stormed the heavens above.

But now how should he sing—forlorn, alone—
&emsp Of hopes that withered with the waning year,
An empty nest with mate and fledgelings flown,
&emsp And winter drawing near?

Frost's line, "he knows in singing not to sing," is seen as meaning that silence itself is part of the song. And/or that the oven bird, here representing the poet, is rejecting the old school of thinking and finding a new way to express himself. And this particular bird finds a way to express himself -- loudly, as it turns out.

Finally, others have seen Frost's poem as a criticism of encroaching development -- an environmental poem with a Thoreau-like sensibility, based on the line "the highway dust is over all."

*Perhaps my favorite of the war poems, and one of the best-known, is Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est", which I believe will be a topic for another day. The title comes from a line in the poem "Dulce et decorum est pro partria mori" (It is sweet and seemly to die for one's country).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I bet you're all on the Edge of your seats

Or you should be, because this month's edition of The Edge of the Forest just hit the airwaves, complete with an interview of one of my favorite debut novelists, Carrie Jones (that's to you.

Oh and the best part? I was the one who conducted the interview with the lovely and talented Ms. Jones.

Go on and read it. (You know you want to!)

And then come on back here for some bonus content:

I asked Carrie a duct-tape related question (duct tape figures prominently in the book -- and on the cover, for that matter). Seems she has a "duct-tape expert", and so I inquired about who it was. Turns out that it's her husband. Whom she married, in large part, because he was clever with duct tape.

Here's how Carrie met her husband, back in her newspaper report days:

Our relationship all sparks when I'm doing a newspaper article on an MS fundraiser. I'm doing it as a favor for a sister paper. The editor gave me the paper's digital camera to use, but the battery latch is broken.

I'm all stressed out, trying to get the latch to stay shut, and Future Husband Man strides across the hospital board room where the meeting was taking place and says, "What's wrong, Carrie?"

I show him.

He says, "I can fix that."

He picks up the phone and has a guy from maintenance bring some duct tape. Then he tapes that sucker back together.

So, a couple weeks later, I'm doing the paper a favor again, taking pictures at a clean-up at our local historic house and park. Everybody's got rakes and is getting all down and dirty and I realize that the newspaper people have taken the duct tape off the camera. The camera is not latching again. I can't get a picture. Then I see this car drive up. Future Husband is in this car.

He will have duct tape! I think. He is the kind of guy who has duct tape in his car.

So, I basically start running across this field, yelling, "Future Husband! Future Husband!"

And I'm smiling really, really big.

And he gets out of the car and he's smiling really big. And I say, "Do you have duct tape?"

And he does!

And he thinks I'm totally in love with him because I'm so darn happy to see him and my smile is so darn big. Of course, I'm really just happy because he'll be able to fix the camera. Then he eventually asks me to go sailing with him on an actual date and then we get married.

That's the magic of duct tape.

Now, don't forget to read all the OTHER content over at The Edge of the Forest.

Go on. Skedaddle.

Wolf! Wolf!

So, I'm browsing the local Borders store the other day, and I come across the "staff recommendations" endcap. And what should I spy with my little eye? This book:

Wolf! Wolf! by John Rocco is the story of an old wolf who has been raising vegetables because he can't catch prey anymore. Only the weeds have overtaken his little garden, so one day he sets out to find a nice young meal of goat. When he finds a flock of goats at the top of a mountain, it's tended by a young boy. A boy fond of crying "Wolf!" Which he does to great effect, much to the exasperation of the townfolk.

The old wolf takes advantage of the situation by convincing the boy that nobody will listen to his pleas anymore, and threatens to wreak havoc unless the boy brings a goat to his house and ties it to his fence. The boy agrees, to the wolf's delight. Will the wolf eat the goat? Will the goat eat the garden?

This one has a delightful resolution, but more importantly, it has phenomenal artwork. Go on, have a gander:

John Rocco has put together a terrific website with lots of info about his art and his books, and, I might add, a terrific bio page for Wolf! Wolf! that includes photos of him dressed in Japanese clothing and the fact that he was the art director for the movie Shrek.

She blinded me, with science! -- a National Poetry Month post

Okay, Thomas Dolby.* I'm onto you. Poetry in motion, indeed.

Reading my poem-a-day calendar, I came across a sonnet from one of Kevin Slattery's favorite subjects, Edgar Allen Poe. And on what is a cold, dark, rainy Thursday in New Jersey, I've decided to share it with you:

Sonnet -- To Science
by Edgar Allen Poe

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
&emsp Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
&emsp Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise?
&emsp Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies,
&emsp Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
&emsp And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
&emsp Has thou not torn the Naiad from ther flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Alrighty, let's have a look at Mr. Poe's opus, shall we? First off, it is a sonnet-- specifically, it is a Shakespearian sonnet (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG).

On first reading, I confess to feeling mild confusion -- I think it was the sheer number of question marks that threw me. Because on a second reading, it was clear that Poe was bemoaning the loss of mythology and fantasy brought about by the practicalities of science. It is a highly emotional poem, reflecting an agitated state on the part of the speaker, and yet Poe has put it inside the very organized box that is a sonnet.

Vulture: The line about science being a vulture preying upon the human heart may be an allusion to the myth of Prometheus, one of the Titans, who defied Zeus by giving fire to mortals. He was chained to a mountain, where a vulture (or perhaps an eagle) would pick at his liver every day. This interpretation of the reference to the myth of Prometheus is borne out not only by the idea that science is ever-present, and therefore ever oppressive to a poet's heart, but also by Poe's later mention of other mythological beings, including Diana (the huntress) and dryads and naiads, Greek tree and water spirits.

Tamarind tree: A huge, tropical tree, which suggests an exotic location for a nap. In India, there is a tamarind tree worshipped because it is believed that Puliyidaivalaiyamman, a deity, is present in the tree, and offers her blessings in the form of fruit. Perhaps Poe sees the tamarind tree as a symbol of the tree of inspiration, as opposed to the apple tree of scientific knowledge, remembering that the "science!" that Poe was referring to was, in fact, natural science as developed by Sir Isaac Newton.

This poem was written early in Poe's career, while he was still in the Army. Poe's protestations about poetry are not necessarily a heart-felt belief, as Poe developed a fascination with natural science, eventually becoming quite knowledgeable about the subject. In fact, his later writings contributed to the early development of American science fiction as a genre. One of his works, Eureka, included a theory of the cosmos that anticipated black holes and the Big Bang theory.

*Trivia about the Dolby song and video: According to Wikipedia, "She Blinded Me With Science" is used as a fight song by some American engineering schools (what are they fighting about?). The exclamations of "Science!" in the song were from Dr. Magnus Pyke, a British scientist and media figure who liked to appear as a mad scientist -- think Bill Nye the Science Guy meets Dr. Emmett Brown (from Back to the Future).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Trailblazers -- a National Poetry Month book review

Another day, another poetry collection. With one more to go, by the way, before I run out of recent purchase anthology fodder.

Today's entry? Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Carin Berger

The premise behind this one is pretty cool -- Bobbi Katz decided to do a crapload of research about explorers throughout history. She starts with Adam and Eve, then moves forward through time to examine explorers of all sorts, from world conquerors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and Hernando Cortés to mapmakers like Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, Lewis & Clark and Champlain to adventurers, like Matthew Henson and Robert Peary, Ernest Shackleton, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, to astronauts, cosmonauts and deep-sea explorers.

Here's a taste of one of my favorite poems early on in the book. It's entitled "From The Rihla of Ibn Battuta", credited to Ibn Juzayy, and dated Fez, 1354

When I was but a child,
seeds of twin desires
took root in my heart:
&emsp &emsp to make the
hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca,
&emsp &emsp to visit Medina, site of the Prophet's tomb.
As I grew, so grew they.
At age twenty-one,
I braced myself to quite my dear ones.
Forsaking home,
&emsp &emsp as birds forsake their nests,
I left Tangier,
&emsp &emsp alone
&emsp &emsp &emsp on a donkey:
&emsp &emsp &esmp &emsp without family
&emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp without friends.
But I found generosity.
Scholars shared their thoughts with me.
&emsp Some offered hospitality
Time was never an object.

Other particularly strong poems are "What Manner of Men Are These?", a poem about Vasco da Gama, and "The Lady Who Works", about Maria Sibylla Merian, an independent European woman in Surinam. Also excellent, a concrete poem entitled "Summiting", about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, told from the sherpa's perspective. It's read from bottom to the top of the "peak," echoing their climb of Everest.

All of the poems I've picked out to mention thus far are free verse. The rhyming poems are, in my opinion, far less successful. Because the collection is dealing with serious historical people and events, much of the rhyme reads as dismissive, which is not a good thing. Here's one of them that works well, in my opinion:

A Letter to Cristobal Columbus

Greetings to you, Worthy Sir,
&emsp I applaud your grand wish to go
&emsp to find those lands,
&emsp those wondrous lands,
&emsp where precious spices grow.
&emsp Martinez of Portugal,
&emsp a favorite of the king,
&emsp has set his heart, as you might know,
&emsp upon that very thing.
&emsp So I send you the same sea chart
&emsp as I recently sent to him
&emsp with a letter
&emsp in which I suggest
&emsp the way to reach the East that's best
&emsp is to set your compass
&emsp &ensp toward
&emsp &ensp &ensp the West.
&emsp May Good Fortune smile on you.
&emsp May you accomplish what you wish to do.

This poem is "signed" by Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, and dated 1474.

You may have noticed all the indents in this one -- and truly, coding it was a bit of a bitch. Yet most of the poems have wandering margins. Sometimes I think it works, particularly in the aforementioned climbing poem attributed to Tenzing Norgay and discussing summiting Everest. And perhaps it makes sense that the text of "Sylvia Earle: Deep Ocean Explorer" wanders back and forth, as if bandied about by sea currents. But, like some of the rhyme, it got to feeling gimmicky after a while -- since all of the people profiled were explorers of a sort, there was travel and/or wandering involved for most of them, and so the wandering nature of the margins made less of an impact as I proceeded through the book.

The illustrations, such as they are, don't add as much as they could to the book -- while, as best I can tell, they were probably originally cut-paper silhouettes collaged with newsprint, since they are black and white and grey all over, mostly they resemble clipart of maps and globes and mountains and such, there to fill what would have been white space on the pages -- they seem more like an afterthought, and less like an integral part of the package.

My final thoughts on this one? The poems, like their topics, are quite a mix. Some are more successful than others, and overall I'd have to call the collection uneven. Still, the idea is so solid, and the successful poems are so well-done, that I definitely see this one having a place on the shelves of kids obsessed with history and/or geography, and on the shelves of school libraries.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Family of Poems -- a National Poetry Month book review

Dudes. When I told you I bought a few collections the other day, I SO did not lie. Today I'm going to chatter about A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy with illustrations by Jon J. Muth. Yes, he of Zen Shorts, a 2006 Caldecott honor book, and The Three Questions. And you know what that means: page after page of simply gorgeous paintings. The front of the book has a photo of a young Caroline Kennedy reading to a teddy bear, so it doesn't prepare you for what's inside. Here, have a look for yourself:

Want more of an idea what the art looks like? You can search inside the book over at the Amazon website to see a few more of the pages, and to get a gander at the Index of Poems.

Caroline Kennedy shows herself to be a thoughtful, organized kind of anthologist. She's not an anthologist in the way that Paul Janeczko is -- it's his belief that an anthologist need to "break new ground" with each anthology. He therefore tries to find new voices and new forms to include in his anthologies, and he's careful to try to find a new slant on things. In some ways, Caroline Kennedy has done the exact opposite of that, and yet she's put together a lovely anthology full of the poems that she collected through the years as part of a family tradition of gift-giving:

In our family, we were encouraged to write or choose a favorite poem for each holiday or birthday as a gift for my mother and grandparents instead of buying a card or present. My brother and I would copy over and illustrate our choices, and my mother pasted them in a special scrapbook. . . .

Many familiar favorites from our poetry scrapbook are in this collection, including "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, "Who Has Seen the Wind?" by Christina Rossetti, and the Twenty-third Psalm. But we also chose less serious or well-known poems. One of my brother's particular favorites was "Careless Willie," about a boy who nails his older sister to the door. . . .

(Don't you all wish you'd thought to have your kids do that? I know I do. Maybe it's not too late, even if my younger daughter's nearly a teen.)

Kennedy organized the book into seven sections, each of which has an introduction written by her:

ABOUT ME, which includes William Carlos Williams's poem about plums, Nikki Giovanni's "The Reason I Like Chocolate," "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats, Frost's "The Road Not Taken," and the Twenty-Third Psalm, among others.

THAT'S SO SILLY!, which starts with a limerick by Edward Lear, "There Was an Old Man of West Dumpet," includes the lyrics "Moses supposes his toeses are roses," which I always thought was just part of the lyrics to a song from Singin' in the Rain, but which is credited to one of the most prolific poets of all time, Anonymous, the aforementioned "Careless Willie," and some offerings from known comics like Jack Prelutsky and Ogden Nash. My favorite poem in this section may be "(From) Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog: An Epithalamion" by Taylor Mali, which begins as follows:

First of all, it's a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you're walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain't no one going to mess with you.

Perhaps it's my favorite because it was new to me, and some of the others were not. Or perhaps the poem is just that terrific.

ANIMALS contains really over-anthologized poems like "The Tyger" by William Blake and "Hurt No Living Thing" by Christina Rossetti, and rarely anthologized ones like "Peacockfeather" by Rainer Marie Rilke. It has haiku from Basho and "Mister Mistoffelees" from T.S. Eliot and a lovely offering from Carl Sandburg called "Buffalo Dusk."

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they
&emsp pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their
&emsp great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.

THE SEASONS runs from spring to fall, with Ecclesiastes leading off ("To every thing there is a season"). "April Rain Song" begins the spring, which includes poems from Wordsworth and Shakespeare and Frost. Summer brings more Shakespeare ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"), and then we move toward more temperate weather with Rossetti's "Who Has Seen the Wind?" It's in autumn or earlywinter that we find part of "Ode to a Pair of Socks" by Pablo Neruda, a most interesting choice indeed, yet perfect for a children's anthology after all. And winter brings Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," plus Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas", an e.e. cummings poem, "little tree", and an Iroquois Prayer.

THE SEASHORE: All those summers that Kennedy spent on Cape Cod at the family compound seem to have earned the seashore its own section, but I think it was a good choice. It includes Ogden Nash's "The Octopus," which I liked so well from Janeczko's recent anthology, Hey You!. Also there? "The Mock Turtle's Song" by Lewis Carroll (and you know I love my Lewis Carroll). One of my grandmother's favorite poems is in this section as well -- she'd had to memorize it as a child, and could still recite it when she was in her 80's. It's John Masefield's "Sea Fever", which begins with a contested line -- Gramma recited it as "I must down", and there are early signed editions of his work printed that way. So I stand by Gramma's version. But it's frequently anthologized (and is here):

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

ADVENTURE includes some excellent poems about lamish sorts of adventures, like R.L. Stevenson's "The Swing" and another poem by Anonymous called "This is the Key" and "The Red Wheelbarrow" by W.C. Williams, but it also includes poems of true adventure, like "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear and "Goblin Feet" by J.R.R. Tolkien. It includes a recent Poetry Friday poem, "The Song of the Wandering Aengus", by W.B. Yeats, and one of my favorites from Naomi Shihad Nye, "The Rider," which begins "A boy told me/if he roller-skated fast enough,/his loneliness couldn't catch up to him."

BEDTIME, which is almost the shortest section in the book (that honor goes to The Seashore), and I'm pretty sure Caroline Kennedy's feelings about bedtime as a child explain why. Here's a bit of what she wrote: When I was young, I never understood why adults thought it was so important for children to go to bed. I suspected that it was mostly because they wanted to get some sleep themselves. And when I grew up, I discovered I was right!

Her choices include a portion from "The Bed Book" by Sylvia Plath, which manages to be a noisy sort of bedtime poem. Here's a bit from the middle of it:

A Bed for Fishing
A Bed for Cats,
A Bed for a Troupe of Acrobats.

This one comes highly recommended by a lot of critics, and I can certainly see why. It's for an older crowd than yesterday's anthology, Here's A Little Poem, and my guess is that most parents and grandparents will love it as much (or perhaps more) than its child readers.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Good Day

Upon spying this recent picture book by Kevin Henkes, I was reminded of one of my favorite lines in a book ever -- "Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better." That's from Kevin's earlier book, Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. And this book was entitled A Good Day, so I figured it was the better day.

And it was, kind of. Only in the beginning, it wasn't.

At the beginning of A Good Day, things go wrong for all the characters -- in fact, it's a bad day for little yellow bird, little white dog, little orange fox and little brown squirrel. Little yellow bird lost his favorite tail feather, and little brown squirrel lost something heavier.

See what I mean?

But then, all things get turned right. Little yellow bird can fly higher than ever, for instance. The other animals find out that things are good as well. And a little girl who lives nearby finds the yellow feather and runs home shouting "What a good day!" Oh, and little brown squirrel?

Here's a Little Poem -- a National Poetry Month book review

I promised you more information on my recent purchases, and so here's a review for one of them -- a Very Big Book called Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.

If you have a toddler or preschooler who needs a poetry book, this is the one to buy. It is a beautiful book in all the right ways, and it's perfect for adults to share with kids. And yes, it will require adult assistance -- the front cover is 10-1/2" wide and nearly 12" tall, making it over 20" wide when open. And it weighs over two pounds, since it easily maxed out my little postal scale. As it's from Candlewick, it has the look and feel of a Quality Book. And with the excellent editors who compiled the collection, it contains poems of excellent quality.

It includes yesterday's blog selection, "April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes, and it has selections from other famous poets like Jane Yolen (natch), Marily Singer, A.A. Milne, Nikki Grimes, Tony Mitton, Myra Cohn Livingston and more, plus poems from sone folks I hadn't heard of before. There's a short note near the front matter that reads as follows:

"Here's A Little Poem gathers poems from various parts of the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, the Caribbean, Australia, and the U.S. Regional spellins and usage have been retained in order to preserve the integrity of the originals." This means, for example, that some poems say "Mum" instead of "Mom," as in "Mum Is Having a Baby" by Colin McNaughton:

Mum is having a baby!
I'm shocked! I'm all at sea!
What's she want another one for:

The book is organized into four titled sections:
Me, Myself and I
Who Lives in My House?
I Go Outside
Time for Bed

The first section includes poems about the nature of being a young child. The first poem in the book is on the title page for the section, and is called "Here's a Little Foot" by Wendy Cope. The first section also includes these poems:

See how cute the illustrations are? But my favorite poem in the first section of the book has to be Rosemary Wells's "Your Birthday Cake", which begins "Your birthday cake is made of mud/Because I cannot cook."

From the second section of the book, my favorite poem is called "Grandpa" by Berlie Doherty:

Grandpa's hands are as rough as
Garden sacks
And as warm as pockets.
His skin is crushed paper round
His eyes
Wrapping up their secrets.

Isn't that just a beautiful set of images?

The third section of the book, I Go Outside, features poems about the weather as well as poems about things to see and do out of doors. It opens with Paul Janeczko's poem "August Ice Cream Cone", the title of which is two full words longer than the text of the actual poem: "Lick/Quick." It's in this section that you'll find "April Rain Song", along with other poems about rain and wind and mud and berries and the beach. My favorite in this section is probably Jane Yolen's "Recipe for Green", about gardening, although it's a close call-- I also love "Beach Time" by Marilyn Singer. How could you not love Singer's poem, which begins:

We're driving to the beach now,
The air's potato chips --
so salty on my fingers,
so salty on my lips.

"Beach Time" is followed by "Sand House" by J. Patrick Lewis, a most excellent poem about building a sand castle, written in rhyme, but with startlingly fresh images, such as "But when the fingers/Of the sea/Reached up and waved/A wave to me". Happy sigh.

The final section of the book is, naturally, Time for Bed. Because for the toddler set, bedtime is a huge event. It opens with a lovely poem by one of the editors, Andrew Fusek Peters, called "Tide and Seek". My particular favorites in this section are "Silverly" by Dennis Lee, "Mrs. Moon by Roger McGough, with its image of an old lady with "silvery needles/Knitting the night," and the very funny "Grandma's Lullaby" by Charlotte Pomerantz, full of babytalk and silly words. My favorite stanza:

Issum, wissum,
Popsy wopsy,
Tootsie wootsie
Snuggle pup

And now,
for Grandma's
sake, hush up!