In Steady Hands: Poems About Work, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer shifts from the novel-in-verse format of her last two works to offer an anthology of 34 poems on different jobs and careers in free verse gems bookended by “Morning” and “Night” poems. These poems are serious, descriptive, and thoughtful, with so many lovely turns of phrase like the ballet instructor who leads her four-year-old charges “in their first steps / toward grace.”
The collection includes some of the usual careers, like that of teacher, but also many that are not usually profiled like, “Tow Truck Driver,” “Exterminator,” and “Flight Attendant.” The poems offer nuggets of information alongside hints of personality—a lovely balance of direction and contemplation. Fascinating collage art by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy extend these juxtapositions—showing attributes of the worklife, as well as suggesting and extending the possibilities in each field.
There are plenty of metaphors to mine, too, and highlight as examples of how poems can be information-rich in subtle ways. Kids can select other possible jobs and research them and describe them poetically. What metaphors capture the movement, the activities, the highs, the lows of each career? How can these be represented visually with cut out words collaged on images and pictures?
Pair this book with J. Patrick Lewis’s brand new “career poetry” book, The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse, illustrated by Serge Bloch (New York: Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2009). It’s diverse and varied, like Zimmer’s, but veers toward the zany and humorous side, making a fun counterpoint to Steady Hands.
You know I have a thing for poems about libraries and librarians and Zimmer does not disappoint. Enjoy this gem:
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Logging onto his blog,
the librarian reviews
a graphic novel he scored
at a conference in Toronto.
a podcast interview
with a new voice
in the poetry slam scene,
adds friends to the teen library
Then he grabs some sodas and
bags of snacks
and heads downstairs
to open the all-guy book club
that meets just after school.
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2009. Steady Hands: Poems About Work. New York: Clarion, p. 29.
Don’t you just love this hip, modern version of the librarian’s role? Zimmer turns many careers inside out by simply switching the genders one would usually associate with many careers. I love that! And the tiny details and feeling she injects into each poem give each job, career, and task dignity and distinction. The steady hand of this poet offers readers something to think about in a global world where our jobs are more intertwined and newly defined than ever before.
For more Poetry Friday fun, join our host Amy Planchak.
Thanks for coming to TLA, Tracie! :-)
What a treat to hear Tracie speak on our poetry panel. She shared wonderful backstory details about the creation of the art for Steady Hands-- including the fact that the photos and much of the realia for the collages came from HER and are photos of her family! She reached out to artist and illustrator Megan Halsey who was open to working with her on the art. The welder, for example, is a photo of Tracie's father and a tribute to him and his work as a welder. These nuggets make the book even more special, IMO.
Image credit: www.tracievaughnzimmer.com