Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

A Fan Letter to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

March 26, 2013 @ 6:34 pm | Filed under: , , , , ,

Book cover: Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley.

Dear Amy,

My name is Rilla. I am 6. Mommy read Forest Has a Song to me. I think that It Is really pretty poetry and i also think that deer are pretty too. I really love nature. And deer are one of my favorite animals and it said a lot about deer. In the picture of the fiddlehead ferns, I really like the pattern of the colors. And the fossil looks so realistic. When I grow up i want to be an illustrator like Robbin Gourley. And also, i love the Spider poem and the Dusk poem. I love the never-tangling dangling spinner part. And I love baby animals. They’re so cute and fluffy when they’re birds at least.

One of my favorites is “Farewell.” How it says “I am Forest.”


(Doggone spellcheck. She made me correct all her invented spellings—the red dots under her words tipped her off. Then again, “rhille priddy powatre” might have been hard for you to parse. Also, of course, recognizing that a word just looks wrong is a big step toward learning to spell and I can’t very well stand in the way of that progress just because the invented stuff is adorable.)

As for the book, I wholeheartedly agree with Rilla’s review. What a gorgeous, gorgeous volume. The poems sometimes wistful, sometimes whimsical, always lyrical. Beautiful for reading aloud, full of delicious internal rhyme and alliteration. And infectious: I predict a lot of original nature poetry in our future. This collection begs you to take a fresh look at the world around you and see the magic of the curled fern frond, the mushroom spore. Of course I’ve been a fan of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s work for years.

I can’t imagine a more perfect pairing for Amy’s poems than Robbin Gourley’s art. Lush watercolors, rich and soft. I kept coming across pages I’d like prints of. Actually, this is exactly the kind of book where you want a second copy for cutting up and framing. (If you can bear to. I always think I’d like to do that, but the one time I actually bought a spare copy for this purpose—Miss Rumphius—I couldn’t, in the end, bring myself to dismantle it.)

Beanie’s favorite poem was “Forest News”—

I stop to read
the Forest News
in mud or fallen snow.
Articles are printed
by critters on the go…

—which she loved for its intriguing animal-tracks descriptions, its sense of fun, and its kinship with her favorite Robert Frost poem, “A Patch of Old Snow.” (“It is speckled with grime as if / Small print overspread it, / The news of a day I’ve forgotten — / If I ever read it,” writes Frost, perusing a somewhat more somber edition of the woodsy chronicle.)

Wonderboy’s favorite was the puffball poem, and he later wrote (in his customary stream-of-consciousness style) this string of impressions the book made on him: “dead branch  warning and woodpecker too  dusk  burrow in a burrow chickadee sit on my hand  and come fly here”…

Truly beautiful work, Amy and Robbin.

Related post: The Poem House

hist whist

June 29, 2012 @ 6:17 pm | Filed under: , ,

A Child's Garden of VersesWhen the big ones were little, we got the Child’s Garden of Songs CD (like every other Charlotte Masonish homeschooler in the country), and oh how those small girls of mine adored it. For years it was their most frequently requested music, especially at bedtime–especially in summer. 😉 We got the beloved Tasha Tudor-illustrated picture-book-sized edition of Child’s Garden of Verses, too, of course: another CM requisite. My girls liked the book well enough, but it was the CD they cherished, and it’s the CD they still recall with affection, and hum around the house from time to time. Those lovely Celtic-flavored melodies got into my blood, too; that’s the kind of music I love best; it stirs my heart, gives me the shivers.

Now and then I’ll realize suddenly that there are these books and songs that meant the world to us ten, twelve years ago (Amazon informs me I purchased the Tasha Tudor book on April 14, 2000—six years to the day before Rilla was born; gosh, even before Beanie was born; and now I’m a little whelmed by the thought that in some respects, Amazon has a better record of my family history than I do)—important to us years ago, I was saying, but my younger trio don’t know them at all. It happened with Miss Rumphius (heresy!) and it happened with Child’s Garden of Songs.

I realized this a week or two ago and tracked down the CD, and we’ve listened to it every couple of days since. Rilla and Wonderboy are as enchanted by its melodies as their big sisters were. Huck remains somewhat indifferent, but then there aren’t any songs about trucks, are there?

The large book with the Tasha Tudor illustrations has failed to jump out from any of the shelves on which I’d expect it to be residing. All I found was the little Dover paperback edition, print only, no pictures; but Rilla doesn’t care. She sprawled on my bed today, frantically hunting each of the poems during the opening measures of its corresponding song on the CD—pause, Mommy, I can’t find it! oh here it is—and then calmly, almost serenely, singing along, kicking her feet, looking up to identify various instruments in the musical arrangement. Guitar, piano, violin, a fluty thing, those little round things you wear on your fingers, more violin, maracas. It was supposed to be my quiet reading time but I gave up on my book and watched her instead. It was a fancy dress day; she likes her sash tied in a fastidious bow, but she scorns anything that binds or tames her hair. The ragged locks fell over her face as she peered down at the book. Amazon says I purchased the Garden of Songs CD on July 19, 2002. Jane was seven that June. You know, last week.

hist whistThe other book Rilla wanted today—wanted fiercely, rejecting my offer of the next Brambly Hedge story—was hist whist, the little paperback picture book that is an e.e. cummings poem set to pictures. Beautiful, haunting, Halloweenish paintings by Deborah Kogan Ray, whose bibliography I must remember to look up. Her work here is exquisite. If I had a second copy, I’d take it apart and hang up the pictures each October. I don’t have to look to Amazon for a record of how this one came to us; it’s a Dragonfly Book, which means I probably picked it up on the giveaway table when I worked at Random House/Knopf. Scott and I have loved this book forever. The language of the poem is marvelously rich, cummings at his best:

little hoppy happy
toads in tweeds
little itchy mousies
with scuttling
eyes    rustle and run     and

You can see why Rilla asked for it five times in a row this afternoon. Five times. I had to smile: yesterday when I added it to our bookstack, she was disgruntled, didn’t think she’d like it. I just began reading it aloud, as if to myself, and by page three she had clambered up beside me and was rapt.

For our family, more than anything else it may be books that serve as our links to years past, our bridges back to the selves we were some time ago. Music, yes, especially for Scott, and for me the 80s tunes of my teens, or certain songs from the Bruce Springsteen mix tape Scott made for me that first summer after we started dating, when he was in Connecticut and I was back home in Colorado—but books are more numerous bridges for me. I’ll remember what bed or sofa we were curled up on, reading this novel, that picture book. The bay window in our Virginia house with Favorite Poems Old and New on its sill, behind the little brown table with the three tiny chairs; and out the window, a red cardinal on the bird feeder, bright against the snow. “Read it again!” they’d beg, shouting. “Page 36!”—The Thomas Hood poem they loved, still love, though now Huck, not Wonderboy, is the three-year-old “imp of mirth and joy” it depicts.

hist    whist
little ghostthings

I think perhaps it isn’t only a Halloween poem after all…

* * *

{{Visit Poetry Friday at Paper Tigers}}

Poetry Friday: Sidekicks

March 30, 2012 @ 6:45 pm | Filed under:

Yesterday I linked to a wonderful Billy Collins poem from the Poetry 180 website. That site’s a new discovery for me, but it’s been around a while and I feel like I must be the last poetry lover on the internet to learn about it. Just in case I’m wrong and you’ve missed it as well, here’s the link.

“The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.”

We enjoyed the second poem today: “Sidekicks” by Ronald Koertge. Sparked a good discussion, and then we had to go look up all the cowboy-film sidekicks mentioned in the poem. I knew Gabby and Pancho, but wasn’t sure about Andy or Pat. The latter turned out to be Pat Buttram, who rode with Gene Autry. Here they are on YouTube (embedding’s disabled on the clip so I can’t post it here).

Gabby or Pat, Pancho or Andy remind us of a part
of ourselves,

the dependent part that can never grow up,
the part that is painfully eager to please,
always wants a hug and never gets enough…

I’m late to the party tonight, but here’s the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted this week by my juicy little universe.

I know Poetry Friday isn’t until tomorrow, but these are the poems we read today.

March 29, 2012 @ 4:08 pm | Filed under:

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive…

(Read the rest.)

Because You Asked about the line between Prose and Poetry
by Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow

(Read the rest.)


Other booknotes: Tale of Tom Kitten; Odyssey for Children (Beanie); 1984 (Jane). Rose read a stack of Seuss to Huck.

“He imitates the world he drove away…”

July 6, 2011 @ 4:23 pm | Filed under: ,

I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”

“You mean right away?”


I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.

I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.

His poems move and shiver me, too—

All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?

I know that mockingbird.

I know that bat, too.

Related post: Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat

Speaking of Robert Pinsky

August 31, 2009 @ 8:10 am | Filed under:

I got to chauffeur him once. He gave a reading at UNC-Greensboro while I was an MFA student there—this would have been around 1992—and as poetry editor of The Greensboro Review it was one of my jobs to help get our visiting authors from place to place. In this case I was asked to pick Mr. Pinsky up at the Charlotte airport (I think it was Charlotte—it was about an hour away, I remember that) and drive him up to Greensboro for the reading. My classmate David Scott (now married to our fellow classmate, author Julianna Baggott, aka N. E. Bode of The Anybodies fame) came along for the ride. We picked Mr. Pinsky up on schedule and for once in my life, there were no misadventures of any kind on the trip.

(But— “Not in your car,” Scott is saying over my shoulder. “Tell me you didn’t take your car.”

Oh yes we did: my fabulous silver 1981 Isuzu Imark with the blue grafitti on the door. The one with no air conditioning. The poet’s Cadillac!)

Mr. Pinsky was warm and kind and voiced no complaints about the unluxurious mode of transport. I remember we spent most of the drive talking about gardening—at one point I told him about my habit of planting imaginary gardens in the places I passed around town, thinking out what I’d plant there if this or that bit of earth were mine, and he said that sounded to him like the making of a poem. Later, I tried to write that poem but it turned into something quite different—became a sort of comic sketch involving an elderly woman planting watermelons on the grounds of her church.

Now, looking back, I think the real poem lies somewhere in that car ride: the shabby silver car speeding past the kudzu and pine; the moist Carolina heat; the esteemed poet discreetly unsticking his skin from the cracked red vinyl of the seat; the young students of poetry hoping not to bore; the imagined gardens that never grew even in a poem…there’s something there. Robert Pinsky could find it, I’m sure.

I Have Too Many Tabs Open

June 13, 2009 @ 11:57 am | Filed under:

I’m kind of quarantined at the moment. The baby and Rilla seem to be more or less over the nasty little bug we’ve been passing around, but it appears to find my company irresistible and invited its nasty little friends over for a keg party in my immune system last night. I woke up at 4 a.m. with a fever and honest-to-goodness chills, the kind that make your teeth chatter. Fun!

So Scott’s doing Saturday morning cartoons with the rest of the gang, and the baby just crashed on my lap (he’s the one who gave me this blasted virus, so no quarantining needed), and my book is way on the other side of the room, and my foot is falling asleep. Hang on, now my other foot is falling asleep. This is a serious situation. Must take mind off physical misery. Twitter, what have you got for me?

Ahh, sweet distraction. First there’s Liz B tweeting a teaser about her latest post, a link-rich discussion of her frustration with parents who “treat reading like a race,” pushing their kids to read too early, or to read “more challenging” books. Hear hear! Couldn’t agree more. I recall, long ago, when Jane was a baby, watching a visiting 4-year-old explore our bookshelves, which were even then loaded with picture book treasures. I’d worked at a children’s bookstore during grad school and pretty much converted my paycheck into books every two weeks. The little girl was a precocious reader, already gulping down chapter books on her own, but she was having a fine old time with our picture-book stash when her mother noticed and steered her away from the picture books toward, and I quote, “something more challenging.” The little girl was crestfallen, and I found myself quickly jumping in to point out to her mom that actually the reading level in picture books is often more sophisticated than in young chapter books, since, after all, picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child. This satisfied the mother’s concerns and she allowed her daughter to finish the book she’d begun, but I felt intensely dissatisfied by the exchange. “Sophisticated reading level” wasn’t the point at all. The point was that a four-year-old child wanted to read a picture book—four! she was only four!—and she was being given a message that reading purely for pleasure was beneath her. Why must she only read things that “challenge” her? What’s wrong with reading for fun? Well, I was very new to mothering myself at that point, and I didn’t know how to carry the conversation further without offending the mother. I’m much mouthier now, I suppose.

Liz also led me to a Roger Sutton post on a topic much discussed of late, the difference between professional film and literary criticism and the kind of reviews, responses, and recommendations now so abundant on blogs. Roger quotes a New York Times article about online movie-review aggregators and the shrinking numbers of in-print film reviews, and he wonders whether “Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners—that’s what will kill criticism from wherever its source.” Looks like a good discussion (among folks who both talk and listen) is shaping up in the comments there.

The Times piece led me to a Roger Ebert post about a YouTube poetry clip that was pulled because of nudity in an accompanying image. (The clip was later restored to the site, image intact.) I clicked through to listen to the poem, “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Sri Lankan poet Michael Ondaatje, and was fairly blown away both by the poem (beautiful in a kind of Song of Solomon way—please vet this before sharing with kids) and the voice of the reader, who calls himself (on YouTube) Tom O’Bedlam. I’ll be revisiting the SpokenVerse channel for sure.

Somewhere along the line the Times article led me, with a stop or two in between, to the Magazine Death Pool. Anyone feeling depressed about the disappearance of print media should probably avoid this link. (You know who you are.) “More than 525 US magazines ceased publication in 2008, and 40 have already folded in 2009 as the downturn in the economy continues to heavily impact most forms of print media, according to” That quote is from February, and the site chronicles the demise of several more magazines since then. Yow.

Then again, I’ve let almost all of my own magazine subscriptions lapse in the past couple of years. The girls still get a bunch of good ones, gifts from Scott’s parents—Muse, Odyssey, Ask, Ranger Rick, My Big Backyard.