Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, April 3, 2015

Passing Through Time, Poetically Speaking

When we need it the most, winter sheds sleep yielding to spring.  The cold slowly gives way to warmth. Snowfall is replaced with welcome rain showers.  Spots of green appear in brown, leaf-coated gardens.  Silence is filled with song.

So it is with National Poetry Month in April.  We need this timely tribute to a body of literary verse regardless of the selected style.  Having already committed to reading more poetry for several weeks, I find myself forming fresh descriptions of my daily sensory experiences.  The beauty is rising to the top as perceptions are verbally altered.  With several memorable poetry collections to their credit author Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Chris Raschka bring us another treasure in The Death Of The Hat:  A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects (Candlewick Press, March 10, 2015).

In a four page introduction Janeczko converses with us about the divisions in poetic literary eras.  Reflections are made about the political climate during specific time frames.  He is the informed teacher and we are the eager students.  For the purpose of his selections the ages presented here are:

Early Middle Ages 400-1000
High Middle Ages 1000-1500
The Renaissance 1500-late 1600s
The Enlightenment late 1600s-1785
Romantic Period 1785-1830
Victorian Period 1837-1901
Modern Period 1900-1945
Postmodern Period 1945-present

To begin these gathered poems about objects, Janeczko includes a poem by Eloise Greenfield.

Went to the corner
Walked in the store
Bought me some candy
Ain't got it no more
Ain't got it no more

Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain't got it no more
Ain't got it no more

Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it

We make friends with a moth dining on words and a goose lost from the flock. The comfort in the continuity of grass is revealed.   A sword, a grain field, a candle and the moon entering an unexpected opening bring us into the age of The Renaissance.  We marvel at the majestic magic of the sun and the enlightening joy of peach blossoms.

A discourse on the dread of hearing drums is softened by Robert Burns' A Red, Red Rose.  A truly wondrous nod to an alphabetical member, A Riddle, On the Letter E, by George Gordon, Lord Byron will have you amazed at the profoundness found in two lines.  I wonder if I've ever read a better characterization than The Eagle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Shivers from Edgar Allan Poe, luminosity from Mary Elizabeth Coleridge and entanglements from Christina Georgina Rossetti will keep you reading.  Emily Dickinson will have you longing for travel by train and William Carlos Williams will have you doing the same for a wheelbarrow colored red. Trees of the heart and trees in the city, a cat caught in moonlight's cycles, stars, driftwood and boxes and bags divulge their secrets.

We cheer at the portrayal of fungus by Sylvia Plath and sigh at e. e. cummings's celebration of a single day.  Collectors of stamps will remember fondly the insights noted by Pablo Neruda.  Oh how I wish I still had one of my father's hats, just one, as lifted in words by the title poem, The Death of the Hat, by Billy Collins.  Janeczko chooses to close with Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye.  It's a brilliant assessment on the importance of one thing to another.  Here is the last verse.

...I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

When I think of Paul B. Janeczko two words come to mind, collector and connoisseur.  His created anthologies for readers include some of the finest examples in the chosen categories.  We are the better for reading those words he values most.  As I read poem after poem in this collection it was not only a journey through the history of poetry but one through those poems I have read repeatedly.  It was like being back in all those literature classes, enjoying every syllable.

I think I could watch Chris Raschka paint for hours.  His lines are fluidity filled with emotion. When you open the dust jacket the yellow from the front extends to the left (back) tying the two separate images together.  A picture of a walking man from Robert Louis Stevenson's My Shadow is featured.  The man resting his chin and side of his face in his hand on the front is a compilation of those men in hats from the title poem.  Beneath the jacket, the book case is a solid, smooth spring green with a pattern of stamps taken from an Ode to a Stamp Album by Pablo Neruda.

The opening and closing endpapers are absolutely breathtaking.  The first is a scene with rain in blues and golden yellows and grey clouds.  A formation of geese is flying toward light.  On the second the lost goose from an interior poem has joined the others as a red sun sets in the lower right-hand corner.  This goose is also seen repeatedly throughout the book flying toward a much-needed destination.

The rain on the opening endpaper is falling on the double-page title illustration.  A man, his back to us, is wearing a hat and carrying an open umbrella.  On the dedication pages, table of contents and introduction pages, Raschka has placed different objects handwriting labels beneath them.

As each poem dictates Raschka varies his visual sizes.  They may cover a page with partial framing.  Glancing to the right the framing envelops the accompanying poem.  Smaller images may surround a given selection.  With a page turn we gasp at a two-page depiction for Grass.  Elements cross the gutter to bridge one age to another or one poem to another.  White space is utilized to excellent effect.

You must see the illustrations for So Breaks The Sun, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Street Lanterns, the Railway Train and The Red Wheelbarrow.  These are my favorites for the brush strokes, details and color choices.  I would gladly frame any of them to hang in my home.  I can see children taking their fingers and following the lines.

This book, The Death Of The Hat:  A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects selected by Paul B. Janeczko with paintings by Chris Raschka, is a must have for every collection.  There are poems here for all readers regardless of their poetic tastes or their ages.  I have read many of them aloud today.

To learn more about Paul B. Janeczko please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the Candlewick Press website you can view an interior image.  At TeachingBooks.net various links are offered for further study about both Janeczko and Raschka.  Reading Rockets has a collection of video interviews of Chris Raschka.  Update:  Here is an interview conducted by author and blogger Julie Danielson at Kirkus with Paul B. Janeczko.

No comments:

Post a Comment