Saturday, April 16, 2011

Poetry: For anyone interested in anything

I haven't forgotten that it's National Poetry Month, but I would be ridiculously remiss if I didn't discuss it here (and no, lies don't count). The late, loved Shel Silverstein's work is as much a part of my literary DNA as any favorite novel or picture book. So is Jack Prelutsky's, Bruce Lansky's, and Jeff Moss's. A good anapestic tetrameter ("Oh I'm going to ride on the Flying Festoon/I'll jump on his back and I'll whistle a tune,/And we'll fly to the outermost tip of the moon..." -Where the Sidewalk Ends) feels as comforting to me as any lullaby, which makes sense given that nursery rhymes are poetry and lullabies are frequently nursery rhymes.

Like many kids, I found my love of poetry through silliness that sounded good. And I still think that kind of poetry is enormously valuable. It's funny, it's short and easy to read, and even the art that tends to accompany it is accessible in an "I could do that" sort of way. I think Shel would've gotten along well with Jeff Kinney.

But! The point I'd be making a lot faster if these tangents in praise of Shel Silverstein didn't keep getting in the way is that poetry can do a lot of other awesome things, too. If you enjoy poetry, you can use it to get into any other subject, and if you enjoy any other subject, you can use it to get into poetry. Anthologies like The Tree That Time Built take poems that appreciate nature's beauty and combine them with explanations of the science behind that beauty. A number of poets, Jane Yolen among them, take a similar approach with original poetry about specific aspects of nature.

Poetry can make the adventurous bits of history more exciting ("Listen, my children, and you shall hear," anyone?), and the painful parts more human and perhaps softer, as in Paul Janeczko's Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, out this August from Candlewick. Verse novels can cut stories down to the parts with the most emotional meaning; I'm pretty sure I dreamed about the friends in Kimberly Marcus's Exposed last night, more than a week after reading it.

That's just a little bit of the recent stuff. There are also the classics; there's also JonArno Lawson's melding of silliness and serious thought, and there's Marilyn Singer's widely versatile work...

Poetry may need a longer month.

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