Notes from a Children's Librarian 800: On Poetry
Our Children's Librarian columnist Julie Booker brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
When I was a pre-teen, I visited the poetry section with the voracity of a homebuilder in the DIY department. One of my favourite books was Chief Dan George’s My Heart Soars. I studied the portrait on the cover: his wise wrinkled face, eyes upward, channelling the poetry gods. I knew the 819s so well that when a fresh book appeared I sized it up like a new kid in class, wary yet hopeful. One gem that delivered: Sean O’Huigin’s Poe Tree: A Simple Introduction to Experimental Poetry with its back pocket treasure—a phonograph recording of O’Huigin, bp nichol and Ann Southam. I can still hear their voices 25 years on: ‘wistful wisteria/ gross rose, gross rose…’ Another find was Ted Hughes’ Poetry In the Making, in which the author explains to kids how to be a writer, using poems to illustrate. The first chapter draws a brilliant analogy between catching fish and capturing a poem. Loris Lesynski’s I Did It Because… (How A Poem Happens) is a more modern and immediate how-to, illustrated by Michael Martchenko.
David Booth collects many Canadian greats, such as Jean Little, Dennis Lee, Susan Musgrave, Margaret Atwood and Dionne Brand, in this anthology Till All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children. And Sheree Fitch’s If You Could Wear My Sneakers is interesting in that the animal poems represent the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the reader has to guess which article each is illustrating.
A few years ago, I found Chief Dan George’s Book in a second hand store. My heart started to (dare I say) soar and when I reread the poems I was struck with their sentimentality. He had inspired this suburban kid to create verse about eagles, mountains, rivers. As a teacher, I tell my students: Write what you know. Maybe it’s time to add: Write what you yearn to know.
On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five year old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press in 2011.
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