12/17/01
Books, Books, Books
    by John Cech

This holiday season, I'm giving books of poetry as presents for everyone. After the events of September 11th, we have turned to poetry (or perhaps I should say we have returned to poetry) because it is the literary form that expresses our feelings most fully, deeply, and truly; because it can translate -- in a stanza, an image, a particular cascade of words -- something we have not been able to say or even imagine before. Poems can comfort us, as they remind us that some things -- even tragic, complex, overwhelming things -- can reach a kind of completion, if only in the few lines of the poem.

But poems are also about falling in love with language and its possibilities -- and as children we take this plunge completely. Why not, then, have a poem every day? Sounds like a good plan to me, and it's the premise of Ivan and Mal Jones's compilation Good Night, Sleep Tight, A Poem for Every Night of the Year. Lullabyes, nonsense verse, poems about lighthouses and reindeer, night birds and taking a bath. Most of the poems are contemporary, from a new generation of fine writers. There are two poems to each page of this generous-sized book, and your young listeners will want them both, every night.

For something a little more traditional, you might want to look at Donald Hall's edition of The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems which contains verse from John Greenleaf Whitier to Nancy Willard, from Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith" to Sandra Cisneros's "Good Hot Dogs." It's fun to hear the classic and the contemporary jam together in one volume; and fittingly, Hall begins his selection with a group of native American poems. It's an extraordinary range of voices.

Lee Bennett Hopkins brings an even more focused attention to our American poetic heritage in his exhilirating My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, which takes us, region by region through our richly varied cultural life -- providing information about the states (including their mottoes!) to the accompaniment of Stephen Alcorn's energizing illustrations and fifty fresh, thoughtful poems. Here's the ending of one -- Leslie Nelson Jennings' "Front Porch":

Those who planned farmstead heareabouts took time
Enough to square a beam and see it placed.
A man of sixty wasn't past his prime
And nothing worth a penny went to waste.
We can remember many things with pride,
Who built front porches neighborly and wide.

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:25:03 EDT


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