Category Archives: Poetry

The Book Whisperer Praises a Treasure

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Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids is illustrated by Christine Davenier and edited by Susan Snively, Ph.D. While the title suggests the book is for kids, I would argue that it is for anyone! Davenier’s beautiful illustrations enhance Dickinson’s spare poems. Certainly, Dickinson’s poem stand on their own, requiring no illustrations, but Davenier has provided a world of color and animals to accompany the poems.

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Purchase Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids for yourself and another one to give to a child. It is a charming book that you can read over and over, always finding new pleasure in the poems themselves and the illustrations.

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Snively has also included definitions for words children might not recognize. They are discreetly placed at the bottom of the page so they do not interfere with the words or the illustrations.

Susan Snively is a Dickinson scholar and has chosen the poems well. The poems she chose are ones children will remember as they continue to read Dickinson. Snively maintains a Web site at https://susansnively.com/.

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See more of Christine Davenier’s work on her site: https://www.christinedavenier.com/.

The Book Whisperer Scored Books!

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At the August Tulsa Community College Retirees’ meeting, the Book Whisperer scored books! Don Mathieson presented a quiz on Oklahoma trivia, and I won! The first prize was How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? by William R. Pogue. As a bonus, Don also gave me a copy of Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, 2017-2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. Of course, the prizes came with strings: write reviews.

 

William R. Pogue was born in Okemah, OK. He earned his BS from Oklahoma Baptist University and an MS in mathematics from Oklahoma State University. He also received an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma Baptist University. He served in the Air Force and became an astronaut as well as a teacher, public speaker, and author.

As an astronaut, he was commander of the last crew of Skylab where the members set a record of 84 days which remained unbroken for twenty years. During their time in orbit, the crew completed a number of research experiments.

How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?  has an introduction by John Glenn. In that introduction, Glenn ends with “I urge all readers to develop an inquisitive approach to the world around you. That is the first step toward solving the challenging puzzles and intriguing mysteries of life.” That’s good advice for all.

Pogue begins the book with answers to questions about himself, airplanes, astronauts, the military, and sundry other topics related to serving in the Air Force and as an astronaut. The whole book is written in question and answer format. That format allows Pogue to cover a wide range of subjects related to his life. That format also allows readers to dip into and out of the book rather than reading it in one sitting.

The appendix covers psychological effects, information on space camps, and recommended readings and other references. For anyone interested in space exploration, the book provides useful first-hand information as well as resources for further study.

And now for something completely different (for you Monte Python fans), let’s turn to Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. Mish is 2017 – 2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. She is an accomplished poet, writer, and scholar with an impressive resume. Find more about her including a schedule of events at this Web site: http://jeanettacalhounmish.com/.

 

Mish, obviously, is a poet; she is also an essayist, editor, speaker, and poetry workshop leader. In Oklahomeland, Mish introduces readers unfamiliar with Oklahoma to “compelling narratives and imagery [that] entice you into caring as much as she does.”

Mish has won a number of awards for her work as a poet and editor. She won the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry, the 2010 Western Heritage Award for Poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the 2010 WILLA Award for Poetry from Women Writing the West.

Oklahome includes essays on “Who/What? Oklahomans/Writing,” “A Review of Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth,” and “Looking for (Ralph) Ellison” among others.

Perhaps the most poignant is “The Oklahoma We Call Home.” In that essay, Mish writes about leaving Oklahoma at eighteen “to travel, to live in five other states and visit many others, to stay for extended periods in continental Europe, but I never felt at home in the landscape anywhere other than Oklahoma.”

She continues in “The Oklahoma We Call Home” to tell stories of time spent with her grandfather and of using the words he taught her. For example, she writes, “I call cicadas ‘locusts,’ because that’s what Grandpa called them.” Mish describes her grandfather’s voice as “musical…a soft baritone that felt more like velvet than cotton.”

When Mish goes on to say her grandfather and other men in the family did not talk much because “the women in our family didn’t leave much conversation for the men,” readers will feel as if they are sitting on the front porch at a family gathering. Perhaps a given reader’s own family is much the same.

Near the end of “The Oklahoma We Call Home,” Mish muses, “I’ve been gone from Oklahoma for a long time – most of 15 years. I needed to come home. The land calls me. I missed the trees, the abundant wildlife, the wind – and the smell.” Mish’s writing is evocative of the place of which she writes. She covers the warts in Oklahoma as well as the beauty and the talent.

Mish is contributing editor to Sugar Mule, “”a long-standing, world-converging website for general readers”: http://sugarmule.x10.mx/index.htm.  Sugar Mule offers “fiction, essays, book reviews, all types of prose and poetry.” See Sugar Mule’s Facebook page: http://www.FACEBOOK.com/sugarmule for the monthly flash fiction selection.

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a Poet/Friend

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How do we identify a poet? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a poet is “one who writes poetry; one who displays imagination and sensitivity along with eloquent expression.” Perhaps we could sum up the definition most succinctly with these words: A poet is a writer of poems! That makes as much sense as trying to define the beauty found in a rose or the wonder found in a baby’s smile.  A poet looks like a colleague, a neighbor, a minister. A poet simply IS.

We can continue this conversation by asking ourselves to define poetry. The obvious first answer comes from Emily Dickinson who wrote, “”If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Dylan Thomas provided us with his definition: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.” We can define the word poetry; however, even in defining it, the word loses meaning. Poetry simply IS.

As a student of literature and language and a lover of reading, I am well acquainted with poets throughout the ages and from other cultures. I am privileged to know three excellent poets. Their willingness to share their gift of poetry with others makes them vulnerable; it also allows us mere mortals who cannot create the beauty of poetry grateful for that willingness to be vulnerable.

Shelby Scott has shared his poetry in Gather up the Fragments published in 2016. Shelby identifies himself as “poet, priest, and sailor.” All of those qualities show up in various ways throughout his poetry. In the forward, Shelby says, “The needle spins around the compass rose and it’s easy for us to lose any sense of direction. What we make of that swirl is in some mysterious way a measure of our lives.”

Truly, we can lose direction in our lives for any number of reasons: a sudden death of a loved one, an unexpected change in health, or a poor choice made for what seemed like good reason. That’s when poetry can help us by providing solace, delivering laughter, and/or offering a new look at an old problem.

In reading through Gather up the Fragments, I found memory, looks forward, and comfort. In “Lament,” Shelby writes of parishioners who move away, remembering the times together and the promises of expected return. Readers can interpret the poem more broadly to include loss of loved ones, family or friends who move far away or who pass away, lost to us in the moment, but still very real in our hearts and memory.

“Grandfather Spindler” is a poem based on a photograph of a man in a naval uniform from the Spanish American War. The poem describes what is not known, but also what is known:

“What I do know is that you were the gentle grandfather

Who played checkers,

Ushered at the Methodist Church,

And discreetly slipped Life Savers to your granddaughter.”

For those looking for a reflection of themselves, “Black Shoes” is the poem. Who doesn’t have a story to tell about dressing hurriedly and accidentally choosing two different shoes, or of putting two colors together and later realizing they clash, or discovering too late that a shirt has a small tear in the sleeve? The feelings that accompany those little mistakes vary according to how we learn about the flaws—from our own recognition or someone else’s.

Another poem, “Winter Wind,” brings vividly to mind that “Wind sounds different in the winter…. It is the emptiness of cold.” Such lines take readers into that cold wind in a way that prose never does. That’s the beauty of a poet: the ability to say succinctly what we readers wish we could.

Finally, I would bring readers’ attention to “Cocoon.” The use of the word cocoon itself to form the basis of the poem draws readers into the story.

“The arms of the letter ‘C’ wrap around forming

A nice warm envelope.”

The image continues through “Cocoon” developing in the end to the contentment of two who “cuddle in the boat the way we do at night.”

If we begin by trying to define poets and poetry, we must end the same way. A poet, unnamed, has explained a poem as “a thought, caught in the act of dawning.” Perhaps the best way to end the discussion is with this definition also by an unnamed poet: “Poetry is a pheasant disappearing in the brush.”