In my most recent “Everyday Poetry” column for Book Links magazine, “The Big World of Poetry,” I take a look at poetry for young people that is published OUTSIDE the U.S. We have such riches in the poets and poetry of the U.S., that sometimes we forget to cast a wider net for the fresh perspectives available in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and poems in translation from Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Across the globe, poetry’s roots go very deep, from Greek epics like “The Odyssey” to the holy writings from the Bible, the Koran, and Hindu holy books also written in verse. More than 3,000 years of songs of praise exist among the Arab, African, and Asian peoples. Many poetic forms have their beginnings in the Italian petrarchin sonnet, Icelandic epics, Japanese haiku, and the French villanelle. We’ve been “borrowing” poetry for kids from across the ocean since the days of William Blake (Songs of Innocence, 1789), Edward Lear (“The Owl and the Pussycat,” 1871), Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885) and A. A. Milne (Now We Are Six, 1927).
Once one begins looking for poetry from countries outside the U.S., it is sometimes surprising how many collections turn up. Just north of our border, look for the work of Canadian poets like Dennis Lee, Pamela Porter, Jo Ellen Bogart, Sheree Fitch, Robert Heidbreder, Loris Lesynski, Jean Little, William New, Sean O’Huigin, and anthologists David Booth and Jen Hamilton. I fell in love with Carolyn Beck’s recent picture book collection about a cow’s life in Buttercup’s Lovely Day and feature the work of JonArno Lawson alongside my article. He has already been gathering awards with his works, Black Stars in a White Night Sky, Inside Out: Children's Poets Discuss Their Work, and A Voweller’s Bestiary.
Also from Canada, look for the terrific Kids Can Press “Visions in Poetry” series featuring “classic poems reinterpreted for today’s readers by outstanding contemporary artists.” Each poem, from “The Raven” to “Jabberwocky” to “Casey at the Bat” gets a sophisticated and engaging picture book treatment. Groundwood Books based in Canada also publishes intriguing international poetry, including translations of poetry from other languages. Most recently, look for the bilingual edition of Colors! Colores! by Mexican poet Jorge Luján, translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt and illustrated by South African artist Piet Grobler. It’s an inviting picture book collection of one-color-per-poem works ala Hailstones & Halibut Bones. Another recent bilingual gem published by Groundwood is Jorge Argueta’s Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup, a recipe-in-a-poem.
Of course there are many terrific British poets and anthologists, too, including Michael Rosen, John Foster, Liz Brownlee, June Crebbin, Gerard Benson, Judith Nicholls, Joan Poulson, Marian Swinger, Libby Houston, Sue Cowling, Eric Finney, Tony Mitton, Pie Corbett, Coral Rumble, Nick Toczek, Ann Bonner, Moira Andrew, David Harmer, Patricia Leighton, Roger Stevens, Mary Green, Gina Douthwaite, Jan Dean, Celia Gentles, Cynthia Rider, Mike Johnson, Clare Bevan, John Rice, Carol Coiffait, Kate Williams, Wes Magee, Jean Kenward, and more.
For one current sampling, look for Graham Denton’s British Wild! Rhymes that Roar, co-edited with poet James Carter, an anthology of animal poems (oyster, axolotl, lobster, crocodile, cockroach, crow, and more) running the gamut from silly to serious, with fun “Britishisms” sprinkled throughout, like “pyjamas” and “Mum.” For our youngest, share Jane Yolen’s delightful collaboration with Brit Andrew Fusek Peters, Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, with a sequel coming soon. And for teens, introduce the moving anthology, Poems of Love and Longing edited by Viv Sayer. Also don’t miss Seamus Cashman’s amazing, Something Beginning with P: New Poems from Irish Poets or Dutch poet Ted van Lieshout’s Hou Van Mij (Love Me) which includes visual sonnets built from objects, rather than words.
And beyond Europe, kids will enjoy the Japanese/English poetry collections of Michio Mado. And there are several wonderful anthologies of poetry from the Caribbean compiled and written by by James Agard and Grace Nichols, James Berry, Lynn Joseph, and Monica Gunning that are lyrical and engaging. And these are just a drop in the poetry bucket!
Expose kids to poetry written BY KIDS around the world in River of Words (book edited by Pamela Michael), an eco-themed international writing contest or the Poem Express, an actual and virtual international festival of art and poetry BY kids.
More and more international poets are being published in the U.S. and translated into English. In some cases, we have to go to the original publisher abroad and pay extra for international shipping—but it’s worth it. Or challenge kids to create their own multi-lingual poetry collections by gathering poems from family and community members who hail from elsewhere. Remember, however, that poems that may have rhymed in German, for example, may no longer rhyme in the translated English version. Thus, translated poems may not be as rhythmic and musical as the rhyming, English poems children are more familiar with. And it’s always worth sharing international poems in their original language just to enjoy the sound and music of the poem, if you have a fluent reader of that language available. Thinking internationally opens up the world for our kids—and what better vehicle than poetry?
Speaking of JonArno Lawson, my column once again features an original unpublished poem for sharing, this time provided by Lawson, “The Tree and the Telephone Pole.” Check it out!
I’d also like to mention JonArno Lawson's latest book, Think Again (published by KCP Poetry, 2010), a slim volume of poetry destined for many middle school (and high school) library shelves and surreptitious boy-girl sharing. It’s built upon a series of 48 quatrain poems, almost story-like, in revealing the tenderness, angst, confusion, and exhilaration of fledgling first love. Black and white ink drawings by Julie Morstad “people” the book, suggesting the tentative sketching of a young artist doodling and journaling. Lawson’s clever wordplay and sometimes syncopated rhythms keep the poems from veering into sentimentality and make them open-ended enough to stand on their own as thoughtful and contemplative. Here’s one example:
I need a little time to squander
A book to read
A place to wander
And puzzling quandaries I can ponder.
Lawson, JonArno. 2010. Think Again. Ill. By Julie Morstad. Toronto: Kids Can Press, p. 36.
Plan now for International Children's Book Day on April 2 by seeking and sharing a poem from outside the US with the kids you care about.
For more Poetry Friday fun, go to Great Kids Books hosted by Mary Ann.
Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.
Image credit: Kids Can Press; ALA