Volume 24, Number 2
Winter 1997


M. Jerry Weiss, Editor

Jersey City State College, Jersey City, New Jersey

Publishers are doing a wonderful job of providing readers with a wide assortment of volumes of poetry.

Susan G. Wooldridge has an excellent book, Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words (Clarkson N. Potter, 1996). In this volume Wooldridge writes, "Poems arrive. They hide in feelings and images, in weeds and delivery vans, daring us to notice and give them form with our words. They take us to an invisible world where light and dark, inside and outside meet...."

Each section of the book is a blending of prose and poems. In the prose Wooldridge makes poignant comments about how poetry happens within her, what inspires her, what experiences trigger a thought process that leads to the creation of lines of words that are beautiful and provocative in their concise form. She uses this volume to inspire others to become creative writers. She opens many doors to lead her readers to react and write in notebooks or journals. She shows the joys of playing with words. Each chapter concludes with a section entitled "Practice." This is not the usual workbook stuff. Instead one finds mental and emotional discoveries within one's self. She shares suggestions for reading certain poets' works,and then asks the readers to see these models as forms for expressing their own thoughts. She prescribes no particular style.

Since Wooldridge is a poet/teacher in the California Poets in the Schools program, throughout her book she includes samples of students' poems. In Chapter 22, "What's My Image," she tells of asking a group of adults to collect different images of themselves. Using this same technique in a high school class, Matt wrote:

Insecurity is hiding in the corner...
Pride is there too,
arm wrestling with humility...

This book would make an excellent addition to any teacher's collection of poetry and poetry making.

Stopping for Death: Poems of Death and Loss edited by Carol Ann Duffy and illustrated by Trisha Rafferty (Henry Holt, 1996) is an anthology of poems written by writers from all over the world about death, loss, mourning. It is not a morbid collection; rather it is an affirmation that life is full of wonderful, memorable people and events that surpass the final resting place. The book has a number of humorous poems, such as "Be Merry" by Anonymous and "Who's That Up There?" by Charles Causley. Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden, Rupert Brooke, Robert Browning, Lucille Clifton, Hart Crane, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Christina Rossetti, Dylan Thomas, Cynthia Rylant, Anne Sexton, Gary Soto, and Alice Walker are among the poets included in this slim but relevant volume. This is a book that shows what memories are made of - good, funny, bad, sad.

Epitaph on a Pessimist

I'm Smith of Stoke, aged sixty-odd
I've lived without a dame
From youth-time on; and would to God
My Dad had done the same.

Thomas Hardy (p. 47)

Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul B. Janeczko have edited I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems & His Poems Collected in Pairs (Simon & Schuster, 1996). This collection is wonderful in focusing on perspectives, his and hers. The 96 poems show how changes in time have affected role changes and outlooks. The headings for each section are "Heads on Fire," "Foreign Exchange," "The Real Names of Everything," and "Separate Longings" and include poems written by poets from all over the world. Excellent examples of the paradoxical nature of the human race are Gregory Orr's "Who'd Want To Be a Man?" and Daisy Zamora's "To Be a Woman."

With his longing
That's a dry well
And where's the rain?
(from "Who'd Want To Be a Man," p. 174)

To be born a woman
is to come to nothing,
to a life you do not inhabit
in which everyone else - not your own heart-
determines and decides.

(from "To Be a Woman," p. 175)

Lee Bennett Hopkins has produced a most unusual, partially autobiographical book of poems, Been to Yesterday: Poems of a Life (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1996), about growing up in the 1950s. The illustrations are by Charlene Rendeiro. After his parents' divorce, life was never easy. Day by day he never knew what to expect. At times it seemed he was always moving and being the new kid in the class. Since Lee was the oldest of three children, his mother made sure to point out:

you will understand
that life can't flow
as you always planned."

(p. 27)

Hopkins tells his story in a forthright manner, and the words he has so carefully chosen should touch each reader. Today Lee Bennett Hopkins is a vibrant, dynamic, exciting individual who communicates ideas with zest and enthusiasm. The books helps readers see the experiences that have contributed to his growth and talents. He is one of the country's leading anthologists of poetry collections for children and young adults. This book deserves much recognition, for it is indeed a song of self.

Lori M. Carlson in Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States (Fawcett, Juniper, 1995) provides a most noteworthy collection of people poems. She makes readers think about what is important, what is memorable, what is irrelevant, what is humorous, and what is disheartening about life's experiences. This bilingual edition may encourage more students to study a foreign language, such as Spanish, so they can appreciate other worlds, other values, and other experiences. Some of the poems have an exotic mixture of English and Spanish, even though the experiences recorded are anything but exotic, such as being in an ESL class. Some poems reflect the contradictions of growing up American and Latino. Poetry lends itself beautifully to capturing the different sounds and rhythms in a world as diverse as ours.

Shel Silverstein is back in excellent form. Falling Up: Poems and Drawings (HarperCollins, 1996) will have the same appeal to children of all ages as Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic . The poems and drawings are humorous, but that does not make them trivial or less worthy of study. So are the verse of Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, John Ciardi, Eve Merriam, X. J. Kennedy, Judith Viorst, Jack Prelutsky, to name a few.

Silverstein creates such memorable characters as "Reachin' Richard," who has no manners and just reaches across everybody and everything to take what he wants at mealtime. But as he continues to reach and reach, "his arm did grow," and there are some advantages, or so Richard thinks. Silverstein has wonderful fun in depicting all sorts of animals, real and unreal, computers, cereal, relatives, and even a "Spoiled Brat." I laughed and I thought, not bad responses at all. What fun just to read short pieces and to acknowledge that this poet has people appeal. This book is one that will hook students on poetry.

I want books to stretch my mind and emotions. Douglas Florian's Bin Bang Boing (Puffin, 1996), The Best of Michael Rosen with illustrations by Quentin Blake (Wetlands Press, 1995), The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems by Kalli Dakos with illustration by Denise Brunkus (Dial, 1996), Canto Familiar by Gary Soto with illustrations by Annika Nelson (Harcourt Brace, 1995), I Am Wings: Poems About Love by Ralph Fletcher (Bradbury Press, 1994), My Wicked Wicked Ways: Poems by Sandra Cisneros (Turtle Bay Books, 1992), Lots of Limericks selected by Myra Cohn Livingston with illustrations by Rebecca Perry (McElderry Books, 1991), A Caribbean Dozen: Poems from Caribbean Poets selected by John Agard and Grace Nichols with illustrations by Cathie Felstead (Candlewick Press, 1994), Aska's Birds by Donald Day with illustrations by Warabe Aska (Doubleday, 1992), Runaway Opposites: Poems by Richard Wilber with pictures by Henrick Drescher (Harcourt Brace, 1995) are just a few of the volumes of poetry that line my shelves and remind me that humans are hardly ever too old or too young to be refreshed in the magic waters of verse. Needless to say, one should not worry about reading or age levels. Discovering a new poet or poem is literary exploration at its best.

A book that highlights the powers of poets and poetry is The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets by Bill Moyers (Doubleday, 1995), a companion volume to the PBS series by Bill Moyers. In his introduction, Moyers states: "Fear not, traditional poetry is secure, but every age calls forth new poets and new forms, and our age is no exception..." (p. xii). Readers should emerge from the book with a better understanding of the poet as a special artist, whose palette is a sheet of paper and whose tool is wordpower that leads to the creation of a rainbow of images. Moyers has intimate dialogues with various poets and also has a discussion about the formation and meaning of certain poems. Of Claribel Alegria he asks, "What is 'the promised land' in 'Ars Poetica'?" He seeks understanding of poets' visions. For example his interview with Jimmy Santiago Baca reveals that the poet used to watch old cowboy movies and these helped to shape images in his poetry.

Where does a poet get ideas? How did Robert Bly get the inspiration for "A Dream of Retarded Children"?

I felt lonesome one day in fall, and so I drove north toward Canada, where I knew I would feel even more lonely. I stopped overnight at some small resort cabins in northern Minnesota, and that night I had a dream.

When I thought about the poem later, I realized how many slow parts of us we were mean to, especially in high school, when we wanted to be groovy. Perhaps these slow parts, almost retarded parts, get exiled. One of the good things about growing older is that you have a chance to welcome these slow or retarded people back in. The dream brings them in; I was surprised that there were retarded children inside me and that one of them was coming near, but I was amazed that all of those exiled parts or being had a teacher ! That was so wonderful somehow. (pp. 62-63)

There is so much to absorb in this book; yet a reader can choose one poet to explore in depth, be it Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Stanley Kunitz or another. And at the end Octavia Paz, the first Mexican to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1990) states:

I think the mission of poetry is to create among people the possibility of wonder, admiration, enthusiasm, mystery, the sense that life is marvelous. When you say life is marvelous, you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel - that is the role of poetry. (p. 442)

Finally, there is Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicul-tural Poetry edited by Maria Maziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan (Viking, 1994), a book that shares the feelings that poets express about denied, silenced, or ignored experiences. This book of poetry is confrontational. Readers are challenged to look at people, places, incidents through tinted tainted glasses: see "Dear John Wayne" or meet Lucille Clifton's father in her poem "Sam" or picture Reuben Jackson from "Big Chill Variations." Many poets in this book should be familiar to student and teachers. But many of these poems may be new to most readers. These poets are describing American experiences most people would like to erase. Yet these experiences are part of a social and cultural history that has produced strong feelings.

After discovering so many wonderful and unusual books of poetry, I have come to realize that my education to become an English teacher did not place enough emphasis on poets and poetry. While I read many classics, I had no idea of how rich the twentieth century literature is with poetry. I needed to have spent less time worrying about rhyme and meter. I was scanning when I should have been thinking about the not-so-fragile notions reflected in poems. I needed to listen to different drums, hear different sounds. Now I listen to the music. I am dancing, body and soul.

Copyright 1997, The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN # 0882-2840). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.

Reference Citation : Weiss, Jerry. (1997). The publisher connection. The ALAN Review , Volume 24, Number 2, 49-50.