• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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National Poetry Month 2013

I haven’t written a National Poetry Month post in a good long time, not since 2010, though poetry is still an important part of our lives, both reading and learning by heart (the kids all recited poetry for the music festival last month, and did wonderfully). What follows is pretty much a re-run of 2010’s post, with a few changes — some bits and pieces from some of previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Jessica Helfand and featuring the line, “Write about your sorrows, you wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful.” from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living. The Academy of American Poets helpfully offers Poems for Every Occasion.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2013:

Stefanie’s post, Celebrating Poetry, at her wonderful blog, So Many Books:

I know I kvetch now and then about how the designation does a disservice to poetry, corralling it into one month as though April is the only month one can bother to notice and read poetry. And while I still hold to that belief, at the same time I also think that if a month-long poetry blitz in schools and libraries touches just one child (or adult) and turns her/him on to poetry and inspires her/him to become a reader of poetry, then the month is worth it.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

Caroline Kennedy has a new children’s poetry book out: Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated with paintings by Jon J. Muth. See below for CK’s other collections.

And don’t forget last year’s anthology, Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman (American children’s poet laureate from 2008-2010), illustrated by Michael Emberley.

The current Cybils children’s poetry book winner is BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon. The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Salas has a free extras for the book here.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2013 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here (where you can also find the current schedule).  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

A few years ago, poet J. Patrick Lewis asked, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library. I have to say, Crayola continues to surprise the heck out of me by doing this every year.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)

Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series; search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires (out of print now but well worth finding)
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video or on television, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning; a travesty that it’s not on dvd
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi; out of print for some crazy reason…

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell; another out of print gem
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh; out of print (try your library)

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

From my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Childrenpoetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive, which includes lots of American poetry and poets too

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcasts

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Poetry in motion, aka, Is that a poem in your pocket…

or are you just happy to see me?

With National Poetry Month up in just a few short weeks, my Google Alerts have been busy. One of the more interesting items:

In New York City, poetry and burlesque are now under one roof, since the owners of the restaurant Duane Park recently moved from Tribeca to the Bowery Poetry Club’s space. And fine dining, too. Something for everyone, indeed.

The menu, which you can see at NY’s Eater blog, features white wine-steamed mussels from Prince Edward Island, rack of lamb, roast organic chicken, and rhubarb crisp. Eminently suitable for Spring.

Since the new Duane Park opened last week, you can enjoy burlesque and jazz Tuesdays through Saturdays. As of March 18th, poetry will be available from Bowery Poetry, in the same venue, on Sundays and Mondays. Duane Park/Bowery Poetry, at 308 Bowery (between Bleecker and Houston Streets), New York.

If you delve behind the paywall, The New York Times has an article here.

As you might know, National Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 18th: “The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.”

According to a Grub Street report last fall, “The arrangement is flexible, so the duo may do poetry dinners together.” Poem in Your Pocket Day seems like a dandy occasion for such… flexibility.

*  *  *

The only poems on the subject I know of are

Strip-tease
by Laurence Durrell (1912-1990)

Soft toys that make to seem girls
In cool whitewash with two coral
Valves of lip printing each others’ grease …
A clockwork Cupid’s bow. Increase!
Their cherry-ripe hullo brims the open purse
Of eyes washed white by the marmoreal light;
So swaying as if on pyres they go
About the buried business of the night,
Cold witches of the elementary tease
Balanced on the horn of a supposed desire…
Trees shed their leaves like some of these.

and

Ecdysiast
by Barbara Crooker

This maple tree’s slipped into something
scarlet, which she’ll peel off slowly,
leaf by leaf. Look at her showing
her bare limbs and bark. She knows
that age is just another ring, a thing
she’s happy to accumulate. O tree.
Do you know your buds are in the bank,
already deposited in the securities
of twig and branch? Your red silk
slip, gorgeous on these sheets
of satin blue, will fray and crumple,
turn into rags. Sooner, or later,
we’ll all fall down.

Ecdysiast, of course, is the term H.L. Mencken came up with in 1940 for burlesque dancer Georgia Sothern (up above in the photograph) in response to her request:

Strip-teasing is a formal and rhythmic disrobing of the body in public. In recent years there has been a great deal of uninformed criticism levelled against my profession. Most of it is without foundation and arises because of the unfortunate word strip-teasing, which creates the wrong connotations in the mind of the public. I feel sure that if you could coin a new and more palatable word to describe this art, the objections to it would vanish and I and my colleagues would have easier going. I hope that the science of semantics can find time to help the verbally underprivileged members of my profession. Thank you.

Although burlesque entertained many through the depths of the Great Depression, the late thirties saw a public outcry against indecency, including burlesque shows. In New York, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was elected in part on a reform platform and commitment to “good morals”, and in 1937 he and his license commissioner Paul Moss succeeded in closing down most of the city’s burlesque theaters, for good, a move from which burlesque never recovered. If you’re interested, find a copy of the 1960 book/1968 movie musical (by Norman Lear!) The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Miss Sothern and Gypsy Rose Lee headlined at Minsky’s over the years, and GRL was arrested during raids there (during one, she claimed, “But officer, I wasn’t naked — I was covered by a blue spotlight!”).

Mencken could not resist Miss Sothern’s request and replied,

I need not tell you that I sympathize with you in your affliction, and wish that I could help you. Unfortunately, no really persuasive new name suggests itself. It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way or other to the associated zoological phenomenon of molting. Thus the word moltician comes to mind, but it must be rejected because of its likeness to mortician. A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast.

Unfortunately, a new word couldn’t help burlesque’s future. Although Gypsy Rose Lee was able to get a bit of mileage from it. While Lee, who achieved levels of celebrity Georgia Sothern could only dream of, was billed as “the intellectual stripper”, she complained loudly and mightily about Mencken’s new term, which she said considered a highfalutin’. As she told an interviewer,

Ecdysiast, he calls me! Why, the man is an intellectual slob. He has been reading books. Dictionaries! We don’t wear feathers and molt them off…. What does he know about stripping?

And yet, as Gypsy Rose Lee’s recent biographer Karen Abbott has written, “Gypsy was desperate to be taken seriously as a writer and intellectual. She wrote essays for The New Yorker [three autobiographical pieces in 1943], a play that was produced on Broadway, two novels, and a memoir.”

GRL was married for a few years (1948-1955) to Spanish artist Julio de Diego (1900-1979), who apparently wrote a poem about her toward the end of their relationship, the last lines of which include, “Strangled her to shut off her torrent of verbal abuse.” I did look but couldn’t find the rest of the poem. And I’m nowhere near brave enough to Google Dita von Teese and poetry. Proceed at your own risk.

Poetry

Farm School poetry posts over the years:

National Poetry Month 2010

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of my Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

 

On deck

Next up on the (re)reading list, three books saved from my father’s shelves in the West Indies:

Poems for Gardeners, edited by Germaine Greer (Virago, 2003); I could use some poetry and green growing things in my life right now.

The Semi-Attached Couple & The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden.  I’ve read this several times over the years while visiting my parents, and like it enough to want to give it a home, especially since it’s no longer in print, and I have a weakness for the old Virago Modern Classic covers.  As the late great Noel Perrin wrote in his blurb on the back, “The Semi-Attached Couple is the answer to a good many prayers.  It is the book you go on to when you have run out of Jane Austen’s novels.”

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, which I think my father must have bought because he was a keen fan of her Amanda Cross mysteries.  I still have a way to go before 60, but having to deal with all that my father left undone, or not properly done, has given me quite an education about life’s golden years.  Heilbrun no doubt will be educating as well; the book was published when she was 71, and interestingly Heilbrun had, as she wrote, “long held a determination not to live past ‘three score years and ten”.  Her book, a celebration of that extra time, is especially poignant to read now knowing that she did ultimately commit suicide, in 2003 at the age of 77.  Her son, novelist Robert Heilbrun, explained at the time, “She wanted to control her destiny, and she felt her life was a journey that had concluded.”

Dread-ful children’s poetry

From poet Robert Pinsky’s article in today’s Slate on why “the best poems for kids aren’t the soft and saccharine ones”:

I have heard the superb writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak say that he does not set out to make works for children: He tries to make good stories and pictures. As someone who has read aloud to children many times, I feel grateful to Sendak and to Margaret Wise Brown and Dr. Seuss and other writers who have rescued me from the shallow stuff marketed as “for children” that I sometimes have found myself reading aloud.

and, on Edward Lear, Walter de la Mare, and Robert Louis Stevenson,

All three of these poets do not approach the experiences and interests of childhood with a knowing chuckle or a tidy closure of reassurance. They respect the imagination, including its elements of mystery and dread.

Read the entire piece here.  Very much of a piece with Mr. Pinsky’s 2007 article for Slate, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”.  Today’s article includes pieces by all three poets, some read aloud by Robert Pinsky, who is Slate‘s poetry editor, and the former US Poet Laureate, and who will be joining in the discussion of classic children’s poetry in the comments section this week.  And Slate’s poetry podcast page is here.

*  *  *

Additional Robert Pinsky links:

As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud.

Last year saw the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky.

Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer, and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry” (mentioned above), and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

A laughing sound

That would be me, delighted because Colleen Mondor in her latest Bookslut in Training column recommends as her Cool Read The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf.  Delighted because next month is Laura’s 13th birthday, and the book — a “blend of poetry, field guide and nature notes” — sounds perfect for her.  Colleen, who also blogs at Chasing Ray, writes,

Wolf arranges her entries by season, and includes bird lists, haiku, observations, ruminations, watercolor illustrations and drawings on every page. Essentially, she is inviting the reader into her life, providing a space at her window and her desk. It is a very personal work, for all that it does not share about Wolf’s actual personal life. You are merely seeing what she sees, and perhaps altering your own conclusions about art and nature through her influence. Teen readers who might be wary of their own creativity, and are reticent to face the blank page, will find a sympathetic fellow artist here — someone who uses the barest of brush strokes to capture the creatures she sees. Exquisitely designed by Charlesbridge, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is one of the more elegant books to come across my doorstop in a long time. I hope a lot of young birders and artists and poets find it.

I think the book might be a bit young for Laura but I still think she’d enjoy having it, and she can always use another journal.  There’s another bird book I’d really like to get her, too, and while it shouldn’t be listed at an online bookseller for a decent price, it is.  I’ll post the title if I manage to get my mitts on it*.

The publisher’s page with various links and downloads is here.  Sallie Wolf has a blog and a website (where I learned that much like Davy, as a child Sallie loved Ben Hunt books and wanted to be a Mohawk. Davy wants to be an Iroquois, but why quibble?)

You can find all of Colleen’s warm weather reading titles for your favorite children and young adults in this post, Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy.

* Apparently the book is still in stock and winging its way to me:  the hardcover edition of Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, for $10.11 CAN, much cheaper and sturdier than the paperback edition coming out in March.  And for some reason the copies at Amazon.ca are  $26.92 and $39.57 — odd.

National Poetry Month 2010

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Canadian artist (and recent TEDTalk 2010 speaker) Marian Bantjes.

Here are some bits and pieces from some of my previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2010:

The CD “Poetic License”, featuring 100 poems read by 100 performers, comes out April 2, in time for National Poetry Month.  It’s the first project from the new label GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, and Richard Cohen), which will record and distribute Broadway, classical, spoken word, and children’s music.  Poems and performers on the new CD include Louis Zorich with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, Michael York with Kipling’s “Tommy”, and Barbara Feldon with Margaret Atwood’s “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep”.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his second annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

This year’s Cybils children’s poetry book winner is Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky; winner too of a 2010 Caldecott Honor award.  The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Sidman has a free online reader’s guide to the book for students in grades 1-4 here.

Poet J. Patrick Lewis asked last month, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2010 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here.  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)
Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series. Search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

New from my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children: poetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Poetry Friday III, or Poetry Saturday I

I had an email from my new friend, poet J. Patrick Lewis asking, with even more kind ruffles and flourishes, if I’d post the following poem he wrote in time for tomorrow, Saturday, April 4, School Librarian Day.  I said certainly, after stopping to wonder which comedian gave the poor school librarians a Saturday instead of a school day, where they could be properly fêted and appreciated.  I have a keen appreciation for school librarians, especially dear old Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Van Zandt in high school, because I spent so much of my free time between classes in the library.  And I have to admit to feeling lucky that my days were the pre-electronic ones.

Whether your child’s school librarian is Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Van Zandt, one of the wonderful blogging school librarians in the kidlitosphere, or you as the home educating parent, you couldn’t ask for finer thanks come Monday morning than a copy of Pat’s poem and this nifty certificate, colored by an appreciative student.

So, without further ado, here is

The School Librarian
by J. Patrick Lewis

A sign hangs on her door,
BOOKLYN, NEW YORK                   [sic]
WE OPEN UP A MIND
YOU’LL NEVER CLOSE!
When you walk in, the whole library knows—
A welcome bell hums like a tuning fork.
She’ll tell you what to read and what to skip.
You name a book, she heads right to the shelf.
The rumor is she’s read them all herself.
No one has ever run a tighter ship.
These days a job like hers is electronic
Because computers answer every need.
Librarians belong to a new breed.
But here at Booklyn, isn’t it ironic?
She still treats books like they are dreams come true.
And you had better treat them that way, too.

Poetry Friday II: More on the case for memorizing

It never fails.  Just as I press “publish” and even add a few quick edits to my Poetry Friday post this morning, I stumble across something new on the same subject.  I was delighted to see in today’s sneak peak of The New York Times Sunday Book Review Jim Holt’s essay on the case for memorizing poetry.  Here’s a bit,

A few years ago, I started learning poetry by heart on a daily basis. I’ve now memorized about a hundred poems, some of them quite long — more than 2,000 lines in all, not including limericks and Bob Dylan lyrics. I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands — just another guy on an invisible cellphone.

This may seem eccentric, not to say masochistic. If you are a baby boomer like me (or older), your high school English teacher probably forced you to learn some poetry by heart for class recitation. How we howled in protest! What was the point of memorizing Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” sonnet or — in Middle English, no less! — the first 18 lines of “The Canterbury Tales”? Our teacher could never answer this question to our satisfaction; the best she could do was some drivel about our feeling “culturally confident.” But memorize them we did, in big painful chunks, by rote repetition. (There is torture lurking in the very word “rote,” which is conjectured to come from the Latin rota, meaning “wheel.”) …

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in. If you don’t have one left over from your college days, any good bookstore, new or used, will offer an embarrassment of choices for a few bucks — Oxford, Penguin, Norton, etc. Or you might try Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, edited by the former United States poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday: Festival entries

Happy first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month 2009!

To celebrate the occasion, and also how well the kids did this week at the Music/Speech Arts festival, I have a selection of the poems they recited.  Davy (age eight) recited “Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog” and “The Brook in February” by Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts (one of his sister’s selections when she was eight); Daniel (almost 10) recited “Every Time I Climb a Tree” by one of his favorite poets, David McCord, and also “A Mosquito in the Cabin” by Canadian poet Myra Stilborn; and Laura (age 11-1/2) recited “Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion”, one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales as well as Lewis Carroll’s “Father William”.

If you have a local music, speech arts, or performing arts festival in your town or city, or somewhere nearby, I strongly suggest having your children enter. Not only is learning poetry by heart worthwhile — it’s good exercise for the memory muscle and gives you a good way of entertaining friends and family (Tom’s great uncle, now 92, can still wow a crowd with his dramatic renditions of “Casey at the Bat” and other classics) — but reciting poetry, and listening to it, is one of the best ways to appreciate what really is a spoken art.  Much like Shakespeare’s words, poetry is best off the printed page.  If you need more convincing, read this or go to the post directly above this one.  And most festivals are teaching festivals with adjudicators who are professionals — speech teachers, singers, and such — offering useful critiques to improve understanding and recitations.  Plus it’s a bang-up way to spend a morning or an afternoon.  I still remember the thrill of listening to a friend’s 17-year-old daughter’s stirring presentation of “The Highwayman” .

Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog
by Judith Viorst (b. 1931)

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they smell,
And never sit when you say sit,
Or even when you yell.
And when you come home late at night
And there is ice and snow,
You have to go back out because
The dumb dog has to go.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they shed,
And always let the strangers in
And bark at friends instead,
And do disgraceful things on rugs,
And track mud on the floor,
And flop upon your bed at night
And snore their doggy snore.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
She’s making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake.

A Mosquito in the Cabin
by Myra Stilborn (b. 1916)

Although you bash her,
swat her, smash her,
and go to bed victorious,
happy and glorious
she will come winging,
zooming and zinging,
wickedly singing
over your bed.
You slap the air
but she’s in your hair
cackling with laughter.
You smack your head,
but she isn’t dead —
she’s on the rafter.
She’s out for blood —
yours, my friend,
and she will get it, in the end.
She brings it first to boiling point,
then lets it steam.
With a fee, fi, fo and contented fum
she sips it
while you dream.

Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion
by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo —
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

You know — or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so —
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

He hadn’t gone a yard when — Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.

Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.

No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name),
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown,
“Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say: —
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, “Well — it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

*  *  *  *

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by children’s librarian Amy Planchak Graves at ayuddah.net. Thank you, Amy!

By the way, don’t miss Sherry’s National Poetry Month round-up at her blog Semicolon.

Happy National Poetry month!

Begin your month of poetry over at GottaBook with Gregory K. and his 30 Poets / 30 Days celebration.  Today’s poet is America’s first children’s laureate Jack Prelutsky with “A Little Poem For Poetry Month“.

Today is also the official kick-off of poet Robert Pinsky’s Poems Out Loud blog.  Unofficially, Mr. Pinsky’s been blogging since Monday.

Updated to add: Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect reminded me in the comments below that this month she’ll have at least one interview with a poet everyday.  The celebration begins today with Kenn Nesbitt; you can find the entire schedule here.

……….

Like Mr. Pinsky, our family couldn’t wait until today to start celebrating.  Our festivities began on Monday with the start of the local speech arts/music festival, with Davy, Daniel, and Laura each reciting two poems (Laura also gave her 4H speech and did a sacred reading of a traditional Mohawk poem).  The kids each won their classes, and Davy and Laura took the home awards for their categories.  They all also did very well in the vocal sections (traditional folk songs and musical theater), winning three awards.  Very, very well done all round and Tom and I are proud; Laura has her last performance this afternoon, in piano.  I was especially happy not with the awards but to see how much the kids had learned.  Laura had had a fairly dismal time with her speech in February at 4H public speaking day, because she was sick with the flu; she had just about given up on her speech as any good or her ability to deliver it, when her performance on Monday and the adjudicator’s comments restored Laura’s confidence.  Davy’s voice teacher got the last two pages of his music out of order while accompanying him on the piano, and Davy stayed calm and just waited while the teacher tinkled away, starting to sing again when the music finally sounded familiar. Daniel didn’t let the fact that he was in two tough categories (against his older sister in one) stop him from doing his best. We’re proud and pleased.

In other late March, early April news, the snow is still here but it is melting and the days are above freezing.  The geese and the crows are coming back, and the gophers are coming out. The organic farming recertification paperwork pile has been filled out and returned. We have seven sweet calves, with 20 more to come. Our first cow to calve should have been the last, with a premature, stillborn calf (she may have slipped on the ice and fallen, or another cow did so and fell against her); so at the kids’ request, we’ve started milking her.  Yesterday Laura and I made butter and put a pot of milk in the old O’Keefe & Merritt gas oven to make cottage cheese; the pilot light keeps the oven at just the right temperature, just warm enough to start the clabbering.

Unlike Gregory K. and Robert Pinsky, I can’t promise a blog post or a poem, even an old one, for every day of the month, but I’ll post as many poems this month as I can.  Here’s my April Fool’s Day offering, by Ian Serraillier.  As I wrote two years ago with another of his poems, Ian Serraillier (1912-1994) was an English author and poet who wrote often for children. His works are much beloved by many North American home schooling families, more for his retellings of classic tales and legends than for his adventure stories and poetry; some of our favorites are Escape from WarsawBeowulf the Warrior, and The Road to Canterbury.  And so, a fractured fairy tale for a foolish day,

After Ever Happily
(or, The Princess and the Woodcutter)

by Ian Serraillier

And they both lived happily ever after…
The wedding was held in the palace. Laughter
rang to the roof as a loosened rafter
Crashed down and squashed the chamberlain flat–
And how the wedding guests laughed at that!
“You with your horny indelicate hands,
Who drop your haitches and call them ‘ands,
Who cannot afford to buy her a dress,
How dare you presume to pinch our princess–
Miserable woodcutter, uncombed, unwashed!”
Were the chamberlains last words (before he was squashed).
“Take her”, said the Queen, who had a soft spot
For wood cutters. “He’s strong and he’s handsome. Why not?”
“What rot”, said the King, but he dare not object;
The Queen wore the trousers — that’s as you’d expect.
Said the chamberlain, usually meek and inscrutable,
“A princess and a woodcutter? The match is unsuitable.”
Her dog barked its welcome again and again,
As they splashed to the palace through puddles of rain.
And the princess sighed, “Till the end of my life!”
“Darling”, said the woodcutter, “Will you be my wife?”
He knew all his days he could love no other
So he nursed her to health with some help from his mother,
And lifted her horribly hurt, from her tumble.
A woodcutter, watching saw the horse stumble.
As she rode through the woods, a princess in her prime
On a dapple-grey horse…Now, to finish my rhyme,
I’ll start it properly: Once upon a time —

………….

Farm School’s recent round-up of poetry resources, National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and  Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets, where this year’s theme is “Poetry Planet”.

Of course, we wouldn’t need a special month if we lived on a Poetry Planet…

And if we did live on a Poetry Planet, I have no doubt I’d find there my old Poetry Friday and Fib Friend, Gregory K. who blogs at GottaBook and who is planning to announce, on Monday March 23, his monthlong Poetry Party, with new poetry every day of the month and much much more.  For all sorts of wonderful original poetry by Greg, from his poems to his fibs to his very funny Oddaptations, check his sidebar.  UPDATED March 23 to add: Greg’s monthlong poetry party is “30 Poets / 30 Days”, where he’ll be posting a “previously unpublished poem by a different poem” for each day of April.  Check his blog, GottaBook, for details and the list of celebrated contemporary children’s poets.

Greg also has an update on what else is going on in the Kidlitosphere (which now has its own planet, er, website) to celebrate National Poetry Month:

* Sylvia Vardell at her Poetry For Children blog, which has a wealth of information year-round,will be reviewing a new children’s poetry each day for the entire month of April

* Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has some plans up her sleeve for the month too (she’ll be offering some lovely books as prizes), as well as a new blog of political poetry and a long, rich post from early March featuring her updated Resources for National Poetry Month (including some tidbits for teachers and home schoolers).

* Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is featuring interviews with three dozen poets for her series, Poetry Makers.

* Anastasia Suen at the Pencil Talk blog will celebrate by the month with school poems written by children, posting one every day.

Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will spend the month of April blogging about Poems Out Loud.  You can sign up to join him.  As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud. April will see the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky. Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer; and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”, and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

Some wonderful new, newish and newer poetry books to share with your children:

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick, March 2009)

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, March 2009), from the same pair who brought us A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms in 2005.  And really, what better way to celebrate poetry every day of the year, not just in April, than to speak, sing, and shout poetry aloud?

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.   A Caldecott Honor picture book biography of the American poet and physician (1883-1963) who wrote “A Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”

The Visions in Poetry series from Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, where classic poems are combined with new Canadian artists, sometimes in startling ways, especially on the cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber.  Other volumes include Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté; My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price.  And not new but fabulous from Kids Can Press: their picture book editions of Robert Service’s poems, illustrated by Ted Harrison. Canadian classics.

Douglas Florian‘s brand new Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (and his not new but entirely seasonally appropriate, his energetic exploration of the vernal equinox, Handsprings)

The lovely new picture book version, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, written by a very young Langston Hughes (Hyperion, January 2009)

I haven’t yet seen Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk newly out for the Robbie Burns 250th anniversary, but think it looks adorable.

UPDATED to add: Indefatigable children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis, one of the participants in Greg at Gottabook’s April 30 Poets / 30 Days poetrypalooza, was kind enough to send me a very sweet note complete with ruffles and flourishes — rather than the plank walk at swordpoint I deserved for the omissions — to remind me of his many varied works coming out in 2009:

The Underwear Salesman, And Other Jobs for Better or  Verse by J. Patrick Lewis, illusrated by Serge Bloch (Atheneum, March 2009)

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, July 2009)

Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle Books, September 2009)

The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Creative Editions, October 2009); I’m excited to hear about this one because I loved their previous collaboration, the beautiful, marvelous The Last Resort.

If you or your children aren’t familiar with the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, I urge you to run to the library or your favorite bookstore.  Pat has written so many illustrated books of verse on such a wide variety of subjects — art, biography, history, science, holidays, bible stories, animals, general silliness, general spookiness, arithmetic, geography, music, reading and libraries, folk tales, castles and pirate kings, and more — that I dare you not to find something appealing. Also his timely tome on Galileo for this year — it’s a pop-up too, great fun.  Best of all, Pat has free printable bookmark poems (or poem bookmarks).  If you’re going to carry a poem in your pocket (an idea sparked in New York City), I can’t think of a handier way to do it!

Coming out soon:

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple (Wordsong, April 2009)

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

Poetry Friday: Is it truth you want?

More Phyllis McGinley, from her collection, A Pocketful of Wry (1940). This is a poem she wrote in response to a news item, which nowadays is nowhere to be found online. I can’t find any mention of the American Library Survey Report she mentions, which I suspect may have been an American Library Association report, in the thirties.

Address to the Younger Generation
by Phyllis McGinley

“Children want facts, not fiction, in their reading.” — Excerpt from
American Library Survey Report.

And is it truth you want, and doings factual?
Then from the shelves take down these volumes first.
Here are your heroes. These are real and actual.
These will assuage your thirst.

Turn from the spurious air your elders thrive in
To this more shrewd and honest atmosphere:
The literal world that Mowgli was alive in,
Where Robin slew the deer.

Your minds are tough, my loves, and with compliance
Can bear the truth. So see you get it learned,
How there are ghosts and dragons, yes, and giants,
And frogs to princes turned.

Learn about mermaids, winds among the willows,
Knights, gnomes and monsters; read of the shepherd boy
Who fled with Helen over the wine-dark billows
And brought the ships to Troy.

These are the verities, and you are able
To comprehend them. Leave your elders with
Their ever-changing scientific fable,
Their blind, Utopian myth.

Leave them their legends built on creeds and isms,
Allow them their political fairy tales,
Spun out of conquests, wars and cataclysms,
And not-too-holy Grails.

While you, enlightened tots, shall sip the chalice
Of perfect knowledge as your peers demand,
And keep thereby the sanity of Alice
Roaming in Wonderland.

For more poetry fun, Elaine Magliaro is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her blog, Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

* * *
The calendar says Spring, but Mother Nature says not so fast. There is still a big white drift, curved like a frozen wave, just beneath the kitchen windowsill. And yesterday after lunch the boys set off on skis across the pasture and through the Hundred Acre Wood to their hideaway, the old trailer given to them by their uncle, to bring back 40 pounds of camping equipment (mostly pots and pans from the sounds coming from the basement), to “get it ready” for Spring camping. The boys in particular never seem satisfied with the season we’re in. They’re always looking ahead, to the next season and the next holiday. From their mother they seem to have inherited the idea that planning is at least half the fun.

The kids are busy putting the finishing touches on their poems, and rehearsing away with their songs and musical theater pieces. The music festival begins a week from Monday, and that is our  big day, with both speech arts and vocal, from 9 am to 9 pm.  Then we can rest until Wednesday, when Laura has one piano piece to play in the afternoon.  I still need to borrow one more umbrella, for the “Singin’ in the Rain” number, since one of ours does not have a curved handle and my young Gene Kelly is finding it hard to hang on to.  Next Friday, some of the crew from the kids’ play are coming over to film some segments that will be played in the background, so I’m supervising some extra spring cleaning and sorting out what to feed the hordes who will descend on us.

Wednesday evening at our monthly naturalist club meeting we enjoyed a lively but dire presentation from a retired professor of wildlife biology on Alberta moose and winter ticks as well as on new, emerging diseases threatening various species of animals around the world, from white-nose syndrome in bats in the northeastern US, Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, the chytrid fungus in amphibians around the world, the squirrel pox in the UK carried by interloping gray squirrels that is devastating the indigenous red squirrels (which I mentioned briefly and flippantly here), and one of the newest problems, lice in pelicans. On a happier note, we planned our nocturnal owl call survey, the visit to the local gravel pits in search of fossil-containing concretions, the trip to the sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds (and sadly for me they dance at dawn, more than an hour away from here), and the thrilling snake hibernaculum tour.

Poetry Friday: Down the human road

I don’t know what made this poem jump into my head this week. It’s one of Phyllis McGinley’s most powerful, I think, and I have no idea whether she was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation, “I have seen gross intolerance shewn in support of toleration” from his 1817 essay, “Blessed are ye that sow beside all Waters!” on political justice.

The Angry Man
by Phyllis McGinley

The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street —
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulders, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty —
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.

“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”

For more poems, Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  And her picture book of the day, Poetry Speaks to Children, which comes with a CD, is one of our favorites.  Thank you for hosting, Anastasia.

We got walloped with two snowstorms this week, a fairly gentle one with heavy snow on Tuesday — which didn’t keep us from the kids’ end-of-season curling party in town, though at one point on the country road I did have to stop the truck to see where the ditches were — and a windy blizzardy one yesterday that left us with much more snow, including enormous and very hard-packed drifts.  That one did keep us home, mainly because of the drift in front of the truck.  Tom and the boys had a bit of a struggle getting into our corrals yesterday morning, but brought the tractor the mile and a half back to the house, clearing snow all the way.  Very comforting to have a tractor in the driveway on a day like today.  And the temperature has dropped like the proverbial stone, from around 3 degrees Celsius earlier this week (about 37 F) to -32 C (about -22 F).

The kids decided to make the most of the weather; unlike their mother, they’re rather worried about the possibility of any melting.  The snow Tom cleared out of the driveway now makes a pretty dandy sledding hill, and the plenty of remaining drifts around the house are so hard that they’re good for igloo blocks.  The kids have had one of my kitchen knives for most of the day and are busy sawing and stacking away.  With any luck I’ll get my knife back after dark.

Just to keep things educational, you can watch this.  I can’t remember if I posted, as I meant to, that the National Film Board of Canada is celebrating its 7oth anniversary by offering some of its best works for free online.  We’ve been gorging ourselves since January.  Happy birthday, NFB!

Poetry Friday: The February hush

The February Hush
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

Snow o’er the darkening moorlands,
Flakes fill the quiet air;
Drifts in the forest hollows,
And a soft mask everywhere.

The nearest twig on the pine-tree
Looks blue through the whitening sky,
And the clinging beech-leaves rustle
Though never a wind goes by.

But there’s red on the wildrose berries,
And red in the lovely glow
On the cheeks of the child beside me,
That once were pale, like snow.

From my copy of Into Winter: Discovering a Season by William P. Nestor, illustrated by Susan Banta (Houghton Mifflin, 1982, out of print); the poem was originally published in Afternoon Landscape: Poems and Translations by William Wentworth Higginson, 1889.

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books, where Karen is hosting today’s roundup.  Thank you, Karen!

*  *  *  *

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer, Civil War soldier, abolitionist, and supporter of temperance, labor rights, and the rights of women. A particularly good online biography is here, as part of “Notable American Unitarians”.  Col. Higginson born on December 22, 1823 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Puritan minister who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the grandson of Stephen Higginson, a member of the Continental Congress.  Higginson attended Harvard and was a schoolmaster for two years after graduating in 1841.  He returned to Harvard to study at its Divinity School.  Higginson proved to be too liberal for his first church, the First Religious Society (Unitarian) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was asked to leave after two years.  An admirer of the writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Childs, Higginson was one of the “Secret Six” who supported John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. During the Civil War, Higginson served the 51st Massachusetts Volunteers as captain, leaving this post to serve as colonel for the first black Union regiment, the First Carolina Volunteers (33rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops), comprised of escaped slaves.

Higginson was an early champion of Emily Dickinson, and the two enjoyed a 23-year-long correspondence; their relationship is the subject of a new book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008). After the poet’s death in 1886, her family asked Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd to edit and prepare for publication Emily Dickinson’s first collection of poetry.

From the time of the Civil War, Higginson published a number of works — poetry, biography, memoirs, essays, and history, including his Young Folks’ History of the United States; in 1875, The New York Times called the book one “which no American boy or girl can fail to read with pleasure while he or she learns from it all of the essential facts in the progress of the country”. Higginson was poetry editor at The Nation for 26 years, and wrote a regular column for Harper’s Bazaar, “Women and Men”, on equality of the sexes.  A selection of his letters can be found here, though none to Miss Dickinson survive.  One of his first books was a volume of collected natural history essays, Outdoor Papers, each originally published in The Atlantic.  Higginson sent one copy of the book to Charles Darwin and another was found in the Dickinson family library.

Higginson died on May 9, 1911, at the age of 87 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Howard N. Meyer

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008)

Army Life in a Black Regiment: and Other Writings by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby


Poetry Friday II: Be Mine

excerpt from
Love-songs, at Once Tender and Informative —
An Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character

by Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947)

Maid of Gotham, ere we part,
Have a hospitable heart —

Since our own delights must end,
Introduce me to your friend.

—–

If you love me, as I love you,
We’ll both be friendly and untrue.

—–

Your little hands,
Your little feet,
Your little mouth —
Oh, God, how sweet!

Your little nose,
Your little ears,
Your eyes, that shed
Such little tears!

Your little voice,
So soft and kind;
Your little soul,
Your little mind!

—–

Had we but parted at the start,
I’d cut some figure in your heart;
And though the lands between were wide,
You’d often see me at your side.

But having loved and stayed, my dear,
I’m always everywhere but here,
And, still more paradoxical,
You always see me not at all.

from American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, compiled by John Hollander

* * *

Samuel (Sam) Hoffenstein was born in Lithuania in 1890, emigrating to the United States at the age of four with his family.  After graduating from Easton College in Pennsylvania in 1911, he found work as a staff writer for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. By 1912, he was in New York City, working for The New York Sun, where he started as a reporter and worked his way up to drama critic.  It was around this time that Sam Hoffenstein wrote and published his rather gloomy first volume of poetry, Life Sings a Song (1916) and left The Sun to work as a press agent in the city. Life was followed by his first book of light verse, Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing in 1928, and Year In, You’re Out in 1930.  The following year, Sam Hoffenstein moved to Los Angeles to work in the talkies.

In 1933, Hoffenstein helped Cole Porter and Kenneth S. Webb compose the musical score for The Gay Divorce, the stage musical (Fred Astaire’s last Broadway show) that became the film The Gay Divorcee, the first film to make the classic romantic pairing of Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Hoffenstein and Webb would win an Academy Award for the score.

Hoffenstein wrote scripts for a variety of movies, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March (1931), for which Hoffenstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Adaptation, with Percy Heath; Love Me Tonight (1932); The Great Waltz (1938); The Wizard of Oz (1939), uncredited; Tales of Manhattan (1942); Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains (1943); Laura with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews (1944), for which Hoffenstien was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, with Jay Dratler and Elizabeth Reinhardt; and Cluny Brown (1946).

Sam Hoffenstein died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1947 at the age of 57, three days after his final volume of verse, Pencil in the Air, was published.  His Time Magazine obituary noted,

Died. Samuel Hoffenstein, 57, master writer of satiric light verse (Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing); of a heart attack; in Los Angeles. A wry-writing favorite of Manhattan’s wry-minded literary set in the late ’20s, Hoffenstein (who had written, I’d rather listen to a flute in Gotham, than a band in Butte) disappeared into Hollywood as a scenario writer, later explained: “In the movies we writers work our brains to the bone, and what do we get for it? A lousy fortune.”

I’ll end with some lines from some of his best known lines, from the 1928 Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing,

Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So as to Offend Nobody: II

When you’re away, I’m restless, lonely,
Wretched, bored, dejected; only
Here’s the rub, my darling dear,
I feel the same when you are here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Darwin 200: Day 5: Poetry Friday

A twofer, featuring excerpts from an 1802 poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin; his last work, the volume was published posthumously. You can find the entire work here.

The Temple of Nature:
Or, The Origin of Society:

A Poem, with Philosophical Notes

by Erasmus Darwin

Canto I
Production of Life

I. BY firm immutable immortal laws
Impress’d on Nature by the GREAT FIRST CAUSE,
Say, MUSE! how rose from elemental strife
Organic forms, and kindled into life;
How Love and Sympathy with potent charm
Warm the cold heart, the lifted hand disarm;
Allure with pleasures, and alarm with pains,
And bind Society in golden chains. …

V. “ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves21
Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves;
{27} First forms minute22, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; 300
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.

“Thus the tall Oak, the giant of the wood,
Which bears Britannia’s thunders on the flood;
The Whale, unmeasured monster of the main,
The lordly Lion, monarch of the plain,
The Eagle soaring in the realms of air,
Whose eye undazzled drinks the solar glare,
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;
Arose from rudiments of form and sense,
An embryon point, or microscopic ens!

“Now in vast shoals beneath the brineless tide,
On earth’s firm crust testaceous tribes reside;
Age after age expands the peopled plain,
The tenants perish, but their cells remain;
Whence coral walls and sparry hills ascend
From pole to pole, and round the line extend.

Read the rest here, if you have the time.

*  *  *

And something charming I came across for the younger set, thanks to The Ethical Palaentologist, from a 1980 book called Hocus Pocus Diplodocus: The Entire History of the Universe in 21 Poems by Tom Stanier:

Mister Darwin wrote a book
(The Origin of Species).
Let us look at life, he said,
In all its bits and pieces.

Find the rest of the poem here.

*  *  *

Darwin’s Ark: Poems by Philip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzatti (Indiana University Press, 2008); this is a new paperback edition (originally published in 1984) with prints by Rudy Pozzatti.  Stephen Jay Gould says of the book, “Philip Appleman has captured the elusive themes of Darwin’s worldview and translated them into items of beauty that also provoke thought.”  Prof. Appleman has also written novels, including Apes and Angels, and is the editor of the Norton critical edition of Darwin, first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Gould to be “The best Darwin anthology on the market”.
*  *  *

Finally, the poet Ruth Padel has just published a biography about her great-great grandfather, Darwin: A Life in Poems (in the UK, Chatto & Windus, February 5, 2009; in the US and Canada, Knopf, late March or early April 2009, and the Chatto & Windus edition with the nicer cover should be available in Canada as well).

You can recent reviews at the Financial Times (“an imaginative and dynamic response to a man who changed the way we understand ourselves”) and  The Economist:

As the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth on February 12th approaches, it is good to welcome a biography which is relatively small, but in no way superficial or scanty. Ruth Padel has achieved this feat by writing her great-great-grandfather’s life in a sequence of often quite short poems. Through her verses she seeks to capture the “voice” of Darwin, thus performing a difficult act of literary ventriloquism. Ms Padel, who often writes about animals, embeds many of Darwin’s own words—from his books or his letters—in her poems, and the results tend to give the sense of being jointly authored. Sometimes she shapes entire gobbets of quotation into her own poetic passages. If this seems to be a bit of sly plagiarism, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a deft act of collaboration between the living and the dead, one melding easily with the other. …

And why are poems a good way of illuminating a life such as Darwin’s? The best lyric poems—think of Keats or Shelley, for example—are moments of epiphany, a sudden opening out onto magic casements. And Darwin, throughout, was in the grip of something very similar: a terrible, destabilising sense of wonder. He sensed intimations of the marvellous everywhere he looked. All the sadder then—and this is something that Ms Padel does not explain—that, later in life, the man who carried with him on the Beagle a copy of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”* found that he could no longer enjoy poetry.

By the way, as part of American Public Media’s “Speaking of Faith” program, “Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin”, you can listen to a discussion of Darwin’s fondness for Milton’s poem and his description of the Atlantic Ocean.

*  *  *

Kelly Herold, who established Poetry Friday, is hosting today, so head over to her blog, Big A little a, for the complete round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Kelly, and thanks especially for Poetry Fridays.

Darwin 200: Day 3 III: More Radio Darwin

CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition program finally has available for online listening their show from last Sunday, February 8, which includes ” ‘Darwin’s Ghost,’ a collection of interviews, characters, songs, poems and other stimulating bits about the legacy of Charles Darwin”, and other “debate, discussion and dissection of Darwin” with Brian Alters, Director of Evolution Education Centre at McGill University and the Tomlison Chair in Science Education; poet Ruth Padel, Darwin’s great-great-grandaughter; biologist and Roman Catholic Kenneth Miller; Adam Gopnik on his new book, Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life; as well as selections from Richard Milner’s songs.

Poetry Friday: Old Abe in the marble and the moonlight

In celebration of the upcoming bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln, a poem for a President who loved poetry,

Lincoln Monument:  Washington
by Langston Hughes

Let’s go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.

And yet a voice forever
Against the
Timeless walls
Of time–
Old Abe.

*  *  *

The official Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website has an entire page of poems inspired by the 16th President

The Library of Congress has a web page on Lincoln as Poet and also on Abraham Lincoln and Poetry

And, a recent Atlantic article, “Obama’s Poetic Predecessor” (December 5, 2008) features Lincoln’s poem, “The Bear”, and notes,

When it came to turning a nimble stanza, the old railsplitter was no slouch. Shot through with salty frontier humor and earthy vernacular gusto, Lincoln’s rollicking ballad makes for lively reading from start to finish, and while the relish it takes in blood-sport carnage might be a bit pungent for modern tastes, it’s hard to fault the poem’s chops: the very least to be said about his backwoods verse-yarn is that it briskly goes about its business with nary a dull moment or false step.

*  *  *

The Poetry Friday roundup, a splendid all-day all-you-can eat affair, is hosted today by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

We’re busy this weekend with a curling bonspiel (rocks on ice, alllll day) Saturday and 4H Public Speaking Day on Sunday.  It will be Daniel’s first, and I know he’s looking forward to saying his piece and putting the day behind him…

Poetry Saturday: Updike and light verse, with detours through science and suburbia

I was so keen yesterday to slip Phyllis McGinley’s January admonition into the very last Poetry Friday of the month that it didn’t even occur to me to give the late John Updike his due as poet, let alone light versifier; the poet Robert Wallace once called his friend “clearly the preëminent American light-verser of our generation”.  I was reminded of the fact by Karen Edmisten and her timely post and by some offblog emails that had us chatting about his writings in The New Yorker.

Most obituaries this week mentioned that Mr. Updike’s first published work was light verse, in The New Yorker.  In his preface to Collected Poems, 1953-1993 where he admitted, “As a boy I wanted to be a cartoonist”, Mr, Updike called his writing style “cartooning with words”.  In his appreciation the other day, David Lipsky in Salon wrote, “Updike broke into print with light verse, just as the world decided that funny, rhyming poetry was something it could possibly do without.” Mr. Updike himself said in Due Considerations that “Up to 1960, I had made my living selling short stores and light verse, for which there was a significant but fickle and possibly fading market.”

Well, not the whole world.  So here are a few.  First, “Cosmic Gall”, originally published in Telephone Poems and Other Poems in 1960 and included years later as part of the illustrated presentation for the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Cosmic Gall
by John Updike

Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

and this one,

Insomnia the Gem of the Ocean
by John Updike

When I lay me down to sleep
My waterbed says, “Gurgle gleep,”
And when I readjustment crave
It answers me with a tidal wave
That lifts me like a bark canoe
Adrift in breakers off Peru.

Neap to my spring, ebb to my flow,
It turns my pulse to undertow,
It turns my thoughts to bubbles, it
Still undulates when I would quit;
Two bags of water, it and I
In restless sympathy here lie.

(I’m going back to bed)

For more in appreciation of light verse and the late writer, don’t miss this Guardian Books Blog post, “A Lighter Shade of Updike”, from about a year ago, by John Freeman.  A taste:

The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures, Updike’s debut volume of light verse, was published in March of 1958 and it remains in print today [I don’t think this is the case in North America but I haven’t had time to check]. Half a century on it is a scold (and an encouragement) for all those readers who peer into first books and try to prognosticate. It wriggles with a love of language, a winking sense of humor. But who would have known this clever wit would turn into a serious chronicler of post-war American life?

In the late ’50s, Updike’s ear and eye were partially tuned to England, where light verse was something of a martial art. (Although Ogden Nash held America’s end up quite well). Updike had spent a year studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and he sketches his way into publication with “Duet, With Muffled Break Drums,” a tongue-in-cheek tale about the origin of England’s famous carmaker:

Where gray walks slope through shadows shaped like lace
Down to dimpleproof ponds, a precious place
Where birds of porcelain sing as one voice
Two gold and velvet notes – there Rolls met Royce.

How antique rhyming light verse seems today. But as John Hollander reminds in American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, there was a time when the “ability to read and write accentual-syllabic verse was part of what it meant to be literate.” Indeed, in Poetry and the Age, his great collection of essays, Randall Jarrell laments that the enlightened businessman of yore had put down his pen for other entertainments.

Updike, who grew up middle-class in rural Pennsylvania and attended university at Harvard, was doing more than just taking part of this tradition.

Read the rest here.  Worth noting with respect to the “martial art” of light verse in England that W.H. Auden was a champion, compiling his own anthology which is recently back in print thanks to NYRB Classics.  And it was Auden who wrote the foreword to Phyllis McGinley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades (1960).

Also in my haste yesterday, I neglected to mention writer J.D. Smith‘s letter to the editor in The New York Times last week which I was tickled to read. A prescient bit in defense of Miss McGinley in particular and light verse in general:

Ginia Bellafante’s welcome appreciation of Phyllis McGinley (“Suburban Rapture,” Dec. 28) errs only in referring to “the disappearance of light verse” in contemporary poetry. Established poets like X.J. Kennedy and R.S. Gwynn, not to mention Richard Wilbur, have written and published light verse throughout their careers, and Light, the quarterly edited by John Mella, consistently provides a forum for the best practitioners of light verse in English.

Light verse has, however, become much harder to find. With rare exceptions, The New Yorker and other general interest magazines have abandoned light verse, as have the larger publishing houses. This development is particularly baffling given that light verse is consistently well received at readings and appreciated by audiences who are not themselves poets.

Read the rest of J.D. Smith’s letter here.

I’ll give the last words to John Updike, from a 2004 interview:

What was the first thing you wrote that was published?

John Updike: I actually sold a few poems in my teens to marginal magazines. I remember one poem, “The Boy Who Makes the Blackboard Squeak,” meaning the sort of naughty boy who makes the chalk squeak deliberately. I was paid maybe $5 or $10 for it, but my hope was to get into The New Yorker magazine, which began to come into the house when I was about 11 or 12.

I wouldn’t think you could find The New Yorker very readily in Shillington.

John Updike: No. The New Yorker was not a Berks County thing. There may have been a few subscribers, but the newsstands did not carry it because I used to look for it. But my aunt, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was kind of a hip lady — she was my father’s sister — she thought that we, as a benighted provincial household, could use The New Yorker and I, in fact, did use it. I loved it. I read the cartoons, but then other things too. The whole tone of the magazine was so superior to any other slick magazine, so I was aimed at The New Yorker. My writing career really begins with the day in June of ’54 when we were staying with my wife’s parents in Vermont, and word came up that there was a letter from The New Yorker, and they had taken a poem, and then a little later that summer they took a story. So rightly or wrongly, I felt kind of launched as a writer, a real writer.

They hired you not long after that, didn’t they?

John Updike: I was in Oxford the year after college with my then wife, who had been a Radcliffe girl. At that point she was a pregnant Radcliffe girl — we had a little girl in April. About that same time, Katharine White and her more famous husband, E.B. White, came to visit us in our basement flat. Katharine White was the fiction editor and a woman of great power, one of the founding members of The New Yorker in ’25, and indeed they offered me a job. Or maybe she just told me I could see Shawn, the editor, when I got back to the States. I did, and he offered me a job, and I worked in New York for about two years.

What had you published by then? One story and one poem?

John Updike: That semester I think I placed four or five more stories with them, as well as quite a number of light verse poems. Light verse was in its twilight, but I didn’t know that so I kept scribbling the stuff and they kept running it for a while. So, I was kind of establishing myself as a dependable contributor and they were a paternalistic organization that tried to gather unto itself talented — whatever — writers. And it was funny to want to do that, because really about the only slot they had to offer was to write for “Talk of the Town,” the front section. We moved in, a little family of three into Riverside Drive, and I began to write these stories, and discovered I could do it, and had kind of a good time doing it. You went around in New York and interviewed people who attended Coliseum shows — kitchen appliances or whatever — and I was very good at making something out of almost nothing. But, I thought after two years that maybe I had gone as far as I could with “The Talk of the Town” as an art form and I felt New York was a kind of unnatural place to live. I had two children at this point, and my wife didn’t have too many friends and wasn’t, I didn’t think, very happy. Well in the ’50s one didn’t think too hard about whether or not your wife was happy, sad to say, but even I could see that, so I said, “Why don’t we quit the job for a while.” I thought they’d take me back if it didn’t work out, and I’ll try to freelance up in New England, so there is where we went. We moved to a small town in New England and I never had to go back because I was able to support myself.