Instead, I find great sounds in the many poetry books being published now. I have a great time thumbing through a book, remembering, at times, the familiar stanzas that have partially faded in my mind, but not in my soul. I no longer worry about grade levels. It is useless to think that certain poems are for certain age groups. The few words of a poem are arranged so specifically on a page and chosen so carefully by the poet to express an idea, a feeling, or to describe a character or some action that a poem can hit the brain (and sometimes the heart) as powerfully as a fully developed novel.
Demi, in In the Eyes of the Cat: Japanese Poetry for All Seasons (Henry Holt, 1992), has produced a slim but eloquent volume that introduces readers to an array of animals who are described by poets throughout many centuries. These poems were translated by Tze-si Huang, a scholar of Japanese and Chinese poetry.
The long night;
The monkey thinks how
To catch hold of the moon.
-- Shiki, 1867-1902
Paintings and poems blend beautifully. This book can be used very well in conjunction with Prayers from the Ark & the Creatures' Choir by Carmen B. De Basztold, translated by Rumer Godden (Viking Penguin, 1976).
Naomi Shihab Nye, a featured speaker at the 1993 ALAN Workshop in Pittsburgh, has edited This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (Four Winds Press, 1992). "When Ms. Nye sent out a call for entries for this collection, she also invited the poets to send along their signatures. The signatures of many of the poets whose work appears in this book are shown on the endpapers, along with a selection of the envelopes and stamps that brought their poetry and correspondence to the United States." One hundred and twenty-nine poets from sixty-eight different countries are represented in this book. This is a must for those interested in multicultural literature.
The Question Mark
Poor thing. Poor crippled measure
of punctuation. Who would know,
who could imagine you used to be
an exclamation point?
What force bent you over?
Age, time and the vices
of this century?
Did you not once evoke,
call out and stress?
But you got weary of it all,
got wise, and turned like this.
-- Gevorg Emin
Translated from the Armenian
by Diana Der Hovanessian
Michael R. Strickland has edited an impressive volume of poems with illustrations by Alan Lerner, Poems That Sing To You (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1993). The five sections are Poems That Dance, Poems That Sound, Poems That Make Melodies, Poems That Sing the Happies and The Blues, and Poems That Sing to You.
The lyrics of songs by today's lyricists and performers, as well as music-filled poems by such well-known poets as Ogden Nash, Nikki Giovanni, William Carlos Williams, Arnold Adoff, Eve Merrian, Karla Kuskin, Shel Silverstein, Brod Bagert, among others, offer a variety of rhythms for personal, multicultural enjoyment.
Fast like a frisbee
WHIZZING through the air
my CD is my latest
toy and greatest dance helper.
It could roll down the street
and still play rock.
Mom says I'm too young
to keep the mall in business . . . .
-- Michael R. Strickland
Ever since President Clinton's inauguration, Maya Angelou has risen as a splendid firecracker in the sky. I Shall Not Be Moved (Bantam, 1991) shows the poet's versatility as she depicts her most humane, and often humorous, comments on the contemporary scene. From "Preacher, Don't Send Me"
Preacher, don't send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe . . . .
Newbery Prize novelist Cynthia Rylant continues to show her magic with words in a wonderful collection of original poems, Soda Jerk (Beech Tree Paperback Book, 1993). The poems are the varied thoughts of a young soda jerk in Maxwell's Drugstore in Cheston, Virginia. What is it like to be a soda jerk?
My friends are always asking me whether
"sexual aids" at the drugstore
and I cannot believe how stupid
like maybe I'm just supposed to
slip a little package next to somebody's
with his non-dairy creamer?
But I think about it, the stuff
over there where Mr. Maxwell is,
and I try to keep an eye
on who's buying what . . . .
Paul Janeczko, master compiler of volumes of thought-provoking poetry, has developed a second volume of his own poetry, Stardust Otel (Orchard Books, 1993), with illustrations by Dorothy Leech. This is an appealing collection of people poems that can be used in conjunction with Nancy Larrick's collection, Crazy to be Alive in Such a Strange World (M. Evans and Co., Inc., 1977), and many poems in Jack Prelutsky's New Kid on the Block (Greenwillow, 1984).
Nick liked to fix things:
a radio that wouldn't stop playing
unless you pulled the plug,
a door that took two to open
when we had rain,
a blender that smoked,
a washer that growled.
Lucy called him Gadget King,
flushed when she thought of our cellar
with its paths, like rabbit runs, past
coils of wire,
coffee cans full of screws, nuts, and bolts,
TV tubes hanging like hams in a smokehouse,
how-to books and repair manuals
stacked in the corner.
When she complained about the mess,
"to put a match to the whole damn place,"
He snorted, She always says that.
Till she needs something down
there . . . .
One of the most beautiful volumes is Six American Poets (Random House, 1991) edited by Joel Connarroe. Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and Langston Hughes are the six whose poems have been selected for this collection. The editor presents a brief commentary on each of these poets. Whitman's section includes "I Hear America Singing," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "Come Up from the Fields, Father", and selections from "Song of Myself." Whitman speaks of love, loneliness, war, and Lincoln's assassination. He paints portraits of people and scenes of places that reveal great sensitivity and sensuousness.
Connarroe quotes from Emily Dickinson in his introductory essay about her: "If I read a book," she observed, "and it makes my body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the way I know it. Is there any other way?" (p. 73).
Connarroe goes on to say, "She stopped going to church at an early age, unable to accept the idea of Original Sin, and instead sought spiritual solace from the family pew" (p. 74).
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church--
I keep it staying at Home--
With a Bobolink for a Chorister--
And an Orchard for a Dome--
In this short Life
That lasts only an hour
How much--how little--is
Within our power
In Connarroe's comments on Langston Hughes, he points out, "It is surprising, too, given his productivity and influence, that he never achieved financial security but had to continue throughout his life earning his way with his pen. He died at sixty-five in New York, having left instructions for his mourners to dress in red, "`Cause there ain't no sense / In my being dead." At his memorial service a pianist played Duke Ellington's "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me," one of the poet's favorite songs (p. 230).
The representative poems by Hughes reflect a man who knew good times/bad times/happy times/sad times and all the kinds of music poems can possibly make.
From "Early Evening Quarrel"
Where is that sugar, Hammond,
I sent you this morning to buy?
I say, where is that sugar
I sent you this morning to buy?
Coffee without sugar
Makes a good woman cry.
I ain't got no sugar, Hattie,
I gambled your dime away.
Ain't got no sugar, I
Done gambled that dime away.
If you're a wise woman, Hattie,
You ain't gonna have nothin' to say . . . .
Fast songs, slow songs, hot songs, cold songs, love songs, lonely songs, laughing songs, crying songs -- music that fills the ears, the eyes, the minds, the hearts and souls.
Myra Cohn Livingston's collection, A Time to Talk: Poems of Friendship (McElderry Books, 1992), offers the wonderful mixture of old and new, classics and modern, to remind readers that the miracle of a poem is that in its succinct form it can touch one quite deeply.
From "Conversation at Tea"
Here we are sipping tea
And talking in present tense.
Let's agree, now we are together,
Friendship is forever.
-- Galway Kennell
I have moved beyond Milton and Shakespeare, beyond Byron and Keats, beyond the Brownings and Tennyson, beyond Frost and Sandburg. Yet these books I've listed above are more dutiful than I. Their pages sparkle with the known and unknown. Writing about poets and poetry, music by and for all kinds of people, is an arduous task. But the music goes on -- show tunes and rap, marches and minuets, recorded in texts, on compact disks and cassettes. Some words are spoken and some are sung. There is, indeed, music for everyone for every night and day (Cole Porter), and it's a grand night for singing (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II).