Friday, April 27, 2007

The Blizzard Voices by Ted Kooser

April is National Poetry Month. I read poems all the time because I write poems. I believe you can't write what you don't read. I tried to read even more poems this month. Ted Kooser is a favorite poet of mine because I believe in his philosophy that a good poem is one that you can understand.

I had The Blizzard Voices sitting here for almost a month before I finally read it today. I put it off because I knew it was going to be sad. I was right. The Blizzard of 1888, also known as The Schoolchildren's Blizzard, took many lives. I had read about it before, but Kooser puts words in the mouths of the survivors and it is tear making. People lost arms and legs, animals died, children stayed in the schoolhouses because they couldn't see three feet in front of their faces to find their way home across the wide open prairie. There were the brave and the foolish. A very sad time that proves what we all know, nature has no concern for us, and we shouldn't expect it.

This book of poetry is understandable and lovely. It reads in about a half hour but will stay with you for ages.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Ever since the controversy over the use of the word scrotum in this book, I have wanted to read it. And you know what, scrotum is in there, but there is so much more to the book that the word is really irrelevant to the story, or so I thought until I got to the end, where it comes back in the wrap-up. Still, I was not offended in the least, and if I had kids, I would not hesitate to read this to them.

This is the story of Lucky, who is anything but lucky. Her mother died, her father doesn't want her, and her guardian seems bent on getting back to France, leaving Lucky all alone again. What to do? Like any ten year old, the idea of running away makes perfect sense.

The Higher Power of the title comes from Lucky's penchant for listening in on _____ Anonymous meetings. She wants to find her higher power to help her come through her problems--namely that no one seems to want her.

Lucky has a best friend named Lincoln who is preoccupied with tying knots. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, the two of them go out on the highway where there is a sign: Slow Children at Play. He adds a colon to make it mean what it is supposed to mean.

There is not a single person in this book who is perfect. I think that is its charm. That and the setting in a tiny desert town in California where the people are given license to be a little eccentric, all 43 of them.

Kids will relate to Lucky I think and she is a plucky little girl well worth emulating.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

This is my first book in the Newbery challenge. To start, I had a real forehead slapping moment when I looked up the author of this book. He also wrote one of my favorite YA books of all time, Z for Zachariah. Considering that, I am surprised I never read the Rats of NIMH book before. And I was also surprised to find out that O'Brien died young and it was his wife and daughter who finished Z from his notes. And his daughter went on to write a few other NIMH books. But enough history.

It is no wonder this book won a Newbery. It is a wonderful adventure about intelligent rats and mice. Mrs. Frisby is a mouse whose soul concern is saving her children from the farmers plow. Normally they would have just moved from the garden where they were living to their summer quarters, but this year is different because one of her children is sick and can't risk the journey too soon. Luckily, on advice from the wise owl, she goes to the rats to ask for help in moving her home to the lee side of a rock in the garden where it will be safe from the plow. In so doing she finds out that her dead husband had a connection to the rats. He and they had escaped from NIMH. A scientific lab where they were all getting shots to make them smarter and longer living. And it worked.

The rats have their own thing going on. They are planning a move to a new location where they will become self-sufficient and able to quit stealing from humans to live.

I loved this book. O'Brien writes in a style that I like to read. His sentence structure goes right into my brain and I fall right into the story. All around, a fine read and I am sure this would make a wonderful read-aloud for kids.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

When you read non-fiction, I think that sometimes you decide that you like the author and therefore like the book and vica-versa. I liked Richard Hugo. He starts this book out saying that everything he says is wrong. When writing poetry, this is his method, but it may well be wrong for every other writer out there. How can I not respect that?

The idea of triggers is exactly what its name suggests, a thing that might trigger a poem, or the idea for a poem. But that is only one small part of this book. He also talks about sounds of words and how we have an ear for sounds we like and use them over and over. One chapter is on Roethke, who Hugo had as a teacher. I believe his chapter in defense of creative-writing classes is quite famous. And he finishes the book with the story of how one of his poems came to be based on an anecdote told to him at work.

I don't know that this was the greatest how-to write book I have ever read, but as I said, I liked the author and since many of the chapters are lectures he gave, I would have really enjoyed being in his class.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Newbery Challenge

I have decided to join the Newbery challenge proposed by I have loved the Newbery books I have read in the past and since I have been in a sort of slump lately, this will be a good way to get pumped up again.

Here is my list of 6 books:

Get on your mark,

1. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron 2007 (currently waiting for me at the library)
2. The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg 1997
(2. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (replaces Konigsburg which I already read.))
3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien 1972 (I may have read this before, but I have no memory of it)
4. Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson 1945
5. Onion John by Joseph Crumgold 1960
6. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson 1978 (I know I read this one, but it was so long ago that I need to read it again)

Get set,

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Trouble with Poetry and other Poems by Billy Collins

I like Billy Collins poetry. It is understated and understandable. It is also witty which appeals to me a lot. Collins sits in front of his window watching the world go by and writing poems about it. If that sounds trite, it isn't. Would that we all had such elegance in our souls when it comes to seeing the world close up. The first stanza of the first poem in the book:


The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

I love that. It is simple, but it says so much about being there every day to work. Poetry is less about inspiration and more about showing up every day to give the words a chance to emerge.

Wonderful book by Collins who was US Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Ten Books You Can't Live Without

Kailana of The Written World suggested making a list of the ten books that bloggers think they or the world should not be without. Here is my list, but keep in mind that it is constantly evolving and might well change by the time I post this response.

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
2. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
3. Illusions by Richard Bach
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
6. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
7. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald
8. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
10. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser

This has been an odd year. I have yet to be really caught up by any great novels--oh, I have read a few good ones, but nothing like last year's The Book Thief.

Instead, I have been reading poetry and poetry how-to books. And maybe that is the problem. I have started working on my own poetry with a vengeance and naturally want to fill my brain with books of this sort.

So, I just finished The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser for the second time. He is so wonderful to read. He believes in poetry readers can understand. Now that is a change from high school. Remember when you had to write papers on what a poem was about? What a chore that was. And here is Ted saying that it should be self-evident what a poem is about. We should write for the people we want to be our readers and whoa, our readers are usually normal human beings who don't have to write a paper to pass senior English.

Another thing to like about this book is that it has a feeling of kindness. As if you are sitting in a kitchen with your favorite uncle having a coffee and he is telling you what he thinks about poetry and quoting examples from memory of verse he really loves. He makes you want to try your hand at writing a poem just by his warm regard for you as a writer.

And his advice is sound. Something as simple as not using an ampersand (&) in your poems because it will stop the readers dream is perfect, because it is right. I have read poems with & in them and my eye does catch and I do wonder for a split second, why is this in here.

I think that if you are looking for a lot of technical information and exercises for writing poetry, then this is not the book for you. But if you want a prod in the right direction, this is one of the best. And if you don't plan on ever writing a piece of poetry in your life, but you want to read some poems and understand the process a little better, this is a very good place to start.

Below, I reviewed one of Ted's poetry books and there is a sample of a poem he wrote. His work is charming. As ex-Poet Laureate of the United States, you would expect good things from the pen of Ted and he delivers on that promise.