Friday, May 18

3 by Alarcon (and a few thoughts on Prelutsky)

From the Bellybutton of the Moon / Del Ombligo de la Luna
1998

Angels Ride Bikes / Los Angeles Andan en Bicicleta
1999

Iguanas in the Snow / Iguanas en la nieve
2001

by Francisco X. Alarcon
illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Children's Press Books

I wanted to discover a new voice, some new poetry. I wanted it to be my discovery. Not necessarily something new, not something I could trumpet to the world as the next big thing, but something out there that hadn't crossed my path. There's a lot out there.

I went looking for a new voice in children's poetry and initially I went to the Poetry Foundation website because they had anointed the first Children's Poet Laureate last fall. Given my goal that might sound like cheating but what I wanted was to know what was already out there. I didn't want to "find" what someone else was pushing. Turns out I needn't have worried, there wasn't really anything there.

I jumped around on the Internet and landed on a California poet named Francesco X. Alarcon. In simple two- and three-line stanzas he was writing about the small moments of barrio life, of growing up in California, of the migrant and Mexican American experience. I couldn't find anything in bookstores and was able to track down three of his four seasonal collections.

Los Libros / Books

pasaportes / oversized
de talla mayor / passports

que nos permiten / that let us
viajar / travel

a dondequiera / anywhere
cuandoquiera / anytime

y no dejar / and keep on
de sonar / dreaming

In Alarcon's poems a family dressed in army surplus cold weather parkas become the iguanas playing in the rarely-seen snow. There is an ode to the man who twirls his mustache and sells popsicles from a cart at the end of the alley on a summer day. In his poems the imported palm trees of Southern California cha-cha-cha during earthquakes. The colorful illustrations that accompany the poems are in the bold colors and flattened surfaces reminiscent of the Mexican mural movement. The poems and their presentation are perfect for emerging readers who are ready for poetry beyond the rhymes, beyond nonsense, who might be looking for their own poetic inspiration.

Para escribir poesia / To Write Poetry

debemos / We must
primero tocar / first touch
oler y soborear / smell and taste
cada palabra / every word

That pretty much is the complete lesson plan for a poetry unit. Not that you'd find an administration that would accept it as one. I didn't expect to uncover a great new voice but I was happy to have been so successful in a single casual outing.

* * * * *

April, as may remember, was National Poetry Month. While many in the kidlit blogosphere were doing many wonderful things with the month I just wasn't feeling it this time around.

I did, however, hold a secret hope that we would be seeing some more high-profile books and event surrounding National Poetry Month. The source of my hope was the naming of Jack Prelutsky as the Children's Poet Laureate back in the fall by the Poetry Foundation. At the time I imagined that Prelutsky would seize the opportunity to give children's poetry a higher profile, something along the lines of what Robert Pinsky did when he raised the national level of discussion about poetry with his Poet Laureate status. I'm not saying Prelutsky would have to hold a regular gig on NPR, or hold down the fort at Slate.com, or create the Favorite Poem Project, but then again, why couldn't he?

I guess I was hoping that when National Poetry Month rolled around we'd be hearing more from old Jack. Perhaps I just always happened to be out of earshot, perhaps he was out there discovering and promoting new children's poets, making a case for better rhymes or even for an examination of serious poetry for children. I'm not talking about having to track the man down on the Poetry Foundation website for a couple of puff entries but something a little more in our faces.

Oh, wait, he had two of his own book released during National Poetry Month, Good Sports and Me I Am, and it looks like his various publishers went back and dusted off all his older titles. And just this week another new Prelutsky book hit the shelves, In Aunt Giraffe's Green Garden, only this one came out with a Hollywood style name-above-the-title cover that proudly proclaimed "Jack Prelutsky, Children's Poet Laureate".

Huh.

Don't get me wrong, Jack Prelutsky is a fine children's poet and has dozens of very popular books to prove it. The recognition isn't undeserved, though it is unnecessary. I guess I assumed that the title and the position was meant to be something more than a marketing tag and a lifetime achievement laurel.

One needs to be enchanted before being disenchanted, so I guess I'll have to settle for disappointed.
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