Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Review: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Mar. 2010)

Have you ever apologized to someone and wished you hadn’t, or apologized while thinking the exact opposite of your words? If so, Gail Carson Levine’s latest book was written just for you. And if you can honestly answer no, you’re so perfect, it’s unforgivable.

Levine packs dozens of false apology poems into this snicker-inducing tome. Conveniently, each poem shares the same title (This Is Just to Say), though the apologies themselves are wildly inventive.

Some may be useful in real-life situations:


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A Half-Filched Poem

For National Poetry Month, which begins tomorrow, here’s a spine poem half-stolen from James Herriot’s book series, whose titles are based on this hymm (Every Living Thing, the 5th book in the series was written when Herriot ran out of lines but still had more to say).

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Once more into the breach! Here’s one inspired by the many westward-bound books on my shelf (sorry, Laura Ingalls Wilder. The word “ballad” was too good to pass up).

And another, more fantastical:

As always, please share, link etc. to other poems you’ve created or found.

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Until now, my only brush with writing poetry was a memorable high school assignment on Shakespearean sonnets. I spent an inordinate amount of time counting iambic pentameter on my fingers, and the result was some nonsensical poem starring a delusional toddler–not exactly high art.

But April is National Poetry Month, and 100 Scope Notes has inspired me with this amazing collection of book spine poems…so I’ll give it a try. Last night I decided to do what I could with the books currently in my room–11 total, 3 of which were in French, and 2 more with illegible spines. The result is more or less an exercise in desperation:

A Schubert choral score adds a morbid (and German) twist:

(Translation: “Messe in As” means Mass in A-flat major).

I’ll consider this a test run. Hopefully by the time April rolls around, I’ll have raided the library and/or my full book collection.

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Cold winds blow from north and east,
Perfect weather for a Redwall feast!

Gather up the turnip roots,
Hack ‘em good and clean.
Careful not to leave the knife
Sandwiched in between.

If only we had used Martin's sword...

Next up is a recipe
That’s known to every otter.
And cuz we’re such daring beasts
We made it one shade hotter!

Shrimp 'n' Hotroot Soup

Soon the hearth is snug and cosy,
Aromas warm the air.
Before we can tuck headlong in,
There’s tea bread to prepare.

Spiced Gatehouse Tea Bread

Foremole’s famous tuber pie
could hardly be much deeper,
And after just one cheesy bite,
We knew it was a keeper!

Mole's Favourite Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie

Our bellies now are near to bursting,
Yet is there room for cake?
Friends and food and warmth a plenty
Thank you, Mister Jacques.

Squirrelmum's Blackberry and Apple Cake

Recipes culled from The Redwall Cookbook by Brian Jacques.

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Channeling Genius

I’m a big fan of last year’s book The Dreamer, so when I heard about a new biography on Pablo Neruda, I wasn’t sure if I was ready. There’s nothing as disappointing as reading the pale echo of something that’s been done before, but I shouldn’t have worried. Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, published March 2011) only heightened my interest in Neruda’s life. Whereas The Dreamer imagines the childhood of a great poet, Brown’s Pablo Neruda is a picture book about genius—and by that I mean the innate combination of talent and obsession.

Poetry was Neruda’s life. It wasn’t a job or hobby, it was a vital part of his existence, as essential as breathing. He found poetry in the most mundane of things:

Pablo wrote poems about the things he loved—things made by his artist friends, things found at the marketplace, and things he saw in nature.

He wrote about scissors and thimbles and chairs and rings.
He wrote about buttons and feathers and shoes and hats.
He wrote about velvet cloth the color of the sea.


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May I have a word with you? Or two? Just a few will do. This is a recommendation, not a review, for aspiring writers and for anyone who’s read a book so mindbogglingly good, it left you wondering how the author wrote it. 

Word After Word After Word, by Patricia MacLachlan, is not just a beautiful story, it’s also a writing guide. When author Ms. Mirabel comes to teach Lucy’s fourth grade class, she explains that she writes to “change her life” but “people write for other reasons” and “all these reasons are good reasons.” Lucy also wants to change her life, but she’s convinced she has nothing to write about except sadness. As the class learns the basics of storytelling (landscape and setting shape character) and get the inside scoop on writing (outlines are silly!), Lucy discovers her reason for writing: to express what’s too hard to say out loud. MacLachlan provides snippets of the children’s “writings” and they’re simple but good. Thanks to this book, I feel encouraged to write unabashedly as well, although I wish the words would “whisper in my ears” as audibly as they do in MacLachlan’s.

Lois Lowry’s autobiography, Looking back: A Book of Memories, is like poring over her family album as she reminisces over a cup of tea. Paired with family photos (Lowry was a really cute toddler), the glimpses are often personal but not intrusive, funny, wistful, sad, a bit philosophic and evocative at times. Lowry describes her snapshots as perpetuating pieces of a kinetic sculpture, one memory leading to another, until one see the threads between them: Lowry, a shy but sharp observer even at a young age; family dynamics, especially those between sisters; the importance of keeping memories, both good and bad. Fans of Lowry’s books will especially appreciate seeing how moments in her life become a nesting ground for the stories we treasure. I also enjoyed the tender timey-wimey moments where Lowry imagines her younger self conversing with her mother when she was also at that age. Because until someone invents a functional time machine, our memories will have to suffice both for looking back, and forwards as well. That’s enough stories to last a lifetime, really.

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Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman (writer) and Beckie Prange (illustrator).

It’s hard to like bacteria. They’re smelly and slimy and cause a lot of disease. Sure, some help us digest food, but they don’t exactly inspire poetry…which is why Ubiquitous is so remarkable.

ancient, tiny
teeming, mixing, melding
strands curled like ghostly hands
winking, waving, waking
first, miraculous

Sidman’s book celebrates the lowliest of creatures: beetles, ants, coyotes, crows. They’re worthy of our notice because they’re survivors and opportunists and scavengers. And they are admirable because they’re an evolutionary success—compared to them, humans are a flicker in the span of earth history (look at the endpapers to see what I mean. Let’s just say that there’s nothing like geologic time to make you feel insignificant).


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Poetry Made Easy

On arts and crafts day,
don’t teach children how to make
homemade catapults.

-from ‘Haikus of Regret,” the best antidote for anyone intimidated by poetry: if Squid and Frog can write it, so can you.

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