Monday, April 6, 2009

Poetry for the nation. In April, especially.

by Sarah Marine

I get really pumped for National Poetry Month. I mean, REALLY excited about it. This level of enthusiasm began with a poem I wrote in the fifth grade about Native Americans & snow, to my teenaged self scrawling little ditties about boys and dead birds. It has matured into a tendency towards crazy nutso obsessions. Anyhow, as a children's bookseller and reader of poetry, below are three juvy titles having to do with poets that I think everyone in the wide world should have in their libraries.

Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude
by Jonah Winter; Calef Brown

With cameos by Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway and of course Alice B. Toklas, the nonlinear prose of this book echoes triumphantly the playful style of Gertrude Stein. The suspended, dream-like illustrations of Calef Brown, add to the surreality of the "narrative" which proclaims, "all art is modern when it's being made". I regularly delve into To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, which was originally intended for children by Stein and was rejected as too complex for the young mind. There is something telling about Stein's influence, when the majority of the reviews of this title are written in the Gertrude style, which is style. Style is that which is style. Style is Gertrude is Gertrude.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
by Jennifer Bryant; Melissa Sweet

from Brian at Townblog, who introduced me to this title:
"[Ezra] Pound also shows up in River of Words, a biography for children of William Carlos Williams (or "Willie Williams" as he's called in the book). Here, the illustrations by Melissa Sweet combine representations of Williams' early life with the images and text of some of his poetry, so that words rush through and lend an energy to each pages' illustration. Jen Bryant suggests that it is the sound of the Passiac River that leads Williams to strive to find a "New American" approach to poetry, one in which meter and rhyme mattered less than presenting a fresh and uniquely American perspective, as if the continent and its politics and its people could be channeled through the poet. Williams, the small and bespectacled country doctor with his pockets full of poems, becomes in this book a bold and heroic figure. As someone who had to balance an interest in art and poetry with a practical career, Williams has long been a particular hero of mine, and this book clarifies the choice, the sacrifice, and the challenge of that particular balance."

Eloise Wilkin's Poems to Read to the Very Young
by Eloise Wilkin

This is my go-to title for folks looking for baby shower gifts, baptisms and other assorted starter books for a child's library. Wilkin's unparalleled illustrative knack for capturing the wonder and curiosity of a child, often in nature, makes her my absolute favorite of all children's illustrators, ever. This book takes it a step further, accompanying the doe-eyed little dears with poems from Langston Hughes, Aileen Fisher, A. B. Shiffrin, Christina Rossetti, Sarah Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson and Kate Greenaway, among many more. I've got an extensive Wilkin library of my own, but have yet to acquire 'Baby Dear', the very first book I can recall reading by myself. My parents presented it with me at the age of three, upon the introduction of my little sister into the mix. I loved the book took me a little longer with the baby.

I leave you now with a Jubilat interview with Dean Young, the object of most of my poetic affections. If what he says in this interview doesn't have you running to your local indie bookshop (Boswell Book Co.), you might be a robot...or a cylon.

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