Friday, July 03, 2009

More Poetry News from Europe

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.]

Roll Play
by Sandy Brownjohn

Two stoats chasing down a country lane
Threading over and under each other;

ut fur in a twisted skein,
Flashes of white as they ble
nd 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:


Douglas Florian said...

I'm so jealous!

Sylvia Vardell said...

I know-- it was amazing! But you were there in spirit! :-)

Donna Marie Merritt said...

Fabulous quotes!

Julie said...

Wonderful report, Sylvia - thanks! I'm now trying to find a library database that includes Books for Keeps so that I can read Robert Hull's article. No luck so far. Any suggestions?


Courtney at SL's No Ennui said...

I am going to have to check this one out: A Poem a Day Helps you Stop Work and Play. Thanks for all your wonderful posts; especially this one!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for your kind words. And I've found several of these international books available for purchase via used book vendors, including BetterWorldBooks. I've ordered my own copies and will write more about them soon. I'd welcome your input too!

Sylvia Vardell said...

I'm trying to track down the article too and will let you know. I wish I had photocopied the whole thing, but didn't. Silly me. But stay tuned...

Sylvia Vardell said...

Julie, good news! Through my faithful "Ask a Librarian" services at TWU, I was led to the BOOKS FOR KEEPS Web site which offers all of its back issues online-- way cool! Here is the link for Robert Hull's article that I discussed in my posting:

Julie said...

Thank you, Sylvia! I didn't even think of a website w/ archived articles (thank goodness there are librarians who can think better than I can!) Going to that link right now.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Glad to help-- and thanks for checking back and for raising the question in the first place. I was glad to find a full text version of the article for future reference. It's quite provocative!

vezenimost said...

Dr. Vardell,
I can only imagine what a great experience this visit to the conference in Munich was for you.I felt a little nostalgic because I lived in Munich for two years and I loved it very much.
I truly enjoy reading your posts.They are informational, lively, and useful. Thank you.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Great to hear from you! Thanks for your sweet compliment! I hope you are continuing with your writing.