Friday, November 28

My Letter to the World

And Other Poems
by Emily Dickinson
with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids Can Press 2008

It would take a very specific type of young reader to recommend this book, but for the receptive this is a gorgeous introduction to the world of Emily Dickinson.

In this slim volume from the Visions of Poetry Series by Kids Can Press we are given seven of Miss Emily's better known poems. The poems are short but spread across several pages each to better shift the illustrations to fit the mood. In this way they almost read like a collection of short illustrated stories.

As the poems have no titles, the careful reader learns that a new poem has started because the first word is set in an aqueous blue handscript with the rest of the text set in type. It can take a poem or two to understand what is going on -- especially since there's no way of knowing how long a poem will continue -- but it does have an odd way of extending the poem, lengthening the experience, forcing a reader to slow down and savor the word and illustrations.

Admittedly, I felt a little unsettled by the way the poems were broken up until I got into the rhythm. When you have seen these poems presented whole on a single page, to then see them pulled apart methodically over a few pages can be disorienting. I wasn't comfortable with what was happening until I realized that I shouldn't want to feel comfortable. This discomfort forced me to see the poems anew. What a lovely experience.

Taken as a whole, this collection feels a bit... dark. This is Miss Emily's territory, and probably another of those situations where these poems would not be published for children to read (much less illustrated so handsomely) if they were written today. Must protect the children, think of the children!

And so:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

It's Poetry Friday. Check out more over at Under the Covers.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

I like that illustration but I agree it is a bit gloomy. I think kids can handle that.

Julie said...

A lovely poem - my favorite passage is "...sore must be the storm / That could abash the little bird...." And I agree that for the right young reader at just the right moment, this book could a treasure.

Beth Kephart said...

I read on another blog that your birthday is soon, and so I wish you a happy and long extended celebration (a gigantic cake) as well as poems as fine as Dickinson's, with a little bit of sun.