Friday, May 30, 2008


I’m a big fan of Australian poet, Steven Herrick’s, since discovering his wonderful, if edgy, library poem, “Lord of the Lounge” in The Simple Gift (Simon & Schuster, 2004). His verse novels have a verve and vitality that make for fast reading and compelling characters, with enough Ozzie flavor to give you a particularized sense of place. His latest addition, Naked Bunyip Dancing debuted in 2005 in Australia, and is published this spring in the U.S. by Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong. It’s about a class’s interaction with a new teacher and his unorthodox ideas, told from multiple viewpoints, and illustrated with loose and jangly sketches by Beth Norling. Poem by poem, we get an honest and humorous glimpse of the varied personalities in one sixth grade class as they interact with each other and their teacher, Mr. Carey, and as they prepare to perform in a special end-of-the-school-year concert. One kid wants to emcee, the “class couple” prepares a dance number, another juggles, and one brave student chooses to prepare an original poem for presentation. Here’s her final entry:

by Steven Herrick

It’s like I thought it would be.
Absolute silence.
Just me and my poem.
as I stand onstage
preparing to start,
I realize the audience is quiet
because they want to hear me.
Silence isn’t scary.
It’s like Mr. Carey said,
silence is my chance.
And so I speak,
and clearly,
and I don’t see
the faces in front of me.
I see the images of my poem,
and I think only of what I’m saying
and how much it means to me.
My voice grows stronger
and I don’t have to struggle
to remember the words.

I know them
because I wrote them.

From: Herrick, Steven. 2008. Naked Bunyip Dancing. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong, p. 192

I’ve noticed this is a recent trend in poetry for young people-- the school-based poem collection from multiple viewpoints, a distinctive multi-voiced representation of the classroom community. Andrea Cheng portrays a classroom of inner city third graders in Where the Steps Were (Boyds Mills/Wordsong, 2008). Fifth graders populate Helen Frost’s Spinning Through the Universe (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004). And sixth graders are the voices in both Joyce Sidman’s This is Just to Say (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), a collection of poems of apology and forgiveness in an amazing variety of poetic forms.

These are all ideal for adapting for readers theater-style performance, read aloud by several volunteers reading in character, with a nearly ready-made script. Or children can choose a favorite character and draw a portrait of what they think she/he looks like, choose a representative poem in that character’s voice, and post it alongside their original drawing. For older readers, several novels in verse focus on school life from the point of view of teen narrators, including: Nikki Grimes’ novel plus poetry, Bronx Masquerade (Dial, 2002), Ron Koertge’s The Brimstone Journals (Candlewick, 2001), or Mel Glenn’s classic Class Dismissed! High School Poems (Clarion, 1982) or Split Image (HarperCollins, 2000).

By the way, a “bunyip” is a legendary Australian Aborigine haunting spirit. I looked it up. I’d say this is a fitting metaphor for sixth graders, having taught that age myself for several years!

For more Poetry Friday entries, head to Wild Rose Reader. Thanks, Elaine!

Picture credit:


Andromeda Jazmon said...

This sounds wonderful. I will look for it. Thanks for the review.

Sylvia Vardell said...

I think you'll enjoy it-- I did! Thanks for stopping by-- Sylvia