Friday, April 24, 2009

Poetry book review: Paul B. Janeczko

A POKE IN THE I. selected by Paul B Janeczko. 2001. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Hong Kong: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763606618.

This book of concrete poems is filled with little gems. A concrete poem is a poem that takes a shape that explains what the poem is about. Because of concrete poem's unusual shapes, sometimes this style of poetry has to be read very carefully. Here’s an example from this book. WARNING: It may take you a couple of tries to read it correctly!

The Salmon
by Douglas Florian

                                             Could do with legs!
                                        Just think what we
                                   Our pearly eggs.
                              Upstream we spawn
                         We somersault!
                    We vault!
               We jump!
          Our leaps astound!
     We bound!
We spring!

Unfortunately, concrete poems are also difficult to transpose onto a blog because of their shape. Some of my favorite poems from this poem are impossible to reproduce here, for example, “Pattern Poem with an Elusive Intruder” which is in the shape of a worm-bitten apple. There are also popsicle shaped poems, lightbulb-shaped poems, and poems that are collapsing from the sheer weight of the words. There are also one word poems, such as “Cat Chair” by Chris Raschka which contains the word ‘cat’ buried deep inside a vibrant red chair and “Stowaway” by Robert Carola, which shows the word ‘stowaway’ way deep at the bottom of a ship.

Janeczko has amassed an amusing collection of poems guaranteed to appeal to any child – in fact, when I pulled this book out of the stack of library books to review, I had to keep taking it away from my 13 year old daughter long enough to get this blog posting done.

Chris Raschka’s whimsical illustrations, from torn-paper scraps and paint, help illustrate the poems perfectly. “Skipping Rope Spell” by John Agard shows children in dancing, playful poses around the various ‘stanzas’ of the poem; “Forsythia” by Mary Ellen Salt shows barbed wire under the forsythia bush of the poem, invoking a childhood memory of an isolated bush out in rural farmland. And then there’s the illustrations for “Tennis Anyone” by Monica Kulling. The illustrations are identical on the two page spread, just facing in 180 degree opposite directions, while the words take you from one far side of the two pages to the other far side of the two pages. By the time you’ve finished reading this poem, you feel like you’ve just watched a tennis match, not read a poem about one, just like Raschka’s illustrated people for this poem.

Graphic from : Accessed 4/24/2009.

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