Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Julie Paschkis's Flutter and Hum (Aleteo y Zumbido)

What can I say about Julie Paschkis's new book Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales?

Well, how about this: I want to take every student I ever taught at the University of Washington and at Vermont College of Fine Arts and tell them, belatedly, "Here. Sit down. Read this. This is what Evelyn Glennie meant in her TedTalk, 'How to Truly Listen," about hearing with your whole body. This is what Leonard Bernstein meant about language being musical. Poetry, prose, it doesn't matter - in order to make the language right, you have to listen to the sound it makes. You have to try to make it sing some kind of song, try to hear it as if each word is new to you. Start with individual words, say them aloud, then stack them up, make them chime, play with rhyme, investigate rhythm.  Read what Julie Paschkis does in this book. Then try your hand at it."

Of course, I've left something out here - something important - about the process of listening carefully to language. Julie learned it while writing the book: It's easier to hear the music of a language that is new to us and fresh - that is, a language which still surprises us - than to hear the music of our own first language. After all, as adults we've gotten so used to English that we've almost forgotten how to really hear it. Kids do a bit better - they're still surprised...and often, delighted, when they "hear it new."

What Julie did was begin to learn Spanish. Over the course of her studies, she fell in love with the language.  I experienced this myself when I lived in Mexico as a new bride; my husband, who grew up in Mexico, was feeling the same way about English. It's a giddy time, starting out with a new language, kind of like looking up into the sky at night and seeing a super moon, brighter than normal. Language - the sound the words make - is usually familiar, but it suddenly surprises you.

Julie Paschkis and Friend

I think Julie wrote the poems in Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido as a kind of love letter to Spanish. She started with individual words - many free-standing words float into, above, under and around the pages.  Then she did the stacking and chiming and rhyming I mentioned before - she formed the poems. She wrote them first in Spanish, then translated them into the kind of English that also sings and surprises. The result is very exciting, because the poems please both heart and mind. And ear! Here's an example (if you know any Spanish, definitely read the poems aloud -- and if you don't know Spanish, just give it a shot - it's basically phonetic, and a double L is pronounced as a Y):

     La Polilla

     La polilla
     la bombilla,
     buscando la luna.

     La lucierniga
     aletea ---
     su propia estrella.

     La luna
     no ve
     ni la polilla,
     ni la bombilla,
     ni la lucierniaga.



     The moth
     the lightbulb,
     looking for the moon.

     The firefly
     flutters by ---
     its own star.

     The moon
     doesn't notice
     the moth,
     the lightbulb,
     or the firefly. 

(Be sure to click on this to make it larger!)
I guess what I want to suggest on this Poetry Friday is simple: "Here. Sit down. Read this poem and its translation. Then try your hand at it."

 The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Tricia over at the fabulous Miss Rumphius Effect (she's posted a beautiful poem by Robert Frost - "My November Guest.") Head over there to see what other poems have been posted by the Poetry Friday crowd. And don't miss Julie's new post over at Books Around the Table today!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween and Then...November!

Here's wishing everyone in the Poetry Friday circle a wonderful, creepy, owl-y, ghostly, black catty, witchy, dark and delightful Halloween tomorrow night!! After that, November....

Not that I don't like November. But I love the early fall in Seattle - crisp apples, clean air, autumn leaves -  especially if I can resist thinking about how quickly our winter will be here with its bare branches, short days and long nights. Halloween seems to mark the end of sweet autumn and the beginning of soggy fall. But here's a shiny poem (a sonnet, now that I look at it carefully) in celebration of the gray (silver?) month to come: Novemberrrrrrrrr.

Like Coins, November

We drove past late fall fields as flat and cold
as sheets of tin and, in the distance, trees

were tossed like coins against the sky. Stunned gold
and bronze, oaks, maples, stood in twos and threes:

some copper bright, a few dull brown and, now
and then, the shock of one so steeled with frost

it glittered like a dime. The autumn boughs
and blackened branches wore a somber gloss

that whispered tails to me, not heads. I read
memorial columns in their trunks; their leaves

spelled UNUM, cent; and yours, the only head...
in penny profile, Lincoln-like (one sleeve,

one eye) but even it was turning tails
as russet leaves lay spent across the trails.

                     by Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck

The Poetry Friday round-up is either being hosted today by Jone over at Check It Out or Mary Lee at A Year of Reading - can't tell which but will update this later in the day. Head over to one of those pages to see what other people have posted. And you can read another post of mine (about a week in the life of author Maira Kalman) over at Books Around the Table today!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Poetry Friday: Yes, Of Course, the Book of Nature Poetry!

What a wonderful job J. Patrick Lewis did selecting poems for his new anthology, The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry. I was thrilled to see two of my favorite Undersung poets included, Adrien Stoutenberg and Robert Francis, as well as excellent contemporary children's poets like Joyce Sidman (her strange Moeraki boulders splayed by waves "like a spill of fallen / moons in sliding / surf") and Naomi Shihab Nye (in the Badlands, with "Everyone's emptiness made elegant, / even the bison, and black-footed ferret, / even the woman, even the man.")  Lewis also included many poems not written specifically for children, which is such a smart decision - love to see such poets as John Clare, Wendell Berry, James Wright, John Keats, Edward Thomas - and even D.H. Lawrence!  And 'natch, how exciting to see poems from all the Poetry Friday friends.

Here is the one poem I have in the book. As published, there was an editing glitch in the last line. Here's the correct version:

Mammatus Clouds

Thunder coming with its usual heavy hammer
    and the sky strange, bubbled
    with clouds, the air humming
    and warning us away.
Tornado coming today with its terrible trouble
    and the sky pouched,
    pockets of ice and water waiting
    for their own best moment to burst.
Hard weather coming, for the worst reasons:
    warm air, cool air, thermal instability,
    wind shear, sublimation---
    we cotton to the calmest explanations.
Something coming. Could be okay, could be misery---
    who knows which or why?
    Look at that sky, filled with questions marks,
    every mark a mystery. 


Today's round-up is being hosted by Janet and Sylvia at Poetry for Children. Head over there to see what other people have posted!    And I have a post today over at Books Around the Table - musings about trees, tree roots, and learning to love the bumps in the road.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Poetry Friday: Calef Brown's Crazy and Brilliant Wordplay

I have only two things to say about Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything

1. Calef Brown is a genius with wordplay, in the tradition of Lewis Carroll. 
2. If you've liked Brown's previous books, you'll love this one:
(138 pages of nonsense!)

Here are three samples:


Giant prehistoric critters
once used volcanic craters
to cook gigantic fritters
and titanic taters.
This was disrupted
by massive eruptions,
resulting in fossilized critter matter
embedded in petrified fritter batter.



I handed Sir Parrot 
a packet of suet. 
He started to chew it
but just couldn't do it. 
Instead of the suet, 
I gave him some millet. 
He shuffled his feet 
and proceeded to spill it. 
Instead of the millet, 
I offered a pellet. 
He narrowed his eyes 
and would not even smell it. 
"This food," said Sir Parrot, 
"if that's what you call it,
is very unpleasant,
so open your wallet
and kindly provide me 
with ten dollars cash.
I'm off to the village
for bangers and mash." 


And here is my personal favorite
(a little ditty, pure nonsense, untitled, written in the margins of the book): 

Those that are gnome-schooled
are required to recite the Pledge of Wee-Gents,
sometimes at huge events.


What's not to love about a mind that can come up with
"the Pledge of Wee-Gents" when writing a poem about gnomes? 

The Poetry Friday round-up is hosted this week by the wonderful Sylvia Vardell, recently returned from her trip to South Africa. Head over to her blog, Poetry for Children, to see what other people have posted. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Poetry Friday: Gabriela Mistral

The Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral was the first South American to win the Nobel Prize (in 1945), and she remains the only South American woman to have done so. She was an educator, a social activist, a diplomat and a poet. She won the Chilean National Poetry Prize with her first book when she was just 25, but it's her second book - Ternura [Tenderness] - that I'm recommending for my poetry Friday post today. It contains some wonderful poems for children - familiar nursery rhyme rhythms, but slightly strange images - well, like our own English nursery rhymes, actually (don't look to nursery rhymes for sweetness and light!) 

Here are two of my favorite Mistral poems for children, translated by the wonderful Ursula LeGuin, who captures perfectly the rhythms and music of the originals.  Definitely check out Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, translated by LeGuin - it contains many of the children's poems by Mistral (called lullabies, Tell-a-World poems, "Trickeries," and "round dances") as well as a good selection of her most famous poems for adults, and an introduction that explains LeGuin's approach to translating Mistral. Hope you enjoy these.


Una rata corrió a un venado
y los venados al jaguar,
y los jaguares a los búfalos,
y los búfalos a la mar…

Pillen, pillen a los que se van!
Pillen a la rata, pillen al venado,
pillen a los búfalos y a la mar!

Miren que la rata de la delantera
se lleva en las patas lana de bordar,
y con la lana bordo mi vestido
y con el vestido me voy a casar.

Suban y pasen la llanada,
corran sin aliento, sigan sin parar,
vuelan por la novia, y por el cortejo,
y por la carroza y el velo nupcial.


A rat ran after a deer,
deer ran after a jaguar,
jaguars chased buffalo,
and the buffalo chased the sea...

Catch the ones who chase and flee!
Catch the rat, catch the deer,
catch the buffalo and the sea!

Look, look at the rat in front,
in its paws is a woolen thread,
with that thread I sew my gown,
in that gown I will be wed.

Climb up and run, breathless run,
ceaseless chase across the plain
after the carriage, the flying veil,
after the bride and the bridal train!

Gabriela Mistral - First Communion


                        A Tasso de Silveira

Dame la mano y danzaremos;
dame la mano y me amarás.
Como una sola flor seremos,
como una flor, y nada más.

El mismo verso cantaremos,
al mismo paso bailarás.
Como una espiga ondularemos,
como una espiga, y nada mas.

Te llamas Rosa y yo Esperanza;
pero tu nombre olvidarás,
porque seremos una danza
en la colina, y nada mas.

                       For Tasso de Silveira

Give me your hand and give me your love,
give me your hand and dance with me.
A single flower, and nothing more,
a single flower is all we’ll be.

Keeping time in the dance together,
singing the tune together with me,
grass in the wind, and nothing more,
grass in the wind is all we’ll be.

I’m called Hope and you’re called Rose;
but losing our names we’ll both go free,
a dance on the hills, and nothing more,
a dance on the hills is all we’ll be.

Gabriela Mistral 1889-1957

        You can read a wonderful essay about Gabriela Mistral at The Poetry Foundation website. 
The Poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Catherine at Reading to the Core. Head over there to see what other people have posted.