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Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle is ripe with innuendo, secrets, and more. Readers will venture into the wilderness with a class training group, as their instructor Cam teaches them about nature and all of its wonders. Through the interplay of free verse, overheard conversations between students and between teachers, as well as classroom assignments, Hurdle creates an absorbing setting in which the laws of the outdoors are internalized and the students learn to engage with the theory of evolution — “survival of the fittest.”

From "Robert Sedaris" (pg. 47)

He says some trees' taproots
probe and probe,
seek out the heat at the centre of the earth.

Man, I had no idea.
It's as if all my life I was underground
and have just now poked through the surface.

Robert Sedaris is a character full of foreshadowing, and he alludes to many events to come throughout the collection, but his lines are just subtle enough that they read like discussions of nature. In “Robert Sedaris” (pg. 83), “You hear the first little pop/and then so many that individuals can’t be heard,//they are all one./It blows up into something bigger/than you thought possible,/” Working on two levels, Hurdle has crafted a complex collection with multiple moving parts within and around it. In many ways, these little solar systems are orbiting one another and informing a larger sense of action and purpose.

Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle deals with some heavy issues and lines that should never be crossed — though they often are. These poems are by turns sad and will have readers shaking their heads at naive children, as well as shaking a fist at adults who should know better.

About the Poet:

Crystal Hurdle teaches English and creative writing at Capilano University in North Vancouver. She is the author of the poetry collection After Ted & Sylvia and her poetry and prose has been published in many journals, including Bogg, Canadian Literature, the Dalhousie Review, Event, Fireweed, and the Literary Review of Canada.

 

 

 

 

Strange Theater by John Amen

Source: John Amen
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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Strange Theater by John Amen includes surrealism and introspection, as well as poems dedicated to individuals that speak to a broader scope of readers.  It is a peek behind the theater curtain at the backstage machinations of life and the true identity of the theater’s players.  Examining the roles of those on the stage, in the background, the understudies, and the roles that we take in our own lives, Amen takes readers on a roller coaster journey.

From "folk singer" (pg. 91)

of course you're suffering
that goes without saying
alone in yr own private tundra
staggering through the snow

Many of us feel alone with our suffering, and theater, movies, stories, and poetry often help connect us, creating tangential connections between our own suffering to that of others. Some of these poems often draw out the egoism we have about our own lives and suffering, like in “biography,” “ferry approaching in the haze/the monuments he built/he built for himself/for this reason are destined to crumble//” (pg. 17) Many of these players are haunted, haunted by their pasts, their futures, their missteps, and their inability to meet the expectations of others.

from "diaspora" (pg. 30)

last time we talked
I saw deadbolts turning in yr eyes
from light years away you demanded

Amen keeps his readers on their toes as they move from line to line and poem to poem, exploring the uncertainty in all of our lives as it plays out on the biggest stage. Strange Theater by John Amen is wonderfully disconcerting even among the most common of places and people. Imagine looking back on a body of work and seeing only a darkness — a future that hasn’t been written yet — and feel that insecurity that breeds alongside the wondrous possibilities, and you’ll know what it is to walk out on Amen’s poetic stage.

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 126 pgs.
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The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett is a debut collection of poems in which the observation of events can have an impact on its outcome on the human and atomic level.  It is broken down into five sections — The Dominant O, Come From Away, Symptoms of the Disorder, The November Revolution, and Diminishing Returns — and each section delves deeper into the murk to uncover the momentum or the setting of events in motion.  Was it the abuse in childhood that forced her to be bitter and angry or was it being stood up that made her demand more power over her own life?

From “The Bottle Genie” (pg. 26-8)

I’m the empty window panes in a scissored newspaper, finger
of air beneath the door. I’m the cold chisel killing the torch singer,

the alembic that distills you to vapour. I’m what analyzes your
labelled slides, you in my eyes, magnified. I’m your cellar door.

Observation is not the mere passing of time for these narrating personas; it is an art form and a curiosity seeking to be quenched, even in the darkness of human suffering. There is a deep need to get at the root of a person, a situation, a motivation, a hurt. Beyond those who are observing, there are those who self-reflect, looking at the choices made and the life they live but from the outside — detaching themselves from those lives. Like in “Uprising” (pg. 31), “Limits of middle age fence/her in, a dozen lives ride/on her decisions. Memories,//raw beauty of teenage selves, memories,/youth that saw thoughtless uprising,/” where the woman is a decision-maker for those around her — probably her children and husband — and she is looking back to a time when she was not bound by her constraints and was free to turn on a dime and do something new without fearing the consequences — at least not having to fear how the consequences would impact those who rely on her.

From “Diminishing Returns” (pg. 121)

“We have navigated our worth
by the map of skin worn by another.”

“Hours dark wing-beats over the contours of her face.
We are the sum of all our choices, the origin of grace.”

Bennett also has a great series of poems in different sections of the collection that rely on echo, in which lines or phrases from one poem appear at the start of the next. These also ratchet up the tension in this collection, as readers are taken on a journey through rough waters and the unpredictability of the churning sea keeps them guessing. The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett is a wounded animal howling in the dark, trying to make sense of the harm that has come and laid its insides bear for the alley cats to sneer and pick at, but it also is an examination of those trials and how they can define us or not, depending on the choices we make.

About the Poet:

Roxanna Bennett studied experimental arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design and creative writing at the University of Toronto. She lives in Whitby, Ontario.

 

 

 

 

The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park

Source: Academy of American Poets (purchased)
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park, 2014 Walt Whitman Award winner, straddles the line between myth and reality, as Park examines some global myths from China and India to Norway and Greece.  She uses phonemes to uncover the secrets in the words she’s chosen to get at the heart of their meaning to not only reach an origin but to generate a response.  Upon first reading, these poems seem like an exercise in word play, but reading more deeply encourages readers to see the similarities and differences inhere in the words chosen and how those nuances should be celebrated.

From "Bang" (pg. 3)

Just what they said about the river:
rift and ever.

And nothing was left for the ether
there either.

And if anything below could mature:
a matter of nature.

Here the interplay of words peeks beneath the surface of creation myths from the big bang theory to the story of creation in scripture. Rather than focus on the age-old battle between whether creationism or evolution is the correct theory of what happened, Park asks “to have left the world,/to what is left of it –/could you have anything left to cove?” Rather than battle for the correct theory and covet the glory of being correct, shouldn’t we be more focused on the awe of it all and our minor part in it? Park forces readers to question their perceptions of what is important about life, not just what happens in their own lives but also the life around them.

& A (pg 22)

Being a matter
of importance, there

is no mastering
this but to bind you,

thrash and all, to the 
mast.  O you won't reach

irresistible song,
but the rope will teach

you the body's give.
Go down to the bone,

then tell me again
there what matters.  It

will give you every
-thing you need to know

about what I cannot tell you and then,
just maybe then, could it be enough.

Similarities and differences are looked at with new eyes, and in many ways, those differences can be dangerous. However, these poems suggest that even in these perceived dichotomies there is beauty, something to be savored and to be loved. In the final section of poems — Fear — the sum of the poems reads like a single force, gyrating and churning the seas of perception until the final lines. Park wonders aloud what it means to be the fear-driven species that strives to become the sole survivor and upon reaching the summit what is there left but more fear. From “Beyond the meadow, the horizon fails” (pg. 47), “what then to our victor’s highest marks?/Only fear regrouping in your heart of hearts.” And yet, despite all this dreariness and dark, Park leaves readers with a hope, a bleak hope — “everything in life is a placeholder.” The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park is stunning in its twists and turns, but it will require several reads and recitation aloud in some cases. But the gems within these lines and phrases are well worth the work.

About the Poet:

Hannah Sanghee Park was born in Tacoma, Washington and earned a BA from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of a chapbook, Ode Days Ode (Catenary Press, 2011). She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from The Fulbright Program, 4Culture, The Iowa Arts Council/National Endowment for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her work has appeared in various journals and publications, including LVNG, Petri Press, Poetry Northwest, and Best New Poets 2013. In 2014, Park won the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award.

Park lives in Los Angeles, where she attends the Writing for Screen & Television Program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

 

 

 

 

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Source: Harper
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn, an actress herself, has embarked upon an ambitious collection that looks at the narcissistic and self-mutilating world of Hollywood through the eyes of actresses’ whose lives ended prematurely by their own hands or through the actions of others.  From the famous Marilyn Monroe to the less well-known Barbara La Marr, Tamblyn calls into question the need for perfection among female actresses and how hard it is to find work once these actresses reach a certain age.  There’s also one poem about Lindsay Lohan, which readers may have various reactions to, including shock, dismay, and possibly laughter. (if you want to read what happened when she read the poem, beware it is a bit of a spoiler about the poem)

From "Thelma Todd" (pg. 3-5)

At the bar I run into Nancy,
drinking away her forties,
her eyes are flush broken compasses.
Lost between age fifteen and fifty.

Fermented blood.
Deep-sea drinker.

I do not look into her ocean.
The fish there float to the bottom.
I fear I'll go down there too,
identifying with the abyss.
Washed up.
Banging on the back door of a black hole.

These poems are at best depressing and at worst horrifying. These sparkling actresses are snuffed out by the pressures of Hollywood, but they also have their own demons chasing them. Tamblyn’s sense of the tragic is acute when exposed in lines like these: “But first she said, I’m sorry, Charles, it’s over between us,/tied together the sheets of their love letters,/climbed out the window of his soul.//” (from “Dominique Dunne,” pg. 25) and “I’m going to floss my teeth with the public hair/of the Hollywood night air,/memorize my lines before I snort them.//” (from “Bridgette Andersen,” pg. 30-1) These women’s lives and those of living actress continue to become objectified, and it’s hard to imagine living with that on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, the collection almost suggests to those female actresses who have lived in Hollywood longer, continue to work, and do not fall into a spiral of depression that they are the exceptions.

There is a sense of fight in these poems, as if Tamblyn is calling attention to these tragic stories not only to encourage female actresses to shun these arbitrary pressures, but also to call attention to the public’s role in these tragedies. Celebrity lives have become fodder for the American public, and these poems want to demonstrate the darkness that can follow such attention. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn is an ambitious collection of poems that will have readers thinking about their own roles in celebrity gossip and objectification.

About the Poet:

Amber Rose Tamblyn is an American actress, author and film director. She first came to national attention in her role on the soap opera General Hospital as Emily Quartermaine. She also starred in the prime-time series Joan of Arcadia, portraying the title character. Her feature film work includes roles in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Grudge 2, The Ring, and 127 Hours; she had an extended arc as Martha M. Masters on the main cast of the medical drama House, M.D. She also had a starring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men during its eleventh season as Jenny, the illegitimate daughter of Charlie Harper.

 

 

 

 

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Source: Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Paperback, 72 pgs
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Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, which is on tour tomorrow with Poetic Book Tours, is a stunning collection of poems that give voice to the often solitary lives of Hindu widows.  Whether these women loved their husbands, fell in love with them, or merely stayed out of their way, without them in their lives, these women struggle with the emptiness — a vacancy where desire, love, and affection should be.  These women could wail and weep but it does not negate the fact that they become spectators in their own lives once their husbands are gone.  They become apparitions of themselves, hollowed out and shoved to the background like furniture or paintings on the wall, only as useful as the remaining family allows them to be.

Despite their losses and Hindu traditions, these women are still very much alive.  In “Eulogy” (pg. 39), the narrator says “I am a lady,/but I didn’t promise/to sleep in your shadow.”  Despite their vitality, these women are in the shadows with no way out that would allow them to retain their respect.  “Silence became my lover, that’s why.//Just so you know, my every kiss was real./I wrapped them in turmeric and sandalwood,/left them in your urn wrapped in a white sheet.//” (from “Silence Became My Lover”, pg. 34) In spite of their continued devotion, they must remain silent about it and their feelings and desires — in the eyes of the family, they have become non-entities without an anchor.

Many of these women loved deeply, passionately, but who can they share their memories with, except for their own grief and the silent walls around them.  In “Never Abandoned” (pg. 7), the narrator laments, “we came crashing like a wave./We contained each other.//Even the rain can’t erase/the warm memories of our togetherness/the cold bones others try to break.//”  For those widows who were abused or cuckolded, how do they move on from the death of their husband?  Can they?  They are still expected to wear grief like a devoted wife, honoring a marriage that to them may have been plagued with abuse and disappointment.  These women are trapped in a different way than those who can feel comfort in their loving husband’s memories.  There is no second chances at love or passion without consequence for these women.

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a collection of eulogies, odes, and laments, but at its heart it is a collection that gives voice to the voiceless.  The women in these pages, though unnamed, are given new life, and their passions are presented to all readers in a way that is open and honest.  In the “wet silence” of their grief, there is no pretense, no hypocrisy; there is only the bare truth.  It is a collection that should be used in schools, read in book clubs, and held up high on the best of poetry lists.

Sweta is someone I call friend, but she stuns me with each new book, and there is nothing less than awe inspiring in this collection.

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Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons by Margaret Wise Brown


Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover and CD, 36 pgs
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Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons by Margaret Wise Brown is a collection of poems accompanied by beautiful images from 12 award-winning artists.  Brown’s verse is tailored to the sensibilities of children and their sense of wonderment about the world around them.  All but two of the poems in this collection have never been published because she died before they could be, but even though she died before publishing all of her writing, she had published about 100 books.  Many of these poems read like song lyrics.  Kids will be immediately engaged by the poems and their rhythm, but the images also are so vivid and beautiful.  Some them are reminiscent of pastel renderings.  The poems sing the praises of each season, and the artists’ renderings are so enchanting, and the book includes short biographies of each artist.  The accompanying CD of music brings these poems even further to life, and kids will love swaying and moving to the rhythm.  Some of these are very folksy, but with an undercurrent of country and pop.  Very versatile, as some are more soothing for night time activities.

Many of these read like spur-of-the-moment made-up lyrics, which is what children often do on their own from time to time.  Singing often gets them to do things they normally would be opposed to, such as cleaning up their messes.  Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons by Margaret Wise Brown is an adorable collection of poems and songs that will entertain kids for some time, and Brown’s legacy lives on.  Another printing from Sterling Children’s books has a more wintery feel to it, but is a great companion for this copy.

About the Author:

Margaret Wise Brown wrote hundreds of books and stories during her life, but she is best known for Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny. Even though she died over 45 years ago, her books still sell very well. Margaret loved animals. Most of her books have animals as characters in the story. She liked to write books that had a rhythm to them. Sometimes she would put a hard word into the story or poem. She thought this made children think harder when they are reading. She wrote all the time. There are many scraps of paper where she quickly wrote down a story idea or a poem. She said she dreamed stories and then had to write them down in the morning before she forgot them. She tried to write the way children wanted to hear a story, which often isn’t the same way an adult would tell a story. She also taught illustrators to draw the way a child saw things.

Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses by Dick Flavin

Source: William Morrow
Hardcover, 224 pgs
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Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses by Dick Flavin is chock full of historical information about the team and the players from the team, particularly the World Series winning teams and Ted Williams. Flavin is an icon often associated with the Red Sox, and this book dubs him the “Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate,” and he is that.  Flavin’s got some great poems in this collection that not only chronicle the hardships from a fan’s point of view, but also from that of the players’ points of view.  There is the curse of the Bambino, the plight of Jackie Robinson who loved the game more than anything, and the ins and outs of the historic field.  Let’s not forget the enigmatic Manny Ramirez.

From "The Ring" (pg. 35)

My God, I've got a Series ring,
      Please, do not wisecrack.
If Lucchino hears about this
      He'll make me give it back.

His rhymes are well done for the most part, and many of the poems are humorous, especially when he gets to writing a poem about Carl Yastrzemski. How can you make a rhyme with his name? Unless you make something Seussian up. And lest you think the collection includes poems that are negative to the New York Yankees, it does not. There is some respect for their best players. The book also includes a great collection of photographs and memorabilia.

Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses by Dick Flavin is a great collection for Red Sox and all baseball fans.  It was fun to read, and great to see some of the history of the game.  My dad even picked this one up while he was here, reading some of the poems and checking out the photos — this is amazing since he doesn’t like sports much.  He does like Dick Flavin and remembers meeting him a couple times, so he was intrigued.

About the Author:

Dick Flavin is a Commonwealth institution, widely known and highly regarded for his 22 years on Boston television. He’s blessed with no small measure of talent and a memorable personality. He’s a great Red Sox fan, but in that he’s hardly unique, since there are several million patriotic Americans who qualify for that distinction.

But among those fans, those patriots, who stretch from sea to shining sea, there may be no other fan who finds more joy in putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard and celebrating in verse our beloved Boston Red Sox.

Since the inception of the Writers Series he has been present at all of our events. Being slow of mind, however, it took me a while to realize Mr. Flavin’s special gifts, in both verse and song. But once that happened, my belated discovery, it was easy to designate him Poet Laureate of The Great Fenway Park Writers Series. That he willingly accepted the title and its attendant responsibilities was a special day for The Great Fenway Park Writers Series.

 

 

 

 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 337 pgs.
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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a National Book Award Winner and Newbery Honor Book, is a coming-of-age novel in verse that is fresh and child-like in its perspective.  Jacqueline Woodson clearly bases her novel on her own experiences as a young black girl who grows up in a home with a single mother and older siblings.  Moving from Ohio and her father to Greenville, S.C., in the 1960s to live with her mother, siblings, and grandparents, Jackie is too young to understand the breakup of her family and remember her past.  Running in parallel to the Civil Rights Movement, young Jackie learning her letters and trying to keep up with her older siblings.  As she finds she doesn’t measure up to her smart sister in the classroom, she also learns that each sibling may have hidden talents, like her brother’s singing voice.

From "February 12, 1963" (pg.1-2)

I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.

From "My Mother and Grace" (page 25-26)

Both know that southern way of talking
without words, remember when
the heat of summer
could melt the mouth,
so southerners stayed quiet

Jackie is a young girl finding her way, looking to be strong, but also learning to listen to her elders and to others influencing the civil rights movement. She hasn’t made up her mind, but she’s learning piece by piece what it means to be a young black woman in the south and how that differs from being black in New York.  Woodson’s style is frank, but firmly rooted in the point of view of a young girl who observes both the benefits of the movement and the drawbacks of fighting for what you believe in.  Along the way, she becomes friends with Maria whose mother cooks the best Hispanic food, and they do everything together, including swap dinners in the stairwell.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a journey of a young black woman growing up in the 60s and 70s and serves as an excellent introduction to not only the time period, but also the struggles of black in the south and in the north for those ages 10 and up.  There are moments in which the author relies on a dream-like quality to present her narrator’s ideals, but at other points, it is very clear cut what has happened.  In many ways, this rendition is a mere outline of the harsher parts of life and it is reflected well through a child’s eyes.

About the Author:

Jacqueline Woodson is an American writer of books for children and adolescents. She is best known for Miracle’s Boys, which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001, and her Newbery Honor-winning titles Brown Girl Dreaming, After Tupac & D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way. Her work is filled with strong African-American themes, generally aimed at a young adult audience.

For her lifetime contribution as a children’s writer, Woodson won the Margaret Edwards Award in 2005 and she was the U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014. IBBY named her one of six Andersen Award finalists on March 17, 2014. She won the National Book Award in 2014 in the category of “Young People’s Literature” for Brown Girl Dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

Source: Sourcebooks/Shelf Awareness
Hardcover, 40 pgs
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Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow is gorgeously illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, and the 28 poems are divided into seasons to reflect the title.  This collection is published posthumously, poems her daughter calls clean and clear about what changes and what stays the same.  The collection opens with “Changes” that talks about the differences between the seasons but that they always come around the same time each year, even though the narrator has changed through the years.  These verses are fantastic for little kids, projecting images that are complemented by the illustrations and allowing them to visual nature and the seasons.

These poems read as if told from the perspective of a child who stares in awe at the birds in the sky, the birds flying by, and all that surrounds them.  From the cool breezes of spring and the budding flowers to the salty wind of the sea in summer on vacation, children will see the fun and get absorbed in the costumes of Halloween, the beginning of school in the fall, and the winter wonders of snowmen and the first snow.  Beeke’s images are reminiscent of the whispy-ness of water color images and pastel smudges.  Zolotow clearly has a firm grasp of the wonder most children have when they are young; they are curious and inquisitive, but there also are some who are contemplative.  Read aloud these poems create a new world of rhyme and lyrical verse for children.

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, is a great collection to start young readers with the wondrous world of poetry.  The illustrations are well matched with Zolotow’s lines.  My daughter and I have read this collection several times, and she often asks what season we are in when we read the poems.

About the Author:

Charlotte Zolotow—author, editor, publisher, and educator—had one of the most distinguished careers in the field of children’s literature. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1915, Changes: A Child’s First Collection of Poetry is published on the occasion of Charlotte Zolotow’s 100th birthday.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 169 pgs
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The power of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine makes me wonder what the winner of the National Book Award could have written to outshine Rankine’s words in 2014.  In her collection of essays, poems, and vignettes, Rankine points: “‘The purpose of art,’ James Baldwin wrote, ‘is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.'” (page 115)  She took this to heart when writing this collection because she raises up those questions about race in America and brandishes them like a flag.  That is not to say that racism is something that is wholly owned by just white people or white police, but that it is perpetuated by the actions, behaviors, and assumptions both races make about one another.  What does it mean to be American? Does it mean as citizens we brush aside these issues and move forward? Does it mean that we must embrace all of this darkness into ourselves and find solutions that may not work for everyone? Or does it mean that we must take a more internal approach and remedy that which we do to perpetuate those wrongs around us?

from page 135:

because white men can’t
police their imagination
black men are dying

What is engaging about Rankine’s work is that she blurs the lines between the you, the I, the she, the he, to make it less clear cut who is being discriminated against and who is suffering. In this way she takes the time to juxtapose the traditional black victim of white racism formula with a less black-and-white distinction, and it’s done with purpose.

“In any case, it is difficult not to think that if Serena lost context by abandoning all rules of civility, it could be because her body, trapped in a racial imaginary, trapped in disbelief — code for being black in America — is being governed not by the tennis match she is participating in but by a collapsed relationship that had promised to play by the rules.  Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context–” (page 30)

Lest you think this book is about racism only through the lens of the victim, it is not.  There a great deal to discuss about racism, its roots, its ignorance, and its pervasiveness in American society.  While many, if not all, the references are contemporary, they could have been pulled from many times throughout history.  Book clubs could discuss this collection of essays and poems for hours.  I cannot explain to you how deeply affected by the book I have been.  I will likely read and re-read this book many times.  I may even put it forth to my book club as a suggestion.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is essential reading for every American — young or old, black or white, Hispanic or Asian; it is the beginning of a dialogue that is desperately needed in this country where the presumption of ignorance or incivility is based upon a skin color rather than an individual’s actions and behaviors.  While discrimination against “other” continues, it is not merely one-sided, and until we are able to break down those walls to the truth of our humanity, discrimination and racism will always exist.

***Best of 2015 — not a contender, firmly on the list***

About the Author:

Claudia Rankine was born in Jamaica in 1963. She earned her B.A. in English from Williams College and her M.F.A. in poetry from Columbia University. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (Graywolf, 2004); PLOT (2001); The End of the Alphabet (1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.

Rankine has edited numerous anthologies including American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan, 2002) and American Poets in the Twenty-First Century: The New Poetics (2007). Her plays include Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, commissioned by the Foundry Theatre and Existing Conditions, co-authored with Casey Llewellyn. She has also produced a number of videos in collaboration with John Lucas, including “Situation One.” A recipient of fellowships from the Academy of American Poetry, the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation, she is currently the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College.  (Photo credit: John Lucas)

 

 

 

 

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs
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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a collection of some of the most recognizable poems, including William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow, for readers ages 6-9. Most of these poems are short and fit the theme of each season — winter, spring, summer, fall — but even younger readers will enjoy these poems as they are read aloud by their parents. The illustrations are colorful, and the vibrant images perfectly capture the mood of the season.

While some of the concepts in these poems are a little above where my own daughter may be cognitively, she still enjoyed listening to me read them aloud.  I also made sure to denote which season was depicted by each of the poems in the section, and had her point to images in the poems that she found in the illustrations, which kept her attention focused.  For instance, for Raymond Souster’s poem, “Spring,” the illustration depicts the roots of the flower and the beets on the page and the flower and leaves above.

Spring

Rain beats down,
roots stretch up.

They'll meet
in a flower.
The Island

Wrinkled stone
like an elephant's skin
on which young birches are treading.

elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For “The Island” by Lillian Morrison, my daughter looked for the elephant talked about in the poem, and quickly found that he was the island with the trees on top. It became a word game for us, and while some poems don’t lend themselves easily to these kinds of games to keep a toddler’s interest, my daughter also loves the sounds of words, so she would often just sit and listen to me read the poems.

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, contains not only those well-loved and classic poems from Williams, Dickinson, and Frost, but also poems from more contemporary poets, like Ted Kooser, Hughes, and Crapsey. Such a wide variety in a collection of poems about the seasons offer a great deal of teaching tools for young readers, from learning new words and how language works to what happens in each season scientifically.

***I first saw this book reviewed at Rhapsody in Books.***

About the Editor:

Paul Bryan Janeczko is an American poet and anthologist. He has published 40 books in the last 30 years, including poetry compilations, non-fiction guides for young writers, and books for teachers.

About the Illustrator:

Melissa Sweet has illustrated nearly 100 children’s books from board books to picture books and nonfiction titles. Her collages and paintings have appeared in the New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Madison Park Greetings, Smilebox and for eeBoo Toys, which have garnered the Oppenheim and Parents Choice Awards.