A few weeks ago now, as National Poetry Month was just getting underway, I asked the librarian to point me toward the children's poetry, thinking I'd see a shelf section or two. I was shocked to find poetry filling the entire row on one side! It was a treasure trove, I tell you.
Naomi Shihab Nye is no Jack Prelutsky. Both are ridiculously prolific, but Prelutsky writes poems for children. He is beloved and was even the inaugural Children's Poet Laureate in 2006. However, I don't really like his work. It is silliness writ large. For this reason, children do like his poetry, and that is, of course, often what matters most. But I fear it demeans the art, the form of poetry for children, as though they were incapable of appreciating a great line without utter silliness infusing it. Silliness is great fun, but life ain't always silly - even for small children. In contrast, Nye is a poet who includes some work for children in her extensive publication list.
A Maze Me is devoted to girls, the experience of being a 12-year-old girl, with all its requisite ups and downs. But it is no drama queen. It is often quiet and thoughtful and while I didn't think EVERY poem in the collection was a star, there were enough to keep me gazing long past when the kids got up this morning. For instance, in "Ringing," she describes a vegetable truck, the bygone days of milk trucks, and even ice-cream trucks before declaring:
They are all bringers.
I want to be a bringer.
I want to drive a truck full of eggplantsIn the introduction, Nye describes being 12 and not feeling ready to be 13, though most of her friends were anxiously awaiting the change. She writes, "But I did not feel finished with childhood," (1) and later when she describes memories of her earliest childhood and declares, "My whole job was looking around," (3) you can understand her desire to hold on to that job, that smallness. She goes on to discuss the no-mans land feeling of junior high and how "What do you want to be? people always ask. They don't ask who or how do you want to be? I might have said, amazed forever" (4). And it strikes me that this fullness, this curiosity, this awareness of how important it is to look around, to be amazed, is what makes her poetry so alive, complete, and utterly accessible to young people.
down the smallest street.
I want to be someone making music
with my coming. (15)
In all, I wrote down 12 poem titles that I felt were absolute necessities to share with you. You simply could not finish this review without hearing every word of them. Nonsense, of course. Still, I want to share "Supple Cord" because it reminds me so of my children sharing their small room those first several years. I want to share "Having Forgotten to Bring a Book, She Reads the Car Manual Aloud" because I laughed out loud and also because I have done that exact thing. Or "People I Admire" because it is about gardening or "Sometimes I Pretend" just because it is so smart. But I will share only two:
"Some Days" (34)
Your handwriting stands
like a small forest on the page
You could enter it anywhere
Your room looks new to you
maybe you moved a lamp
arranged a pillow differently
on the bed
Such small things
change a room
on a desk you finally cleaned
sharpened pencils waiting
in a white cup
I devote myself to short sentencesI love the descriptions here, the final line, the image of handwriting as a small forest. Her ability to capture the changing nature of self through things is so perfect for this age.
A streak of light signs the floor
I hope Sunday's slow and long,
steeped like a pot of mint tea.
Soft sun and deep thinking.
Saturday was a crowded calendar page,
a mound of chores.
Could Monday be a porch?
Facing the week.
Wednesday a meadow?
Thursday, let's leave
small baskets at everyone's door.
Flowers, notes, stones.
No one does that anymore.
Could a week be strung on a silver chain?I chose this one because it is an example of one of Nye's common techniques: asking a great question. And though that question may not have a definitive answer, it lingers. I know I am going to view my Monday as a porch. How about you?
Tuesday as a tree?