One-Minute Book Reviews

November 6, 2008

How Kinky Does Poetry Get? How About a Poem in the Shape of the State of New York? (Quote of the Day / ‘The Poetry Dictionary’)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:56 am
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The other day I came across the late Australian writer Judith Wright’s poem “Rainforest,” in which the lines are arranged in the shape of a tree – a subtle an example of a pattern poem, or a poem in which the words or lines form a typographic picture that relates to the subject. And I wondered: How kinky does poetry get? What are some of the more offbeat shapes that poems have taken? Here’s an answer from John Drury’s The Poetry Dictionary (Writer’s Digest Books, 374 pp., $14.99, paperback), which has a foreword by Dana Gioia:

“John Hollander’s Types of Shape consists entirely of pattern poems. The shapes include a key, lightbulb, harpsichord, bell, sundial, lazy Susan, kitty, kitty with bug, the state of New York, a double helix, a swan with its reflection. These poems, however, can still be read aloud.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 29, 2008

A Classic Halloween Poem and Jump-Rope Rhyme From ‘I Saw You in the Bathtub’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:36 pm
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You want to know what’s really spooky about Halloween? All the plagiarized poems about it that you can find on the Web.

An astounding number of sites seem to operate on the principle that it’s okay to reproduce short poems in full if you credit their authors or source. This is generally untrue unless the poems are old enough to be out of copyright.

So although I’ve written about other Halloween poems, I want to post the full text of a short poem you can use with a clear conscience. Here’s a classic folk rhyme chanted by generations of jump-ropers:

Down in the desert
Where the purple grass dies,
There sat a witch
With yellow-green eyes.

This untitled poem (and another about a witch) appear one of my favorite books for beginning readers: I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes (HarperTrophy, 64 pp., $3.99, paperback, ages 4–8), by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Syd Hoff. “Down in the desert” may appear in many other books.

I Saw You in the Bathtub consists of 40 of those deathless rhymes that seem to have existed since Cain. (“I scream, / You scream, / We all scream / For ice cream!”) They include one about the place where the plagiarists may end up:

Silence in the court
While the judge blows his nose
And stands on his head
And tickles his toes.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 25, 2008

Good Thanksgiving Poems for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:41 am
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Apple pie,
Pumpkin pie,
turkey on the dish!
We can see
we can eat
everything we
wish, wish, wish, wish.

From Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Apple Pie”

Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: Poems for Thanksgiving. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrations by Ben Schecter. 32 pp., varied prices and editions. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thanksgiving has resisted the tarting up that has tarnished other holidays, and this book is for families who want to keep it that way. Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected on its pages 20 short and poems, most with strong rhymes, by writers including Marchette Chute and Myra Cohn Livingston. And Hopkins’s upbeat selections give the book a warm and nostalgic air.

In simple and often witty language, these poems celebrate traditional pleasures such as turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, grandparents and honoring the bond between the Pilgrims and Indians. “Simple” does not mean “dumbed-down.” Hopkins gives children credit for being able to understand metaphor by including Alice Crowell Hoffman’s “November’s Gift,” which begins: “November is a lady / In a plain gray coat / That’s very closely buttoned / Up around her throat.” He ends with Aileen Fisher’s alliterative acrostic poem, “All in a Word,” which expresses gratitude for things that begin with the letters in “thanks”: “T for time to be together, / turkey, talk, and tangy weather.”

A few poems subtly mention God in their last lines, a radical act by the ideological standards of contemporary picture books. And Ben Shecter enhances all the entries with gentle brown-black line drawings, many cross-hatched, depicting eras that range from Pilgrim to Victorian times. His picture for “November’s Gift” casts the “lady” in the first line of the poem as a larger-than-life figure who hovers above a village as leaves fly, suggesting Mother Nature in a bonnet.

Best line/picture: Else Holmelund Minark’s “Apple Pie” isn’t the best poem in the book. But very young children may find it the easiest to remember because its opening lines have the rhythm of a jump-rope rhyme: “Apple pie, / pumpkin pie / turkey on the dish!”

Worst line/picture: Dean Hughes describes a holiday with: “Turkey toes and turkey beaks, / Turkey claws and turkey cheeks” and “Turkey juice and turkey leathers, / Everything, but turkey feathers.” Nice, jaunty rhythm, but that “turkey leathers” seems to be there only for the rhyme.

Caveat lector: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In is out of print and hard to find except at libraries. But you can read two of its poems for free at sites described under “Furthermore” below. And some of its poems appear in other books. “The Pumpkin” is also in Sing a Song of Popcorn. “All in a Word,” “A Thanksgiving Thought” and “The Little Girl and the Turkey” appear in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems.

Published: 1978

Furthermore: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In includes “Harvest,” or “The Boughs Do Shake,” available for free at www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/earlylearning/listenandplay_spring05_programme03.shtml. The book also has “Thanksgiving Time,” posted at www.thanksgiving-day.org/thanksgiving-day-poems.html (along with weaker poems). Among poems not in the Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: NetHymnal makes available for free the text and music for 50 Thanksgiving and harvest hymns, or poems set to music, for anyone looking for religious poems for older children or teenagers. Search www.nethymnal.org for “Thanksgiving” and or click here to find all 50.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 24, 2008

John Ciardi’s Halloween Limerick for Children – A Good Poem About a Haunted House

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:55 pm
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The shortest good Halloween poem I’ve found is John Ciardi’s limerick, “The Halloween House,” an amusing send-up of children’s tendency to pretend they’re not afraid of haunted houses. It begins:
I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there.
And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!

For copyright reasons, I can’t quote all five lines of the poem. But you can find “The Halloween House” in Ciardi’s The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (Houghton Mifflin, 1992), illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, which is out of print but on the shelves of many libraries. You can also find “The Halloween House” in Scared Silly! A Halloween Book for the Brave: An Arthur Adventure (Little, Brown, 64 pp., $7.95, paperback), illustrated by Marc Brown, which is in print and available through online and other booksellers. The Hopeful Trout is used in grades 2 and up in schools. Scared Silly! has gentle not-so-scary poems, jokes and more for preschoolers, written by a variety of authors.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 13, 2008

Muriel Spark’s ‘The Goose’ – A Poem for the Financial Crisis

The poem "The Goose" works as a parable for a time when the "golden eggs" are golden parachutes for CEOs.

Muriel Spark’s brief, wry poem “The Goose” isn’t about a worldwide financial meltdown. And it’s not one of those buck-you-up poems like Rudyard Kipling’s “If –” that reminds you that if you can keep your head when all others are losing theirs, you can recover from that double-digit loss to your (401)k plan.

But “The Goose” speaks memorably to surviving financial hardship. Spark wrote the poem around 1960 — the exact date is unknown — or less than a decade after Britain ended the food rationing adopted in World War II. “The Goose” has just eight lines, which begin:

Do you want to know why I am alive today?
I will tell you.

The speaker says that in a food shortage, “Some of us were miraculously presented” with a goose that laid a golden egg. The narrator admits to having killed and eaten the goose. The poem then ends with the lines:

Alas, many and many of the other recipients
Died of gold-dust poisoning.

You can interpret “The Goose” in several ways. Spark had survived food shortages, and you can read the poem as an autobiographical commentary on her life and work. Or you can read it as a Catholic writer’s religious allegory that uses “goose that laid a golden egg” ironically: The goose is spiritual food or, more specifically, the Eucharist, that others rejected.

The poem also works as a parable about the follies of chasing financial or other golden eggs, whether in the form of junk bonds, subprime mortgages or golden parachutes for executives of bankrupt companies. If you read it that way, “The Goose” is about valuing survival ahead of the promise of future riches. How many financial institutions have died of “gold-dust poisoning” because they put wealth ahead of staying alive?

Postscript:

Copyright laws don’t permit quoting “The Goose” in full here. But it appears in All the Poems of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 130 pp., $13.95, paperback), a collection of all of Spark’s light and other verse. And Ian Sansom quotes the full text of “The Goose” in a 2004 Guardian review of the book books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5082333-110738,00.html. The Complete Review has posted its own review at
www.complete-review.com/reviews/sparkm/alltheps.htm#ours.

You can read about the Edinburgh-born Muriel Spark (1918–2006) in the attractive online Spark archive National Library of Scotland www.nls.uk/murielsptheark/index.html. A review of Spark’s best-known novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, appears at
www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 28, 2008

Review of Oprah’s Latest Book Club Pick, ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,’ the First Novel by David Wroblewski

Get thee to a kennel! A mute boy named Edgar finds his Ophelia in a dog named Almondine in story set in a hamlet in Wisconsin

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel. By David Wroblewski. Ecco, 562 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

To read, or not to read
The Edgar Sawtelle book
That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler
In the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of
Outrageous twaddle,
And moralizing, too,
In sections told just from
The point of view of dogs,
One of them a stand-in
For Ophelia herself –
Her name is Almondine –
Because this novel is
A sort of canine Hamlet
That’s set in — of all places –
A hamlet in Wisconsin,
Or nobler to skip
A story you might like
Especially if you miss
The big, fat novels that
James Michener used to write.
To read, perchance to find
That this is your dream book:
Ay, there’s the rub!
Unless you are seeking
The kind of happy ending
That Hamlet doesn’t have
Because the author doesn’t give you
What you don’t find in the play:
A tale where no one dies.
It’s true, the book is not
The play in any way.
No poison-tipped sword looms,
A syringe is used instead.
And as for Rosenkrantz
and Guildenstern, his friend,
Like Ophelia
They have four feet and fur,
Though Hamlet is a boy, mute,
The Edgar of the title,
Who sees his father’s ghost,
A paranormal twist
In Edgar’s earthbound-life.
Morosely, Hamlet said –
Remember? – that conscience
Makes cowards of us all.
Which is not true of Edgar.
But will his morals save him
Or send him to his doom?
No spoilers you’ll find here –
The Bard supplies them all.

[Note: This review is not intended as a strict parody of Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. If you’ve read Hamlet and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and can do better, why not leave your parody in the comments section on this post? For more on the novel, visit www.edgarsawtelle.com.]

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 26, 2008

Why Isn’t Poetry Ever ‘a Good Read,’ Entertainment Weekly? Books the Magazine Left off Its List of ‘The New Classics’

Filed under: News,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:00 pm
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Isn’t poetry ever “a good read”? Entertainment Weekly has published a list of “The New Classics: The 100 Best Reads From 1983 to 2008”
www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207076_20207387_20207349,00.html that I wrote about earlier today. An obvious omission deserves a post of its own: EW includes no poetry on its list of the “100 Best.”

My choices for the list would include Collected Poems: Philip Larkin (1989) by Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite, Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943–2004 (2004) by Richard Wilbur and Late Wife: Poems (2005) by Claudia Emerson. What others should have appeared on it?

How many of you, for example, would like to send EW Larkin’s “This Be the Verse,” which begins: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do.”? Many sites purport to give the full text of the poem, but because most of those I looked at are either misquoting or plagiarizing it, I won’t link to them. But “This Be the Verse” appears in the Collected Poems, which is widely available at bookstores and libraries.

Update at 3 p.m.: Just to give a more prominent place to a point I make in the comments on this post: EW might have acknowledged the existence of poetry by listing Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990). I dislike the oxymoronic phrase “instant classic” — which I have criticized on this site — but if ever a book has proved that it deserves it, it’s this one. I left Oh, the Places You’ll Go off my earlier post only because many Dr. Seuss books are better, including Horton Hatches the Egg.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 18, 2008

Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others

Earlier this month I wrote about Edward Hirsch’s shortlist of his favorite baseball poems, which appears in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of his columns on poetry for the Washington Post. That book also has ideas for those of you who would rather read poems about basketball today. Hirsch recommends William Matthews’s “In Memory of the Utah Stars,” Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for Magic,” Garrett Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Marisa de los Santos’s “Women Watching Basketball.” He also likes B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball,” the text of which appears in Poet’s Choice. For more on Hirsch, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, click here www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 5, 2008

Baseball Poems – One of Poetry’s Power-Hitters Picks His Favorites

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:31 am
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Edward Hirsch, the poet and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, lists baseball poems he likes best

Part of the fun of having a blog like One-Minute Book Reviews is that you can rarely predict which posts will be the most popular. Often reviews I expected to have little appeal — and almost didn’t write — end up among the Top 10 on the site.

A case in point is Baseball Haiku (Norton, 2007), a book of American and Japanese haiku about baseball edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. From the start I liked everything about this book — from the high quality of the poems to their thoughtful introductions and handsome packaging. But Baseball Haiku sat on my shelf for weeks. I wondered if by writing about it, I might be trying to thread too small a needle: How many people would want to read about a book of baseball poems, none with more than 17 syllables?

You’d be surprised.

My review of Baseball Haiku appeared on the morning after the 2007 World Series and at first attracted only modest traffic www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/. Like a pitcher recalled from the minors, it blazed back at the start of the 2008 season and has since ranked often among the Top 10 posts.

What are some of the best baseball poems in forms other than haiku? You’ll find answers in a lucid essay on baseball poems in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of popular columns written for the Washington Post Book World by Edward Hirsch www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173, the poet whose many honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award www.bookcritics.org.

Hirsch writes:

“My shortlist of favorite baseball poems includes May Swenson’s quirky ‘Analysis of Baseball,’ Robert Francis’s study of a pitcher [‘Pitcher’], Michael Collier’s ‘The Wave,’ B. H. Fairchild’s ‘Body and Soul,’ Robert Pinsky’s ‘The Night Game,’ Michael Harper’s ‘Archives,’ Linda Pastan’s sly lyric ‘Baseball,’ and Richard Hugo’s class-driven ‘Missoula Softball Tournament.’”

Hirsch’s essay also includes the text of Hugo’s villanelle, “The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field,” and comments on baseball poems by Donald Hall, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams and Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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