Friday, April 29, 2011

Poems to Pictures

In honor of National Poetry Month, I hosted a poetry workshop entitled Poems to Pictures. Author and poet Ruth Baja Williams read the poems she'd set to a series of watercolors by artist Jane Andrle Gillette, photos of which we're projected for viewing.  Workshop participants then chose from a selection of magazine and postcard pictures set out on a table, and crafted their own poem to picture. The results were stunning. In just 30 minutes, drafts were completed, read aloud, and appreciated. My favorite is Remember the Lake, by George Mason University creative writing student Benjamin Renne.  He chose a magazine photo of Morning, Lake George, an 1871 oil on canvas by A T Bricher.

Morning, Lake George. Oil on canvas by A T Bricher 1871
Remember the Lake
By Benjamin Renne

Remember the lake
That swollen Autumn morning
When you and me and Jack went
Out for a row. We brought
The tackle box and the rods and
A paper bag full of fried egg sandwiches.

Remember the rocks
In the middle of the silent
Pond, frost covered and slick. They
Were the giants and the sirens,
Enticing fantasies and chimeras which
Even brave Ulysses can’t avoid.

Remember the shoreline,
How it seemed so far away
When we were alone, the three
Of us in the middle of the peaceful lake.
The pebble beach, littered with goose
Shit, was far away. So far.

Remember the trees,
Bare of life and slanted
Like an old man with a broken
Back. The birds, which used to
Call those dead trees home, would
Sing to us on that frosty morning.

Remember the sky
And the mountains gray,
Fading into the background, where the
Fog blends everything together
So that the future is masked
With the low clouds, fuzzy and unpredictable.

Remember the car,
The smell of fish
Which permeated the leather seats,
And Jack complained the whole way back.
My boots were wet and stunk still
Of the lake, but I smiled.
Remember the lake?

Other posts on poetry:
April is National Poetry Month
Franz Schubert and Friedrich Rückert: Poetry and Music
Late Wife
When Writing a Poem
MLB, Opening Day

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If You Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, You Might Like These, Too!

Kids love series. If you think about it, so do adults. Whether in books or broadcast, series provide us characters we’ve come to know. We want to see what they’ll do next.

One of the most asked for series by boys currently coming to me in the library is Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. The series began in 2004 as daily posts on The first in book format, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was published in April 2007. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules followed in February 2008; The Last Straw in January 2009; Dog Days in October 2009; and The Ugly Truth in November 2010.

According to Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Website, the first three books were based on the Internet version but, “The print version of the books have improved stories, better drawings, and new surprises for those who have already read the online version.”

Series draw kids from book to book. But as one father said to me, “the challenge comes when the series ends. What do we read next?” Guiding kids to the next series when one is finished, or to a similar series while waiting for one with many holds, is a challenge for librarians, too. To help, I’ve produced my own list -- "If You Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid You Might Also Like …” It includes the series title, series author, and number of books currently in the series. A librarian or book seller can help you identify each individual title in the series. Or, you may want to visit Mid-Continent Public Library’s database of Juvenile Series and Sequels.

Andrew Lost by J. C. Greenburg (36 books)
Andrew and his friends encounter unusual adventures while exploring science.

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky (10 books)
A school principal transforms into superhero Captain Underpants.

Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist by Jim Benton (7 books)
Franny K. Stein’s experiments are meant to improve life at school, but that’s not exactly how it goes.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen (2 books)
A 12-year-old inherits his Grandpa’s riding lawnmower and turns a big business.

Melvin Beederman, Superhero by Greg Trine (8 books)
Crime in Los Angeles has met its match with Melvin Beederman, superhero and snack food lover.

My Weird School by Dan Gutman (21 books)
At Ella Mentry School, the adults are a little weird.

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot by Dav Pilky (6 books)
Ricky is a little mouse with a big Robot, and their adventures span the universe.

Rotten School by R. L. Stine (16 books)
Bernie Bridges always looks for inventive ways to rule at his boarding school.

Shredderman by Wendelin Van Draanen (4 books)
Nolan hides behind his Shredderman identity to fight for justice.

Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka (16 books)
Joe, Fred, and Samantha time-travel throughout history.

Wiley & Grampa’s Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs (10 books)
Wiley and his Grampa face monster tornadoes, vampire trucks, and other horrors.

The Zack Files by Dan Greenburg (30 books)
Zack, his father, and Spencer share zany adventures.

This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s not meant only for boys. Anyone who likes the fun of Diary of a Wimpy Kid might like these, too.  Do you have suggestions for others to add to this list?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Can Save the Ocean!

Who am I to disagree with The Horn Book Magazine! But I do. The reverenced publication of children and teen literature reviews disses Alison Inches picture book I Can Save the Ocean! The Little Green Monster Cleans up the Beach (2010 by Little Simon). The July 1, 2010, review says, "The cartoony illustrations of Max are mildly amusing, but the story is bland and the eco-friendly message is ham-fistedly delivered."

I say rubbish! When Max the little green monster realizes that his habits are contributing to the pollution of the oceans, he determines to change his ways and educate his friends, too. The book presents kids with things they can do to contribute to the care of our environment, and encourages personal responsibility for ones actions. I fail to see any "ham-fisted" delivery or bland story line. And I believe the colorful illustrations are kid friendly. I recommend this book for all library collections -- school, home and private.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Photo by Susan Ujka Larson
 It's Poem in Your Pocket Day, sponsored by The Academy of American Poets as part of National Poetry Month.  Since it is a beautiful day here in the D.C. area, I've chosen Today by Billy Collins as the poem I will carry with me to share.

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't)

With clever humor, Barbara Bottner introduces Miss Brooks and the first grader who is rather bothered by this school librarian's book fervor. "I think Miss Brooks gets a little too excited," she says in Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't). She finds the librarian's enthusiasm so "vexing" that when she gets home, "I ask my mother if we can move to a new town. My mother says there's a librarian in every town." In the end, this stubborn student learns that there are books for even the most discriminating reader. The illustrations by Michael Emberley add to the fun of the story. The book was published in the U.S. in 2010.

It's National Library Week, and each year I like to share a few picture book titles having to do with libraries and librarians. In addition to Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't), here are two others to enjoy.

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
When a lion entered the library, no one knew what to do because, "There weren't any rules about lions in the library." Miss Merriweather, the librarian, decides that the lion can stay if he is quiet. The lion comes daily to volunteer and attend story time. But one day when the lion can't be quiet, because he has a very good reason to roar, he is scolded for breaking the rules. He leaves the library, disgraced, and doesn't return until . . . . Library Lion is a wonderfully written and illustrated picture book published in 2006.

Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw.
Every Saturday Lola and her daddy go to the library and choose books to read throughout the next week. The books she picks influence her play. Lola might be a fairy princess, or a tiger, or pilot. The simple text and bright pictures of this picture book, published in 2010, will appeal to younger readers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Late Wife

Thursday on twitter, January O'Neil (@januaryoneil) shared that she'd posted three new poems on her blog Poet Mom, in response to National Poetry Writing Month (#NaPoWriMo). NaPoWriMo challenges poets to write a poem a day during April, National Poetry Month.

Of O'Neil's three poems, I loved Loser. As I read, I could picture it all, and relate.

"I whisper it under my breath like a little prayer
as we pass through the front door,
you going in, me coming out,
crowding the threshold
in a weird game of chicken.
We both have right of way
but neither is willing to yield.
A heart-skipped beat. A bottled misery.
The word ripples from the underground
spring of the diaphragm where a fissure
has opened once again, the trauma
of old love that never heals.
I brace myself for unavoidable contact,
avert the eyes, move through the stiff air
like a cloud wedged between clouds.
Say it, that mantra of the highest order.
I hold my breath as your windbreaker
brushes against my three-quarter length,
my 100 wool against your polyester blend.
What more is there to do but go through?
L for loser, double L for lost love.
The Motels had it right,
“Take the L out of lover and it’s over,”
because the body gives up what it no longer needs.
This is how I walk through without looking back."

This poem reminded me of another poet. Claudia Emerson won The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006 for her collection titled late wife. I agree with another poet's praise of the collection. Henry Taylor says of late wife, "They [the poems] are deeply absorbing because their author has brilliantly observed brief but powerful moments, and rendered these miracles of observation with secure craftsmanship."

There are many poems in Emerson's collection that I read again and again. They are striking in their realness. Here is Frame.

photo by sul
"Most of the things you made for me—armless
rocker, blanket-chest, lap desk--I gave away
to friends who could use them and not be reminded
of the hours lost there, the tedious finishes.

But I did keep the mirror, perhaps because
like all mirrors, most of these years it has been
invisible, part of the wall, or defined
by reflection—safe—because reflection,

after all, does change. I hung it here
in the front, dark hallway of this house you will
never see, so that it might magnify
the meager light, become a lesser, backward

window. No one pauses long before it.
This morning,though, as I put on my coat,
straightened my hair, I saw outside my face
its frame you made for me, admiring for the first

time the way the cherry you cut and planed
yourself had darkened, just as you said it would."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Lady of Shalott

Reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy when I was 17 -- The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment -- sparked my interest in Arthurian legend. Years later I encountered Anne Shirley, the fictional character in Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, reciting stanzas of a poem as she floated in a boat down a river. I took those stanzas to my local library, and a generous librarian helped me find their source. The lines are from English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson's (1809 - 1892) ballad The Lady of Shalott.

John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, 1888 (Tate Gallery, London)
The ballad is a masterpiece in poetic storytelling. Tennyson's poem is based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat, a character in the thirteenth-century Italian novella Donna di Scalotta, who dies of her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot, one of the greatest knights in King Arthur's Round Table.

In the first four stanzas of The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson describes the setting.

"On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

"By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

"Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

In stanzas five through eight, Tennyson describes the Lady's life.

"There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

"And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

"Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

"But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott."

Stanzas nine through 12 tell of Sir Lancelot.

"A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

"The gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazoned baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

"All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

"His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

In the last seven stanzas, Tennyson tells the effect seeing Sir Lancelot has on the Lady of Shalott.

"She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott."

"In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

"And down the river's dim expanse,
Like some bold seër in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Through the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott is one of my favorite poems. The beauty of the language ("Willows whiten, aspens quiver") enthralls me, and the sadness of the story enchants me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Franz Schubert and Friedrich Rückert: Poetry and Music

Franz Schubert received his death sentence in 1823. Already the love of his life, Therese Grod, had married another. His father had banished him from home. And his finances were in ruin. Now he was diagnosed with syphilis. In the 19th century, that was a death sentence.

A year earlier, well-known German poet Friedrich Rückert had published a collection of poetry by the title Ostliche Rosen (Eastern Rose). It is possible that Schubert read this book. One of the poems therein, Du bist die Ruh became the text for his lied (song) by the same name.

You are the rest,
The gentle peace,
You are the longing
And what it quiets.

I dedicate to you
Full of pleasure and pain
As a dwelling here
My eyes and heart.

Come to me,
And close
Quietly behind you
The gates.

Drive other pain
Out of this breast!
Full may be this heart
Of your joy.

This temple of my eyes,
By your radiance
Alone is brightened,
Oh fill it completely!

Schubert’s musical interpretation of Du bist die Ruh, here sung by Soprano Sylvia Schwartz, captures the passionate longing of the poet’s words. Considering the struggles of Schubert’s life at the time of its composition, the music seems to reflect the composer’s own heartfelt desires for life and love.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Bulldog's Face

This is Elle. She is the beloved pet of my friend Lydia. I'm honoring them with this poem for National Poetry Month.  The poem is written about a male dog.  My apologies, Elle, but I don't believe I can take liberties to change the poet's "his" to "hers".

A Bulldog's Face
Nothing on a bulldog's face
Seems to have a proper place
His eyelids droop
His jaws are square
His jowls are beyond compare
His nose looks like he's had a fight
He's got a great big underbite
You look at him and have to hoot
He's so ugly that he's cute
by Marilyn Singer

The poem is included in the book Read A Rhyme, Write A Rhyme, a selection of poems for kids by Jack Prelutsky, the Poetry Foundation's first Children's Poet Laureate (2006). The book is illustrated by Meilo So.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April is National Poetry Month

I'm trying to understand what it is about poetry that excites me. Each year I make a big deal of National Poetry Month at whichever library I happen to be working. Yet, there are many poems that I do not understand. So what is it about poetry that I like?

I began thinking about this as I planned blog posts, tweets, displays and programs for National Poetry Month 2011. When I read the poems that I consider favorites, I see that it's the art of the words that I love. In poetry, words are carefully chosen and strategically arranged to produce a sight, a sound, a smell, a feel, a memory. Following are examples, a few of my favorite poetic lines.

"...sensing only the pale humidity
of the night and the slight zephyrs
that stir the tops of the trees"
from Night Letter to the Reader by Billy Collins.

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot."
from The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

"He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake."
from Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Recently someone suggested to me that the written word is an impersonal form of communication compared with face-to-face conversation. I see it differently. I'm a writer and a reader, and words are the most intimate, most lovely, most heartfelt form of communication. This is what I like about poetry: The precisely chosen beautiful words and the pictures they paint.