Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti

Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami,
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Tara Books, 2011.

Ages: 8+

The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages.  As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird.  From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text.  The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:

I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]

The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry.  Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.

This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008).  Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical.  He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout.  The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page.  The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book.  In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book.  If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Robyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl – head on over.

12 Responses to “Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti”

  1. Liz Steinglass Says:

    This sounds so intriguing. I definitely want to see it. I think you’re right. It’s hard to imaging giving it away.

  2. jama Says:

    Thanks for featuring this, Marjorie! I’m definitely intrigued and curious to see it. It’s wonderful to hear that beautiful books like these, which have to be held and seen in person to be fully appreciated, are still being published in this eBook age.

  3. Linda Baie Says:

    This sounds wonderfully creative, Marjorie, & a challenge in reading for some students. I will definitely see if I can find it! Thank you!

  4. Laura Shovan Says:

    Oooh, Marjorie, this looks like so much fun. I enjoy modern re-imaginings of long-ago poems.

  5. Myra from GatheringBooks Says:

    Tara books publishes the most gorgeous books with cutout artwork that begs to be touched. I saw a few of their books (not sure whether this one was published yet at the time) while I was in Mumbai November of last year, and I know what you mean when you say that it’s just ‘stunning.’ This one, I believe, is a must in every poetry-lover’s bookshelf. I shall search for this in our libraries.

  6. Robyn Hood Black Says:

    Can’t wait to get that copy I ordered today because of you, Marjorie! Thanks for sharing. And I have to add, since I’m finally getting around to leaving comments after rounding up all these posts earlier today, that I really enjoy your thoughtful comments on posts. So insightful and articulate!

  7. Heidi Says:

    Wow. I should stop by here more often–you always point me in new and interesting directions! Thanks for the very thorough and appetizing review.

  8. Steve Peterson Says:

    This sounds like an interesting book! I had never heard of it or the poem before. Your ideas about how to use it (other than the most important way — to savor!) look great!


  9. PragmaticMom Says:

    Love learning about poetry books for kids, my personal weakness.

  10. Marjorie Says:

    Thank you, All, for your lovely comments – and I hope you all manage to find the book :-)

  11. Mary Lee Says:

    Looks gorgeous!

  12. Laura Purdie Salas Says:

    I am intrigued! Putting this on my tbr list!