Friday, November 03, 2006

POETRY FRIDAY: Joyce Sidman, Part I


Joyce Sidman is fast establishing an excellent name for herself as a children’s poet. Sidman’s SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN & OTHER POND POEMS was one of the most notable children’s books published in 2005. It is truly the work of a master poet. It is also the work of an individual who is a careful observer of nature, a person who is a scientist of the heart. It deservedly received a multitude of accolades, including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. This collection includes poems about spring peepers, wood ducks, green darners, duckweed, the water boatman—and more. This is not just a poetry book—this is as beautiful a science book as you will ever find.

Look at how Sidman uses repetition to its best advantage in the following two stanzas of her poem about spring peepers:

From Listen for Me

Listen for me on a spring night,
on a wet night,
on a rainy night.
Listen for me on a still night,
for in the night, I sing.

That is when my heart thaws,
my skin thaws,
my hunger thaws.
That is when the world thaws,
and the air begins to ring.

There’s no doubt that the beautiful woodblock and watercolor illustrations by Beckie Prange add to the appeal of this book. But Sidman’s fine poetry and prose, which inform readers about the flora and fauna that inhabit a pond, are topnotch and every bit a match for Prange’s art. (Prange won a Caldecott Honor for SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN.) This is a great book to use across the curriculum in connecting science and poetry.

SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN is an outstanding book. I thought if any book of poetry deserved a nod from a Newbery committee—this was the one. But it was not to be. Fortunately, the book did receive many other accolades. Take a look at the honors and awards conferred on it:


Sidman’s most recent collection, BUTTERFLY EYES AND OTHER SECRETS OF THE MEADOW, is a masterful follow-up to SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN. Its poems and prose open OUR eyes to the world of the meadow. Topics of the poems include grasshoppers, snakes, hawks, butterflies, and dew. All the poems are riddles. One riddle is a concrete poem that takes shape as a toad. Two other poems are written as letters. We Are Waiting is a pantoum, a poetic form composed of quatrains in which the second and fourth lines of one quatrain are repeated as the first and third lines of the following quatrain. That’s not an easy poem to write.

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite poems in the book.

From Bubble Song

Beautiful bubbles
bubbles of pearl,
all in a clustery, bubbly swirl
Bubbles I blow
from my own bubble-spout
(I’ll never
I’ll never
I’ll never come out!)

Beautiful bubbles
bubbles of foam
Bubbly castle,
snug bubble-home
keeps my skin tender
saves me from drought
(I’ll never
I’ll never
I’ll never come out!)

This is a mask poem. Who is speaking? Remember…it’s a riddle. The reader is expected to take clues from the text of Sidman’s poem and from the illustration by Beth Krommes…and maybe—just maybe—deduce that Bubble Song is the song of a spittlebug. And if the reader is clueless, that’s fine. On the following two-page spread, Sidman gives us the answer to the riddle and a paragraph of prose in which she provides further information about the spittlebug.

In BUTTERFLY EYES, Joyce Sidman displays her deft touch in using a particular style or form of poem to suit its subject. This is a collection of finely honed writing. Krommes’ scratchboard illustrations are striking in their depiction of the beauty of the meadow. They also provide us with some close-up views of the little inhabitants that often go unnoticed therein.

Recommend this book to budding naturalists. Recommend this book to teachers for use in the science curriculum. Recommend this book to a poetry lover. Aw heck! Recommend this book to everyone. It’s a comer!!!

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO DOG: POEMS AND TEEN VOICES, which was published in 2003, is a fine collection of poetry and prose. Sidman’s poems speak mostly of the ways dogs embed their presence in our lives. Her dog Merlin (1994-2004) was the inspiration for this book in which she uses a variety of forms, including haiku and a poem for two voices. Along with Sidman’s poems, there are short essays written by young people about their dogs that are touching and sincere. This may be just the kind of poetry collection that would appeal to middle school and older students who insist they don’t like poetry—especially if they are dog lovers.

Here is a haiku from the book:


I dream of deep-sea
fishing: awake to find dog
breathing in my face.

From Honey, Cream, and Licorice

In the neighborhood park,
far away from it all
yet somehow smack
in the heart of things,

a trio of dogs lick noses.
One, the color of cream,
another of honey,
the third a deep black licorice.

Three dogs
in the spring sun,
licking noses. Briefly
this tottering world
rights itself.

Please come back on Saturday for Part II of Joyce Sidman, Poet and Scientist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine,
Thank you for sharing those wonderful poems.