I was honored to be a visiting scholar (last week) at the Internationale Jugend Bibliothek (IJB, also known as the IYL, International Youth Library) housed in Blutenburg castle, an amazing site for a children's library containing over half a million children's books from all around the world. While there, I conducted a small research project and participated in the “In Short” presentations of poets from around the world during the two-day Symposium at the end of the week. In my short-term research project, I was looking for examples of English-language poetry from other countries (besides the U.S.) to see what might be available and what kinds of trends in poetry publishing I might discover. I found the following titles particularly intriguing:
Brownjohn, Sandy. In and Out the Shadows. (Britain)
McAlpine, Rachel. Another 100 New Zealand Poems for Children.
Mitchell, Adrian. A Poem a Day Helps you Stop Work and Play (Britain)
Pender, Lydia. Australian Stories and Poems for Children.
Pinnock, Patricia Schonstein. Saturday in Africa; Living History Through Poetry (South Africa)
Pinnock, Patricia Schonstein. Sing, Africa! Songs and Poems for Young Children (South Africa)
Reid, Christopher. All Sorts; The Max Fatcher Reader (Australian)
Tadjo, Veronique. Talking Drums; African Poetry
(I have ordered my own copies of several of these books and will write further about them soon.)
I was surprised to discover so much poetry from Africa at the IJB and found several examples that were rich in cultural details. I had expected to find poetry from Australia and New Zealand and was pleased to find several distinctive collections. One unexpected discovery was Mitchell’s collection of poems for every day of the year which I discovered in the special exhibition of poetry and illustration. I have been developing a similar collection of calendar-based poetry in the U.S., so this was a very helpful resource to learn about. Overall, I found my brief exposure to the English-language holdings of children’s poetry to be very fruitful and I discovered fresh, accessible, culturally-specific contemporary poetry with great appeal to young readers.
The following secondary source was also excellent:
Hull, Robert. What Hope for Children’s Poetry? Books for Keeps. Jan., 2001, N. 126, pp. 10-13.
I had missed this article since I don’t have regular access to the British journal, Books for Keeps, but found it still very timely—and sharp in its criticism and call for more meaty poetry for children. He writes, “Is ‘poetry for children’ morphing into ‘crazy verse for kids’? Certainly the image of the poet hovering over some books seems to wear the manic rictus of the children’s tv presenter, hyper-performancing for the child as intellectually stationary dolt.” OUCH! I enjoy some “crazy verse,” but he makes a valid point, don’t you think?
He also quotes Chukovsky, reminding us that poetry “‘must have the skill, the virtuosity, the technical soundness of poetry for adults’”, and also “’bring the child within reach of our adult perceptions and thoughts.’” Excellent point! Finally, he also bemoans the “teaching” of poetry—the pressure to teach it a certain way, to find time for it at all, to know enough about poetry to teach it well, and to allow children to simply “inhabit” poetry, rather than be forced to manipulate poetic forms in some mechanistic way. Another good point!
Then, during the Symposium, I was eager to see what observations and trends in poetry publishing might be shared. Here are some of the highlights and quotes I gleaned:
*Peter Nickl (government official): Poetry as “linguistic aesthetics”
*Christiane Raabe (Director of the Library): “A child becomes first a poet and then a human being” (quoting a German scholar)
*Jutta Richter (German writer and poet): “Poems are the fastest way to put the soul in order”
*Andrew Fusek Peters (British writer and poet): “Poetry is a broad church for what is and isn’t poetry”
*Panel: Poetry is “the most intimate part of literature”
“Although a poem is short, you need to spend a lot of time with it.”
*Ted van Lieshout (Dutch poet and artist): “A book can be an object of art, not just a carrier of text”
“A poem can unsettle you—it’s not just to put the ‘soul in order’—it’s both.”
He likes “putting it into perspective”—taking sad stories and making them better and taking a great story and adding a bit of sadness. It makes a text more beautiful.
*Gerda Anger-Schmidt (Austrian writer and poet): Austrians are big into puns and playfulness
*Lionel Le Neouanic (French artist and poet): He produces books for childhood, not children; “Anything that is playful is poetry as well” (He performed French rap!)
Wonderful week! Wonderful experience. I learned so much in such a short time and I hope I was able to contribute a bit with information about American and Canadian children’s poetry, too.
Of course I must share a sample poem for Poetry Friday. Here’s one from a British collection —perfect for summer time. It’s from In and Out the Shadows by Sandy Brownjohn, a small collection with terrific graphic black and white illustrations reminiscent of Aboriginal art. [Note that a “stoat” is like a weasel.]
by Sandy Brownjohn
Two stoats chasing down a country lane
Threading over and under each other;
Chestnut fur in a twisted skein,
Flashes of white as they blend together,
Black-tip tails woven into the grain,
Twined in one continuous slither—
A moment of summer that will remain.
from: Brownjohn, Sandy. 2000. In and Out the Shadows. Oxford University Press, p. 26
Join the rest of the Poetry Friday posters at Tabatha A. Yeatts. See you here and there!
Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit: amazon.com