Blessed with Crests: Poetry Collections
Several novels in verse have been nominated by Heavy Medal readers so far, including, JAZZ OWLS, LIFEBOAT 12, THE POET X, and REBOUND, but I don’t believe we’ve had any mention so far of poetry collections. Here’s a quick roundup of several that might be worth considering.
Your discovery in China
created quite a stir.
Could dinosaurs be feathered?
They could. You were.
The proof is in the rocks,
those impressions that surround you.
I imagine they were tickled
the moment that they found you.
I like that forced pause of “They could. You were.” And the pun of “tickled” with the two possible meanings of “they.” And the way you get quite a bit of information in so few lines: Location, feathers on dinosaurs as a new idea, fossils. Illustrations carry some of the load here, and they’re excellent, but they serve mostly as visual examples of the animals, without relating directly to specific lines. Though in the shortest poem, the three-line “Dilophosaurus,” you really need the visual: “Blessed / with / crests!” This is my favorite poetry collection of the year so far, but I don’t know that it stands out the way some of the fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels do for me.
FRIENDS AND FOES: POEMS ABOUT US ALL by Douglas Florian. Florian is writes for young kids who are just beginning to be able to appreciate poetry and wordplay. So it’s not fancy or tricky or subtle, but it’s right at the level for the intended audience.
We used to be friends.
But we drifted apart.
Don’t mesh anymore.
Don’t see heart-to-heart.
We used to be friends.
We drifted away.
Will we get back together?
Well, maybe someday.
This is a useful book, and a successful one, but I do think it would be a challenge to push it forward for Newbery consideration.
MARTIN RISING: REQUIEM FOR A KING by Andrea Davis Pinkney. (5 starred reviews) The author calls it a collection of “docu-poems” (116): 40 “vignettes” that capture the last few months of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The weather is a recurring theme in many poems, accentuating the hopes and forebodings of those months. In “Roar!” (p 33-37), for example, the march of the garbage strikers in Memphis is tied to the changing of weather and the “March goes out like a lion” proverb, ending with:
These strong, quiet
and all who stand by them,
refuse to Roar.
Going out like lambs,
they are ignored.
No better pay.
No fair working conditions.
The poems are varied in form, length and tone. Day to day details (“Martin and Ralph each wear / a necktie. / Each knotted with a steady hand, / as only a gentleman can.” (84)) are mixed in with the big events and emotional moments. The climax of his final speech (68-79), the assassination (86-99), and the aftermath (100-107) are very powerful, while the final three poems provide some hope (110-115). Overall it’s an innovative and effective presentation of a familiar subject matter that hasn’t been explored in quite this way before.
Each of the sixteen poems in this collection celebrates a holiday, each of which is a new year’s celebration from a different country. Nimble, informative poems introduce each celebration. Readers who may not know anything about a holiday still get intriguing details and the spirit of the occasion through the language. Here’s a bit from “Washing the Bad Away” (Songkran from Thailand in April)
Time to pour into the street
with buckets, bottles, water guns,
to splash everyone in sight,
to be sprayed by elephants,
the people we meet,
to start the new year right
with a gigantic water fight.
Five small-print pages of back matter provide background for each celebration. That’s where we learn the reasons behind the water activities on Songkran. In many cases I picture the reader reading the poem, then the informational passage, then returning to the poem for a second read. Though very different in the details, this book works in a similar way to EARTH VERSE (below), where the poems are strong on their own, with prose passages in the back that add depth and context that many readers will need.
EARTH VERSE: HAIKU FROM THE GROUND UP by Sally M. Walker. A collection of 29 haiku that also convey information through verse. The short, allusive form is a surprisingly good fit for the survey of earth science. A tsunami is a “sea floor tug of war,” a volcano has an “igneous tantrum,” and here’s a look at streams, rivers, and their relative speeds:
mountain stream rushes,
ancient river meanders –
hare and tortoise race
Following the poems, nine pages provide more tangible background on the general topics. These are concise and informative, sometimes elaborating on terms from the haiku that readers might not know, like “pahoehoe” lava and what “calve” means in relation to glaciers.
I’d be tempted to nominate one of these in December if only to make sure there’s at least one poetry collection on the table. Likely the Pinkney, which I’d guess could get more support than the Elliott. Should any of these be in the conversation? Or any other 2018 poetry collections?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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