Archive for the ‘Poetry Books’ Category

Poetry Friday: Asian Heritage Month and Poetic Forms

Friday, May 18th, 2012

May is Asian Heritage Month and is a time to celebrate the arts and cultures of Asia.  Poetic forms arise out of a cultural group’s language and can sometimes work well in another language like English with some modification and changes.  Poetic forms can also be used as a means of expression of one’s cultural identity or sensibility.  Over the weekend at a conference I attended, I had a chance to listen to poet Sheniz Janmohamed talk about the ghazal, a poetic form originating in Arabic, and later made famous by Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz.  For Janmohamed, learning about the ghazal form and its traditions lead eventually to her own ghazal writing in English. The ghazal was a way to connect her with her South Asian heritage and to deepen her knowledge and awareness of the rich potentials of the form as it could be explored in English.  The result of her work is her book Bleeding Light, TSAR publications, 2010.  Of course, you don’t have to be South Asian to write a ghazal; it is a form like any other and artists are always interested in experimenting with forms!   However, because I am myself a poet of Asian background, I appreciate those artists who plumb the depths of their cultural traditions and find new hybridized ways of expressing themselves through traditional forms, particularly non-western ones.

An example of a poet playing with traditional Japanese forms — haiku and senryu — is Richard Stevenson, who has compiled a book of poems called Casting Out Nines: Haiku and Senryu for Teens (Ekstasis Editions, 2011.)  This is a collection of flip, irreverent high-school haiku — which reminded me of a long ago incident in my high school days when an English teacher allowed students to submit creative writing for their papers and was stymied by my friend who submitted a haiku (or maybe it was two!) for his paper.  Leave it to a teenager to exploit a literary form to his own ends!

Anyway, that aside, Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Katja at Write. Sketch. Repeat.


Poetry Friday: Winterberries and Apple Blossoms

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year by Nan Forler illustrated with paintings by Peter Etril Snyder (Tundra Books, 2011)  takes the reader month by month through a calendar year in an Old Order Mennonite girl’s life.   Old Order Mennonites are a religious community that live in and around the Waterloo region in southern Ontario.  Similar to the Amish, they live simple lives with very few modern conveniences.  They do not own cars nor computers or televisions.  They work on farms, making their living on what they grow and sell.

Naomi is the young girl from whose perspective the reader views her world.  Each month is written about in poems.  For example, January opens with a poem called “The Quilting Bee.”

Matilda Martin and Edna Bauman
Mam and Lucinda and me —
my first time quilting with the women.
Noisy greetings as we settle in around the quilt frame,
then silence as each begins.

A lovely painting of Naomi stitching amongst the women is depicted on the facing page. And so the months go, poem by poem, Naomi’s life unfolding before the reader. A Mennonite girl’s life is clearly different from a boy’s — in May’s poem “The Bicycle” for example, we see Naomi covertly attempting to ride her brother’s bike and suffering for it (she crashes, her skirt getting caught in the greasy chains) but two months later in “The Ball Game” we see Naomi whack the baseball well past the older boy’s reach even though they had moved in field expecting her to be a weak hitter.

I liked the pacing in this book. The poems are slow and thoughtful like the kind of lives these children live in their pastoral farm communities. And the paintings that depict the life are easily as bucolic and delightful as the poems.  And as an added bonus, there are recipes at the back of the book, one for each month celebrating the seasonal culinary delights of the community.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.


Poetry Friday: Still Three Days Left to Contribute to LitWorld’s Global Poem for Change

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Have you taken part in LitWorld’s second annual Global Poem for Change yet?  This year poet Sharon Creech set the poem off with this thought-provoking (indeed, poetry-inducing) couplet:

It has certainly inspired literally hundreds of people to respond. If you haven’t done so already, you can add your lines here, but hurry – you only have until the end of the month to join in. Teachers, this could be a wonderful way to blow away the Monday-morning blues!

If you’ve already contributred, then do go and take another look at the poem itself. It is growing by the hour, and it’s wonderful and fascinating to read all the different ways people have responded to Sharon’s initial call.

So whether you are a published poet, a closet poet or someone like me, who can only read and marvel over the original poems that are often a part of the Poetry Friday get-togethers, here’s your chance to join in with this unique chance to link your words for literacy across the globe. Why do that? Well, I leave the last word to Lit World:

Literacy rights are human rights. Each time we come together in acts of literary community, we stand in solidarity with all children worldwide who want to belong to the world of words.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference – head on over.

Poetry Friday: National Poetry Month in Canada

Friday, April 20th, 2012

April is National Poetry Month and is a busy time for poets.  I’m off myself to Edmonton for the Edmonton Poetry Festival and am looking forward to reading my poetry there and hearing other poets read.   One organization in Canada that is for poets (and of which I’ve recently become a member) is the League of Canadian Poets.  In 2001 for National Poetry Month, the League launched a website called whose objective is to increase the profile of Canadian poetry amongst young people.  This year Young Poets Week runs from the 15-21st and during this time, young poets can get a chance to have their poetry critiqued by an older mentor on-line as well as have the opportunity to post poetry videos on an on-line forum available on the site.  Do cruise the Young Poets website and have a look around.  In the Teacher’s Lounge, many of the offerings are available also in French (in keeping with the bilingual nature of our country!)

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Diane at Random Noodling.

Poetry Friday: The World is Round by Gertrude Stein

Friday, April 6th, 2012

The World is Round  (illustrated by Clement Hurd, North Point Press, 1988) is technically not a poetry book, per se, although its author, Gertrude Stein, might argue otherwise.  I discovered it through a post a friend linked me to on the most excellent blog, Brain Pickings.  Now some of you might wonder how Gertrude Stein came to write a children’s book in the first place, and the story has much to do with the early development of children’s book publishing in the U.S. in the 1930s.  Stein was asked by the youthful start-up publishing company of Young Scott Books (founded in 1938) whose mandate was to publish illustrated childrens’ books to submit a manuscript for their consideration.  Stein submitted The World is Round, a story of a girl named Rose (of course!) and her cousin Willie.  Rose was based on a child who was the daughter of Gertrude Stein’s neighbor in Bilignin, a small farming community located in the French alps.

The World is Round contains the story of Rose and Willie in 32 micro-chapters of the kind of lilting and somewhat nonsensical poetic like prose that is distinctively Stein.   Who cannot help but recognize Stein’s playful existentialism in such lines as “I am a little girl and my name is Rose, Rose is my name./  Why am I a little girl/And why is my name Rose/And when am I a little girl/And when is my name Rose/And where am I little girl/And where is my name Rose … ”  Granted, this may not be your child’s cup of tea when it comes to bedtime reading, but sometimes I like to throw in a little twist of lemon to give a bit of complexity to the flavors of narrative one gives to one’s child.  My daughter liked the early chapters of this book, probably because they had to do with dogs, but has not warmed to it much since.  But she doesn’t mind my continuing with this book so I shall go on with it til the end.   As one reviewer said, “It is meant to be read aloud, a little at a time, and the adult who does so will find himself saying, ‘I remember thinking like this,’ and succumbing to the seductive quality of phrases, which will make it probably the most quotable book of the season.’  My edition has a lengthy but informative afterword that also contains information about the illustrator Clement Hurd and the artwork he did for the book.

Poetry Friday this Good Friday is hosted by Robyn at Read Write Howl.

Poetry Friday: Taco Anema and his Tales of Water: A Child’s View photographic project

Friday, March 30th, 2012



We have a new interview on the PaperTigers website, with Dutch photographer Taco Anema, the author of a superb book called Tales of Water: A Child’s View/Cuentos del agua: Una visión de un niño.  Taco travelled the world photographing children interacting with water; and he spoke to them about what water means to them – how they use it, their joys and their concerns.   Sponsored by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Taco visited at least one country in each of continents.  In the interview, Taco has given us some fascinating insight into the project and I urge you to read it.  In the meantime, for this Poetry Friday post, I want to share with you an unexpected aspect of the project:

In the book, as well as quotations from children about water, there are some poems typed over some of the photos. Can you tell us about them?

A little while ago, I read somewhere that an emotion hits the brain a thousand times faster than a word or a line of text. Photography is nothing but emotion, but regularly I find it hard to relate to the people in the picture. Sometimes it’s just not enough to know what they look like and to understand the situation they are in. I would still very much like to know something personal about them. And this is typically where the text comes in.

As mentioned earlier, we were very keen on recording the language children use to put their ideas, feelings and thoughts into words. That reinforces the message. So we talked extensively with them about their own experiences in their daily lives. Nobody had at that point thought of poems and the like.

Many people, teachers, parents, mayors and so on, attended our conversations and most likely – I can’t remember exactly – one of them suggested adding a poem by a well known poet or the lyrics of a local song. A really great idea. So we did. Together with the children we picked the ones they liked the best. The poems were important to the children. They suggested putting them in the book. So we did.

Isn’t that wonderful?  I love that poetry spontaneously became an integral part of the project.

And Taco has kindly given me permission to share some of his stunning photographs with you.  I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do, and then feel prompted to seek out the book, which has something in it for everyone, children and adults alike. And I should also point out that the text in the book is bilingual English-Spanish (and one of the reasons for that is mentioned in the interview…).

There is actually a pdf of the whole book on the IUCN website, here

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

Poetry Friday: Celebrating World Poetry Day March 21

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

This past Wednesday, March 21 was World Poetry Day as first proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999.  I spent World Poetry Day attending a reading of local poets in my town of Winnipeg put on by the poetry magazine CV2.  Of course, there were various other events occurring all over the world to celebrate the day and one on-line site that caught my eye was YARN.  For World Poetry Day, seven poems were published on the site on the theme of  “Measuring the World, the Geography of Poetry” inspired by the ancient poet Eratosthenes.  Do check out this great site, especially informative for young adult writers and readers! And congratulations to the poets whose work was selected — an international bunch from far-flung places like Israel, Japan, Argentina and Canada.

This week Poetry Friday is hosted by Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

Poetry Friday: interview with Julia Donaldson and her Library Poem

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Julia Donaldson is one of the UK’s most popular children’s authors. As I learned in the new exhibition at at Seven Stories in Newcastle, UK , she started her career writing songs for children’s television – which I must have heard as a child watching Play School. In 1993, one of those songs was made into a book, A Squash and A Squeeze, and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, so beginning a partnership that has become renowned the world over, thanks especially to their book The Gruffalo.  Other illustrators who have worked with Julia include Karen George, Emily Gravett, Lydia Monks, David Roberts and Nick Sharratt.  Indeed, since 1993, Julia has written over one hundred books and plays for children and teenagers.

Last year, Julia became the UK’s Children’s Laureate. This year, there is the exhibition about her, her work and some of her illustrators and I not only had the good fortune to be there for yesterday’s opening, but also the privilege of a quick interview (you can read my post about the whole day here).  I had time for just three questions…

First of all I asked about the background to her book The Magic Paintbrush, which I wrote a post about  going on five (gulp) years ago… Rereading that post, yes, it’s still a favorite, which is why it wasn’t the book I took with me to ask Julia to sign: I didn’t have time to go through all the various piles of books in my boys’ rooms to find it!   The Magic Paintbrush is the retelling in verse of a Chinese legend in which the heroine Shen helps her fellow villagers with food and essentials thanks to a magic paintbrush given to her by a mysterious gentleman: but things get dangerous for Shen when the Emperor finds out about the magic paintbrush and wants it for himself…

So, about the book’s background, Julia told me that a friend of hers had been running a multicultural project in Stirling, Scotland, with local women from different countries telling traditional stories from their cultures. One woman told the story of The Magic Paintbrush. After hearing the story, Julia originally envisaged writing it as a play, and in fact, often uses the book during school visits as there’s plenty of scope for getting a whole class involved in acting out the story, with Julia herself playing  Shen and the teacher as the Wicked Emperor! And it’s also a great vehicle for Julia to pass on her passion for language as she invites children to come up with objects for Shen to paint and thereby make real – as long as they have two syllables to fit the rhythm of the original verse. Interestingly, Julia also acted The Magic Paintbrush out with children last year at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to promote two resource packs for schools produced by Amnesty International (you can read an article she wrote about it; and find Amnesty’s resources here – they include a lesson based around the wonderful We Are All Born Free…).

The Magic Paintbrush became a picture-book rather than a play – but it still had a bumpy path to publication. The original publisher who’d suggested it as a picture book then rejected it because what Julia had written was too long and detailed and “too much of a ballad”. In fact, this is one of the things Julia actually likes about it: that it is a fusion of its Chinese origins and the old English ballad. However, fortunately for us, Macmillan took it on, and Julia was delighted with their choice of Joel Stewart to do the illustrations. I agree, and it is a real treat to see some of his fine watercolour originals in the Seven Stories exhibition.

When I suggested that The Magic Paintbrush was different to her other books in that she didn’t invent the original story, I stood corrected: Julia’s original inspiration for The Gruffalo was the Chinese trickster tale about a tiger and a little girl. That was the starting point anyway although the little girl became a mouse and Julia expanded the story, and changed the setting – and of course, invented the Gruffalo, who changed her life. I later learned in the exhibition that Julia nearly gave up on writing The Gruffalo and we have her son to thank for saying he liked it and she had to finish it – phew!

I also asked Julia about the songs that go with so many of her picture books. It’s the words that come first, she said; and while writing the song, she may have to change the words slightly from the book to make them fit. She thinks about what kind of music will suit each book – so, for example, she was thinking of Bright Eyes when she composed the bits where the mother dinosaur speaks in the song for Tyrannosaurus Drip, a story about a little duckbill dinosaur that hatches out in a Tyrannosaurus nest by mistake, gets himself to the other side of the river to be with the other duckbills, and turns out to be a lot braver than his scary big sisters think – you can watch Julia performing it with her husband Malcolm here. I think it’s quite funny that Julia was inspired by a song about rabbits for hers about dinosaurs – what would the rabbits say! And now she’s working on a calypso song for her recent book Jack and the Flumflum Tree

As Children’s Laureate, Julia has been a key figure in the campaign against library closures and cuts in the UK. It just so happened that yesterday statistics pointing at falling standards of literacy hit the headlines, so I asked Julia what her reaction was, in relation to our libraries. After expressing her concern about reading too much into a set of statistics, she pointed out that nevertheless any measures for getting children reading are welcome –  “but let’s not forget we have this fabulous resource – libraries!” She then counted off some of the fantastic programs available through libraries for enhancing literacy and getting children enjoying books: the Rhymetime sessions set up by Book Trust’s BookStart program; the equivalent Bookbug sessions organised through Scottish Book Trust (and Julia recently became Bookbug’s patron); the Summer Reading Challenge (yes, my boys have loved that every year).  So closing down libraries? “For me it’s madness, if we’re worried about literacy.  You can’t just ram a book down a child’s throat.  A library is where you decide what you like.  For goodness’ sake, we should be hanging onto our libraries. ”

And another “fantastic” way to enhance literacy, Julia says, is for children to read playlets together – and it so happens that she’s working on a book of 36 playlets at the moment. Now that will be a treat in store. And I have a real treat for you now too, because Julia gave me permission to reproduce the poem she wrote for the UK’s National Libraries Day in February this year in celebration of libraries and as a prod against library cuts. Here it is:

Library Poem

Everyone is welcome to walk through the door.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.
There are books in boxes and books on shelves.
They’re free for you to borrow, so help yourselves.

Come and meet your heroes, old and new,
From William the Conqueror to Winnie the Pooh.
You can look into the Mirror or read The Times,
Or bring along a toddler to chant some rhymes.

The librarian’s a friend who loves to lend,
So see if there’s a book that she can recommend.
Read that book, and if you’re bitten
You can borrow all the other ones the author’s written.

Are you into battles or biography?
Are you keen on gerbils or geography?
Gardening or ghosts? Sharks or science fiction?
There’s something here for everyone, whatever your addiction.

There are students revising, deep in concentration,
And school kids doing projects, finding inspiration.
Over in the corner there’s a table with seating,
So come along and join in the Book Club meeting.

Yes, come to the library! Browse and borrow,
And help make sure it’ll still be here tomorrow.

Julia Donaldson, February 2012

Thank you, Julia. It was such a pleasure to meet you and I so enjoyed talking to you.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Gregory at GottaBook – head on over…

Poetry Friday: Be Not Defeated by the Rain — Poetry for Tsunami Survivors of 3/11

Friday, March 9th, 2012

March 11 marks the first year anniversary of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan.  One event that will commemorate the disaster as well as raise funds for ongoing work in the area for teenagers particularly,  is the launching of the Tomo anthology (Stonebridge Press) on March 10.   The Tomo anthology was conceived of by writer Holly Thompson of Japan as a fundraiser for teens in the Tohoku region.  An array of writing was assembled and edited by Thompson, the result of which is a beautiful collection of writing aimed at young adults.  Recently, on the Tomo blog, interviews with some of the writers/translators have been appearing and one such translator is David Sulz, who translated the well known Kenji Miyazawa poem Ame no Mikazu (“Be Not Defeated by the Rain.”) A deceptively simple poem, “Be Not Defeated by the Rain,” is a manifesto of sorts, oddly humble and defiant at the same time.  Its message speaks deeply of a man’s singular determination to overcome the vagaries of nature by being the best he can be to others in his community.   I have loved this poem since I first read it, and it seems an appropriate poem for this anniversary.  I’m glad to see it included in this anthology.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Myra at Gathering Books.



Poetry Friday/Week-end Book Review: Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I’m posting my week-end book review a day early to clock in with Poetry Friday as a couple of days ago I received a review copy of Kate Coombs and Meilo So‘s new book Water Sings Blue, which Kate gave us a glimpse of back in January when her first copies arrived (and if you don’t know Kate’s blog, Book Aunt, it’s well worth a read).  It arrived just in time to squeeze it into our Water in Multicultural Children’s Books theme…

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Dori at Dori Reads…

Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So,
Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
Chronicle Books, 2012.

Ages 4-11

The finely tuned observation in both the poetry and illustrations of Water Sings Blue draws young readers into that world of the shoreline where time just seems to disappear and exploration offers up endless possibilities for discovery.  Kate Coombs’ poems are satisfyingly memorable, with their cohesive patterns of meter and rhyme that, nevertheless, contain plenty of surprises – like, for example, the alliteration and internal rhyming at the end of “Sand’s Story”, in which mighty rocks have turned to sand:

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

… Not to mention the witty pun on “breaker”: and the gentle wit of Coomb’s verse also lights the imagination throughout this collection.

Turning the pages, readers encounter a vast array of sea characters, starting in the air with the seagull; then listening to “What the Waves Say” before diving down to meet the creatures of the deep: like the shy octopus author (think ink…), or the beautiful but self-absorbed fish whose tail and fins act as brushes, and who concludes his/her soliloquy with the wonderfully evocative: “I’m a water artist. / You wouldn’t understand.”  As well as creatures like sharks and jellyfish, there are poems about fascinating, less well-known fish – “Oarfish”, “Gulper Eel” and “Nudibranch”: they could become a follow-up project by themselves!  There’s also a deep-sea shipwreck, and back on the sea shore, a gnarled “Old Driftwood” telling stories “to all the attentive / astonished twigs”, and a property agent hermit crab with a salesman’s patter.

Bringing all the poems together in a visual feast are Meilo So’s gorgeous watercolors.  As well as her depiction of jewel-colored corals and waves in every shade of blue imaginable, her illustrations are clearly also influenced by direct observation of the shoreline around her Shetland Isle home, from fishermen’s cottages to diving gannets.

Just like in real beachcombing, young readers will lose track of time as they pore over So’s seashores for what they can find.

Water Sings Blue would be the perfect picture book to bring on a trip to the beach, wherever in the world that happened to be; and if young readers can’t wait for that, it will take them there immediately in their imaginations.

And just a reminder that the count-down to World Read Aloud Day on 7th March has more than begun.  LitWorld are aiming for 1,000,000 participants this year, so do register with them and tell all your friends about it too.  It’s a win-win-win situation – somebody gets to read, somebody gets to enjoy being read to, and everyone raises their voices together to support global literacy goals of every child’s right to education…  And if you’re spreading the word on Twitter, the hashtag is #readaloud – use it to link in to the ever-widening community of WRAD supporters, and connect with LitWorld at @litworldsays.