Archive for March, 2007

Some Thoughts on Poetry and Speed

Posted on March 27, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Homeschooling, Poetry |

Okay, time for a confession: I’m a poet. Academically trained, have a book out and everything. But I’ve been working outside the genre the last couple of years–doing some other worthy and exciting projects, including my first science fiction stories.

Now though, poetry’s calling me back and I’m moving that direction, not just as a writer but as a reader too. I get something from reading and writing poems that I don’t get anywhere else and it’s why I’ll probably always wander back eventually, no matter where I’ve been roaming.

I love the way the language of a poem slows me down. Makes me enter a moment, a thought, a feeling, an experience with a deliberation and awareness I wouldn’t normally bring to the page. It sounds counterintuitive to say such quick little lines, readily consumable in a single reading, can actually go slower than prose–but here’s the thing, in poetry there’s nowhere to go.

To work, a prose narrative has to effectively carry me from page to page, there has to be a reason to keep reading, keep turning those pages. A poem that really works is going to have me stuck on the same page, reading it over and over, wanting to just crawl between the lines and pitch a tent so I can stay there even longer.

Let me give you an example. When I was eleven or twelve, I got into a stash of literature textbooks my Mom had kept from one of her college classes. I discovered both Shelley and Tennyson that year and took to memorizing lines I loved. I was in college before I intellectually understood a lot of what I was reading, but there was something so compelling about the language, I didn’t care that I didn’t get all of it. I took what meaning I could from it and took the rest on faith. By the time I had to write about In Memoriam in college, I’d had six or seven years of rolling these words around on my tongue and in my heart: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, /Believe me, than in half the creeds.” “And Power was with him in the night, /Which makes the darkness and the light, /And dwells not in the light alone…”

I recently read an argument about what kinds of poems we should be offering our kids in order to instill a love of poetry in them. One side argued they need quick and clever rhymes, puns and wordplay to keep drawing them back to the magic of language that’s so wonderfully concentrated in poetry. The other side argued that kids needed poems that would help them explore the subtle texture of the world, develop their emotional and spiritual selves. The text, of course, resolved the argument by saying quite democratically that we need to offer kids all kinds of poems.

I’d buy that resolution if I really believed that most kids, most teachers, most homeschooling parents had ready access to age-appropriate poems of both kinds. Seems to me that while poetry collections aimed at adolescents manage quite handily to move between those two distinct types of poems (I might say between rhymes and poems)–that poetry collections aimed at younger children tend overwhelmingly toward the bouncy stuff. I’d love to be wrong about that assertion, so if any of you are aware of poems or poetry collections for children under the age of 12 that do have that tendency toward slowness, I’d love to hear about them. Comment away!

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Crunch! Healthy Food Books for Healthy Kids

Posted on March 11, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Food Culture, Homeschooling, Web Resources |

So we’re subscribing to a farm this year–it’s a cool idea. We pay a local farmer about $600 for the season and in exchange we get six months of just-picked local organic vegetables–everything from spring radishes to fall squash and lots of yummy stuff in between. Weekly pickups right in town. Since the quantities may occasionally be, well, more than we can eat in a week (four heads of cabbage?), I’ve been obsessing over cookbooks lately–figuring out how we’re going to cook and store such bounty.

My favorite evening last week involved me sitting up in bed reading to my three-year-old about spinach, turnips, and broccoli from Diana Shaw’s Almost Vegetarian. While I think Shaw’s cheerful and inventive cookbook is perfect family reading for short spells–I started to wonder about kids’ books that focus on healthy food culture.

And I realized I already had at least one on hand, Treasure Hunt with the Munch Crunch Bunch by Jan Wolterman, Melinda Hemmelgarn, and J.W. Wolterman. A friend had dropped it off to see what we thought of it and we’d had such fun cutting out the cards–great goofy illustrations of fruits and vegetables with “Foodles” (food riddles) on the back of each one, I’d forgotten it was actually a book. The story’s cute, but it’s the cards that have had all the attention at our house. They’re just the right size for my daughter to carry around, put in any one of her several purses, or sort out and discuss at length. They even have their own carrying case. She recognized a lot of her favorites immediately (“That’s a carrot with a hat!”) and it’s made her curious about some more exotic plants as well (“What’s bok choy?”).

Likewise Lynne Cherry’s How Groundhog’s Garden Grew gave us a fun break from grocery shopping when we sat down to read it at the local health food store. While the text waxes a bit didactic for my taste–groundhog gets chastened into learning to garden, the illustrations are soooooo gorgeous we both wanted to lick the pages. And it’s such a full visual experience. Even the margins are stuffed with tantalizing herbs and spices or small pictures outlining the steps to longer processes. Since it spans the whole growing season, from early spring to the great Thanksgiving feast, its seasonal appeal is a long one. And trying to identify all the lush fruits and vegetables made for a great seek-and-find game.

I am, in fact, off to grab a snack of some of freshly shelled peas…

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Poetry Friday: Tu Fu’s “South Wind”, Trans. by Kenneth Rexroth

Posted on March 9, 2007. Filed under: Poetry Fridays |

“South Wind”

by Tu Fu, trans. Kenneth Rexroth, collected in A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry

The days grow long, the mountains
Beautiful. The south wind blows
Over blossoming meadows.
Newly arrived swallows dart
Over the streaming marshes.
Ducks in pairs drowse on the warm sand.

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Forgotten Children’s SF Writers: Alexander Key

Posted on March 4, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Science Fiction |

Last week’s post left me thinking I needed to get over to the library, check out whatever Alexander Key books they had and be ready to blog summaries and reflections, Key being a children’s science fiction writer who’s known for little other than his sympathetic aliens.

Here’s the hitch, our library–which I adore and find generally delightful and well stocked–has NOTHING by Alexander Key. Now that I’ve fished around a bit, that’s not such a surprise. Of his 22 novels for children and young adults, only The Forgotten Door is still in print. Of his two novels for adults, The Wrath and the Wind was reissued in 2005 by a small press. Not much of a legacy. But it happens all the time–somebody dies, the copyright holders do nothing to keep the work in print and–zap!–a generation later, the whole wealth of an author’s body of work is largely inaccessible. It’s how American publishing works.

It’s just that, in this case, I feel like I have a debt owing. Alexander Key was my favorite science fiction writer when I was a kid. Yep, for me, before there was Bradbury, before there was Heinlein, before there was Ursula LeGuin, and way before there was Alice Sheldon, there was Alexander Key.

If you buy the party line on why Key’s work has not endured, it’s his sentimentality (telepathic animals) and moral earnestness (aliens are often both wiser and nicer than we are) that have kept him from the iconic status of such genre greats as, well, Bradbury, Heinlein & LeGuin. I don’t buy the argument. Keys is no more sentimental than Heinlein and probably less morally earnest than Bradbury or LeGuin (how could he be more?).

I think the reasons he’s not better known are as follows: 1)He wrote almost exclusively for children and young adults in a genre that, in its haste to legitimize itself with adult readers, has become much less kid-friendly in the last thirty years; 2)He died the year he finished his last novel and his heirs, who have also died, did not keep his work in print; 3)He bears the taint of Disnification (Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain were both made into Disney movies), which has made him easy to dismiss.

What am I going to do about the situation? What do I want you all to do? Well, this post’s a start. I do know there’s a small cult following online, even a little Internet archive of his lesser known works. I’m not linking you there, as I have no desire to bring a cease-and-desist order down on somebody’s well intentioned labor of love. Besides, if tracking the copyright and convincing somebody to bring the works back in print or sign them over to the public domain proves to be as impossible as it sounds, I might just be starting a little DMCA-violation archive of my own. Stay tuned. 😉

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