April time for rhyme—April 18, 2008
April is National Poetry Month, and there are many marvelous books in the children’s department of the library that can introduce you to a wide variety of poetry forms.
Haiku is a very old and very short form of poetry that originated in Japan. Each poem captures a single moment of everyday life, using only the words that best convey a mood. A haiku contains seventeen syllables and the syllables are usually arranged in a five-seven-five pattern.
Kobayashi Yataro, known as Issa, is one of the most famous Japanese poets. He was born in 1763 and began writing poetry as a young child, inspired by his love for the natural world. “Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa” by Matthew Gollub contains a biography of this Japanese haiku poet as well as translations of more than thirty of his best-loved poems.
Other collections of haiku include “Flower, Moon, Snow” by Kazue Mizumura, “Red Dragonfly on My Shoulder” by Sylvia Cassedy, and “If Not For the Cat” by Jack Prelutsky.
“Tap Dancing on the Roof” by Linda Sue Park introduced me to sijo, a type of poetry that originated in Korea. These poems are longer than haiku and also contain a surprise, an unexpected twist, or a joke at the end. The author includes historical background of this poetry form as well as tips for writing your own sijo.
Edward Lear was a British writer who lived from 1812 to 1888 and was known for his nonsense poems, especially limericks. You can sample his work in the book “There Was an Old Man…: A Gallery of Nonsense Rhymes.” You can also find a selection of limericks and other nonsense poems in James Marshall’s book “Pocketful of Nonsense.”
I enjoy reading concrete poetry, which is also sometimes called pattern poetry or shape poetry. In this type of poetry, the arrangement of the words on the page helps to convey the meaning of the poem. For example, in the book “Flicker Flash” by Joan Bransfield Graham you’ll find a poem titled “Lightning Bolt.” The words of the poem are arranged on the page to look like a bolt of lightning. More examples of concrete poems as well as a more complete explanation of this type of poetry can be found in Paul Janeczko’s book “A Poke in the I.”
For the very simplest book of poetry that’s suitable even for toddlers, look for “One Sun: A Book of Terse Verse” by Bruce McMillan. This book describes a day at the beach in a series of verses, each made up of two one-syllable words that rhyme, such as “lone stone” and “snail trail.” Each verse is accompanied by a photograph that illustrates it. After reading this book, you and your children might be inspired to make up your own terse verses!
You’ll find these and many more books of poetry in the children’s department of the library!