Friday, September 26, 2008

Celebrate Soto and Mora for Latino Heritage Month

In honor of Latino Heritage Month (September 15- October 15), I’d like to highlight the latest poetry by two of my favorite poets, Latino or otherwise, Gary Soto and Pat Mora.

Gary Soto’s new collection, Partly Cloudy; Poems of Love and Longing, looks at love in 100 poems, the first half from the girl’s point of view (“A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs), and the second half from the boy’s point of view (“A Boy’s Body, His Words”).

These unrhymed, free verses swing from funny, to serious, some sad, some ironic, some hopeful, some angry. I like the idea of pairing or matching boy and girl poems—either based on similar feelings or tone or by contrasting them—does one reflect the rejection of the other? Could they be cross referencing each other? The voices reflect young, perhaps first love—many are identified as 13-14 years old. Kids as young as middle school age will relate to these emotions and experiences, as well teens and older readers. Here’s just a taste; first from a boy, then from a girl:

Natural Talent
by Gary Soto

You brought out a can of chicken noodle soup,
And set its contents in a pot
Over the stove’s collar of blue flames.
“Wow,” I said, “you can cook.”
The refrigerator’s bulb shone on your handsome face
When you brought out a block of cheese—
You deftly cut little squares
And placed them onto saltines.
“Where did you learn all this?” I asked,
And you shrugged your shoulders.
I even liked how you turned on the kitchen faucet
With your elbow— you had to keep
Your fingers clean—and whittled little pieces
Of salami. We ate looking at each other,
Me so obviously in love. I asked, “Do you iron?”
You nodded—god, you have shiny hair!
After we ate, you asked me to take…
To take off my blouse! “Slow down,” I said,
Hands on my hips. Then I understood.
You gave me a sweatshirt to wear
While you sewed on my loose fourth button.
Where did you learn this,
Multi-tasking lover boy of mine?

p. 13

Beautiful Trouble
by Gary Soto

They say you have a tattoo of a butterfly
On your thigh, but how will I know?
That you can uncurl cigarette smoke at will,
That you can cuss in six languages,
That your last boyfriend is using a whole box
Of Kleenex to wipe away his river of tears.
These are rumors, just rumors.
But I can see. You’re dressed in beautiful trouble,
The skirt that swings and the low-cut blouse,
And I may as well mention the red smile,
The ring on your loveliest toe,
And the glance in a compact mirror,
Seeing me watch you.
When you raise your hand in class,
Your bracelets ring. You seldom get the answer
Right, but who cares!
My dad, a deacon in the church, warns,
“Watch out for girls who cause trouble.”
Indeed, I watch every day as you swing
Down the hallways, the little roll of muscle
In your calf, and somewhere up higher,
The rumor of a butterfly.

p. 58

Soto, Gary. 2008. Partly Cloudy; Poems of Love and Longing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

More love poetry for young people is on its way in two collections by Betsy Franco and Pat Mora coming out later this year or early next year. I can’t wait!

Speaking of Pat Mora, her new poetry book this fall is Join Hands! The Ways We Celebrate Life. It’s a poem picture book illustrated with color photographs by George Ancona of kids in constant motion. A single pantoum poem bounces across the pages, with repeated lines appearing across each of the four line stanzas. (A diagrammed poem at the end explains this repetition visually.) This reiterative, circular Malaysian poem form plays out like a playground chant as you read the book aloud, inviting children to participate in the suggested movement and actions: masquerade, parade, dance, skip, prance. The poem begins:

“Join hands!” is what we say.
We sing canciones, too.

We plan a hoopla day.

We strut and ballyhoo.

Kids are pictured in a variety of scenes, settings, and garb, suggesting multiple multicultural connections: Native dancing, flamenco, mariachis, etc.

Join the Poetry Friday gathering at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Picture credits: Charlesbridge;

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Ahoy! Just in time for “International Talk Like a Pirate Day,” David L. Harrison has published a pirate poetry collection, appropriately titled Pirates (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008), an over-sized book illustrated with vivid portrait-like paintings of a by-gone era by Dan Burr. However, Harrison’s book captures the more unsavory aspects of the pirate (lack of) character and acknowledges that pirates were/are first and foremost thieves. These poems do not glorify pirates as heroes, but rather capture the seedy, gritty life—and death—that was their lot. An introductory (and closing) note acknowledges the same and reminds us about the contemporary pirates that continue to prey upon ships today. Here’s a sample poem that reflects the rhythmic structure that Harrison so often incorporates in his poetry.

Signing on a Crew
by David L. Harrison

‘Gather round, ye scurvy mates,

I’m signing on a crew.

You there! Can you tie a knot?

Ye’ll do.

I’d say you’ve snatched a purse or two.

Ye’ll do.

Does the thought of plundered gold

make ye shiver?

Make ye bold?

Ye’ll do.

Ha! You’re rotten through and through!

Ye’ll do.

Phew! You stinking, drunken lout!

You’d whack your uncle’s gizzard out!

Well step right up!

Beyond a doubt

ye’ll do.

Harrison, David L. Pirates. Illustrated by Dan Burr. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

This book is sure to be a hit—full of grim and gruesome details about ship’s rules, life at sea, grub, whippings, fighting, stealing, and getting marooned, captured, or hanged. Reader beware! Aaargh!

Pair this with J. Patrick Lewis’s Blackbeard, the Pirate King (National Geographic, 2006). He focuses on the fascinating life of Edward Teach in poems, facts, and endnotes, accompanied by classic pirate illustrations by Pyle and Wyeth, and more.

For more Poetry Friday fun, go to author amok.

Picture credit: amazon

Monday, September 15, 2008

Emily Dickinson on hurricanes

I recently decided to keep a book of poetry in my purse for those moments when you find yourself waiting with nothing to do. Since I’ve been trying to lighten the load in my bag (due to shoulder issues), I was pleased to find a tiny volume of a handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems (one of my favorite of the classic poets) at Half Price Books. It’s been fun to read and think through a poem here and there. Waiting with a poem is a pleasurable way to pass a few minutes—sort of a mental yoga—and I highly recommend it. And it’s been interesting to revisit some old favorites and even discover some Dickinson gems that I had missed along the way.

For example, I had no idea that she had written about a storm—what some people claim might have been a hurricane.

There came a wind like a bugle;

It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat

So ominous did pass

We barred the windows and the doors

As from an emerald ghost;

The doom’s electric moccasin

That very instant passed.

On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,

And rivers where the houses ran

Those looked that lived—that Day—

The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.

How much can come

And much can go,

And yet abide the world!

From Moore, Geoffrey. Ed. 1986. Great American Poets: Emily Dickinson. New York: Clarkson N. Potter Publishers, p. 54.

We here in Texas are coping with the “emerald ghost” of Hurricane Ike this weekend, so this poem goes out to my friends and colleagues and all those in the Houston-Galveston area. Hang in there!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

New Review: ANIMAL POEMS by Alarcón

I’m a big fan of Francisco X. Alarcón’s work—I love his succint language, in Spanish AND English, and the picture book format for his poetry that includes vivid and colorful mural-like illustrations. His latest is a wonderful addition, particularly for teachers and librarians who often feature ANIMAL poetry in their curricular units. His new book, Animal Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú published by Children’s Book Press, and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, is a bilingual poetry collection about the flora and fauna of the Iguazú rainforest and national park in South America.

When he read from the collection at this summer’s ALSC Poetry Blast (held in June at the ALA convention) he said the poems were based on his travels to a rainforest in South America where he “interviewed” the animals. Most of the 25 poems are in the persona of the subject, “following the Amerindian tradition… the animals of the Iguazú speak for themselves,” including the toucan, parrot, hummingbird, swift, lizard, mosquito, giant ant, monkey, turtle, and the falls and jungle themselves. Here’s my favorite poem (in Spanish and English) that reflects the very heart of the collection and the rainforest itself.

Jaguareté (Jaguar)
by Francisco X. Alarcón

dicen que ahora

estoy casi extinto

por este parque

pero la gente

que dice esto

no sabe

que al oler
las orquídeas

en los árboles

están percibiendo

la fragancia

de mis fauces

que al oír

el retumbo

de los saltos

están escuchando

el gran rugido

de mis ancestros

que al observar

las constelanciones

del firmamento

están mirando

las motas de estrellas

marcadas en mi piel

que yo soy
y siempre seré
el indomable

de esta

p. 18

Jaguareté (Jaguar)
by Francisco X. Alarcón

some say
I’m now almost

extinct in this park

but the people

who say this

don’t know

that by smelling
the orchids
in the trees

they’re sensing

the fragrance
of my chops

that by hearing

the rumbling

of the waterfalls

they’re listening

to my ancestors’
great roar

that by observing

the constellations

of the night sky

they’re gazing

at the star spots

on my fur

that I am and

always will be

the wild


living spirit

of this jungle

p. 19

Alarcón, Francisco X. 2008. Animals Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.

Animal Poems is illustrated with mixed media art by Maya Christina Gonzalez, a 2008 Pura Belpré illustrator honor winner, in BOLD, vivid colors of thick deep green, turquoise and orange on thick pages of 100% recycled paper. It also includes a brief introduction and concluding information section. And for more information on Alarcón and his work, allow me to plug my book, Poetry People.

For more Poetry Friday connections, go to Biblio File.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

“Republishing” OP Poetry

Too, too many wonderful poetry books for young people go out of print (OP) in what seems like no time at all. It’s a shame. And it’s one of the reasons I keep this blog—to promote poetry books for kids so people will seek them out and keep them on the library and bookstore shelves.

Well, here’s a new twist on solving this problem. Poet and friend Janet Wong wrote me about something new she is trying. She’s making a print-on-demand (POD) version of A Suitcase of Seaweed (formerly OP) available again through BookSurge which prints books on demand and markets them through So you can click on Amazon, search for A Suitcase of Seaweed and buy it there directly. (You might not even notice that BookSurge is listed as the publisher.) It will be printed and sent to you, all for $7.99 (plus postage). Cool, huh?!

Janet writes, “I’m really excited about having this book available again. While the quality of this BookSurge edition isn’t as good as a regular trade paperback, it’s not bad…and I think it is better than some other POD versions that I’ve seen. The cost (to me) to produce a BookSurge edition could’ve been as low as $300 if I’d had print-ready digital files for the text and cover, but I didn’t have digital files, so it cost more to produce. I paid with a credit card, and will make my investment back after 200 copies are sold. I had a really great experience working with BookSurge, and I’m planning to bring Good Luck Gold and The Rainbow Hand back into print this way, too.

If you know authors who might be interested in learning more about BookSurge’s process, I’d be happy to talk with them. It would be great to see more OP books brought back to life—particularly children’s poetry. I know that other services are available, too, such as the Author’s Guild program… but the beauty of BookSurge is that they create the listing for you, so there aren’t distribution hassles. This might make a difference to some authors (or their heirs) who would be interested, but only if it’s easy to do.”

Janet also tossed out some creative ideas:
*I wonder if some (elderly) authors without children might be willing to donate the rights to their OP books to universities or other nonprofits, which could then arrange for a BookSurge edition to be produced (with the royalties automatically put into a fellowship or grant)…
*I think this is a really exciting possibility for school fundraising. The PTA could spend the $300-600 to produce a book, and if there is additional funding available, bring in a writer-in-residence and illustrator-in-residence to inspire the kids. Some of the kids could do art, while others would do writing, editorial, art direction, copyediting, marketing, and sales. The school could buy 500 copies at $3-5 wholesale to sell for $10. The marketing/sales kids could send out links to media. Wouldn't it be amazing if the media made a bestseller out of a book produced by a school? This is possible when the book is distributed online. And with a 35% royalty, wouldn't it be neat if a school earned thousands of dollars, to benefit itself or a charitable cause?

Isn’t Janet amazing? What a thinker! What a poet! What a woman!

And if you’re not familiar with A Suitcase of Seaweed, it’s a gem— a kind of feng-shui-balanced collection of poetry, with a dozen poems reflecting each of her own cultures, Korean, Chinese, and American. It was nominated for the William Allen White Children's Book Award in 1998 and got great reviews:

In VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), Tony Manna wrote, “Whether she is recalling a childhood memory, contemplating the pull or strain of family ties, or exploring some poignant discovery about her Asian roots, Wong has a gentle, restrained way of moving through an experience…. she maintains a detached stance, the effect of which intensifies emotion and gives her poetry an unaffected confessional tone…. Wong's most engaging poems are small, precise, and perfectly pitched observations that imply-always through the very physical sensations of the moment-a wide range of subtle thoughts and feeling.”

Sharon Korbeck wrote in School Library Journal, “Wong was born in America of Chinese and Korean heritage, but the basic subjects she addresses in neat stanzas of free verse aim at the heart of any family, any race. The quiet, touching poems are divided into three sections, each honoring another part of her ethnicity.”

Kirkus Reviews observed, “Neat, well-turned poems, monologues, and aphorisms, shaped into free verse …. she looks at ethnic themes through the infallible metaphor of food... The imagery is choice, the thoughts pointed and careful, the vocabulary attractive: In many of the pieces comedy and delicacy mingle in a single line.”

And Hazel Rochman wrote in Booklist, “Wong writes in simple, casual free verse about herself….The poems overlap their ethnicity and subject, of course, and young people will recognize many of the situations, whether Wong is imagining her parents' "Love at First Sight" or chafing at their high expectations and their disappointment.”

And you can post your own reader review on Amazon, of course!

This collection is one of my personal favorites (being of immigrant heritage myself) and I've cited individual poems from it several times, including "Poetry" (May 2, 2008), "Our Daily Bread" (Nov. 16, 2007), and "Face It" (Sept. 30, 2007). Plus, Janet created the art for the cover and the section divider pages.

And Poetry Friday is hosted by the ever fabulous Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader.

Picture credit: Amazon

Monday, September 01, 2008

Another moment, another poem

Although I’m not intending to get political here, I did want to post another poem for another historic moment, to be fair. When John McCain announced his vice presidential running mate, Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, I was pleased to see a woman on the ballot. Whatever your views, it is exciting to see this diversity in the candidates running for highest office. So, here’s a poem to mark that occasion, with a nod to her Alaskan "cowgirl" roots.

The Last Cowgirl of the Western World
by Judith Viorst

The last cowgirl of the Western world
Buckles her belt,
Pulls up her boots,
Slaps her broad-brimmed Stetson on her head,
Then saddles her swift white stallion
With the black star over each eye
(She calls him Star Eyes),
And gallops into the setting sun,
Across the wide prairies,
Across the deserts and badlands,
Past mesas and buttes,
Through roaring mountain streams,
Singing tie-yippie-yie-yo yie-yay
While the tumbleweed twirls,
While the wild wind whips her hair,
Singing tie-yippie-yie-yo yie-yay
To the skydiving hawks,
To the wolves howling high on the hills,
Singing tie-yippie-yie-yo yie-yay
As she saves the cattle from rustlers,
The settlers from raiders,
The babies from rattlers,
The covered wagons from plunging over cliffs,
Singing tie-yippie-yie-yo yie-yay,
Yippie-yie-yo yie-yay,
As she rides the range
Till it’s time to ride the school bus.

Viorst, Judith. 1995. Sad Underwear and Other Complications. New York: Atheneum Books.

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