Today we introduce two books — one poetry collection, one book about writing poetry, both excellent additions to high school or public library teen collections.
And a third to mention. One of the events I attended at ALA Midwinter last month was the RUSA Book & Media Awards, which includes many wonderful lists. (My favorite is the Reading List. How my TBR pile has grown since that was announced!) Another is the Notable Books List, which includes a poetry category. This year a friend on the committee mentioned that it was a strong year for poetry, and recommended The Ogre’s Wife: Poems by Ron Koertge (Red Hen) in particular. I have taken a look, and while some of the content is mature, the poems are accessible.
[The purpose of Notables is “Since 1944, the goal of the Notable Books Council has been to make available to the nation’s readers a list of 25 very good, very readable, and at times very important fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for the adult reader.”]
DUNN, Stephen. Lines of Defense: Poems. 96p. Norton. Jan. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780393240818. LC 2013029488.
Adult/High School–Dunn was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Different Hours and has published 17 volumes of poetry. Many of his poems have been published in journals such as The New Yorker. His work is seemingly straightforward but is crafted with care. In “Before We Leave” he writes, “Happiness is another journey almost over before it starts,/guaranteed to disappoint./If you’ve come for it, say so,/you’ll get your money back.” Several of the selections reflect teens’ experiences and should appeal to young adults. “Tracks” is a good example of describing their frustrations, “shadow boys were breaking/all the laws, and girls with spray cans/felt a permission to create/colorful doorways and skylights/on the white, confining walls./What’s one to do who has no money/and a hatred of other people’s rules?” “Maggie and the Gauchos” is a moving poem about gangs, courage, violence, and remembrance, “we the bookish, we the quiet,/Certain ground had to be held,/somehow defended, the movies/told us, no point in negotiating./We were fifteen, sixteen, cruising’,/they said, for a bruisin’ if we walked wrong or got in their way.” The pedagogical seems autobiographical, but is it? The poet writes in first person, “In a history paper in college I said the period/between the tsars and Leninism/was a period of transition, and my professor/wrote in the margin, “All periods in history/are periods of transition.” This excellent book appeals even more on a second reading.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
PINSKY, Robert. Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. 221p. Norton. 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780393050684. LC 2013022146.
Adult/High School–The subtitle of this engaging book explains former poet laureate Pinsky’s purpose well. He uses 80 poems by a vast range of “masters” as the basis for his guidance on writing and reading poetry. The selections are divided into four sections–”Freedom,” “Listening,” “Form,” and “Dreaming Things Up”; each one has a short introduction explaining the grouping of the poems, and each poem has two or three sentences of thought-provoking commentary. In “Freedom,” Pinksy advocates forgetting the “rules” and includes work by poets from Michelangelo to Alan Dugan. The other three sections offer assorted advice. Pinksy suggests that students of poetry should replicate what singers do and practice and study aloud. He advises that memorizing magnificent poetry will help new writers. And he urges beginners to create their own anthologies. The selections in “Listening” are especially good to read aloud. In “Dreaming Things Up,” the poet’s ability to imagine and create thanks to daydreaming is highlighted. Many readers will browse through the selections, but students should read the introductions carefully.–Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City