Out of Wonder – Setting off on a Poetree adventure

A poem is a small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined. There is a feeling of connection and communion […] when we read a poem that articulates our deepest feelings. That connection can be a vehicle on the road to creativity and imagination.

Today my children will come downstairs to find a Poetree Calendar waiting for them to explore throughout the month of December and this quote from Kwame Alexander and Chris Colderley really says it all about why I’ve created this not-quite-an-advent-calendar for them.

Every day this month, they’ll find a poem, as if buried treasure, underneath a different tree in this forest, and all being well, I’ll get to share those poems with you on the blog too.

Last year was the first time I had tried creating a Poetree (Advent) Calendar, and the experience of researching, selecting and then sharing the poems over the month was not only challenging and enriching, it also built relationships and memories. I quickly realised it was the birth of something I wanted to become a new family tradition.

2016’s Poetree Calendar

And so as 2017 has begun drawing to a close again I’ve spent the last month reading as widely and as generously as time and resource have allowed to select another 31 poems I think will work as firelighters for my girls. Some I’m pretty sure will burst like fireworks, with a bright and gasping immediate impact. Others may be slower burners, but I hope all will act as kindling; each and every one one has been chosen with love.

The poem they’ll unearth today is (Loving) the World and Everything in it by Marjory Wentworth and I found it in Out of Wonder: Poems celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander (@kwamealexander) with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth (@MarjWentworth), illustrated by Ekua Holmes.

(Loving) the World and Everything in it
celebrating Mary Oliver
by Marjory Wentworth

Each day I walk out
onto the damp grass
before the sun has spoken,
because I love the world
and the miracle of morning.

I love to stand beside
the old oak trees
beneath a symphony
of birdsong and listen
to every perfect note

while the wind passes
around me like a warm sea.
Sometimes a feather
drifts down into my hands;
I hold it and imagine flying.

Reproduced with the permission of the poet.

I chose this poem for all the echoes I thought my own children would find in it (not least their love of rising early and going out into the garden in their pyjamas, simply to “be” with the world as it is waking up). I discovered Mary Oliver thanks to a gift of an anthology by her from my Mum and passing on an introduction to Oliver’s poetry to my own children seemed the perfect way to start to this month’s exploring.

Out of Wonder is a wonderous anthology of poems that are each individual invitations to explore other poets, their use of language, their favourite subjects or to simply experience the delight they bring. Alexander, Colderley and Wentworth chose twenty different poets, ranging from Rumi to Neruda, via e.e. cummings and Robert Frost, who they wished to celebrate, on account of being “passionately in love with their poetry” and in doing so, created a party in three acts.

First, Alexander and his companions write poems drawing on the style and use of language typified by some of the poets they love, whether that be the use of particular poetic structures or unusual approach of punctuation. The second section is full of poems inspired by some of the same preoccupations of the poets they’ve chosen, drawing on the feelings and themes of the poets they admire, to create their own linked-but-distinct poetry. Finally, they let rip in a glorious fanfare, writing joyously about the gratitude they feel for the chosen poets, “by simply sharing with the world – in words – how awesome we feel about the poet and the poem.

First and foremost a great anthology has to be (pretty much) full of brilliant poetry. That’s definitely the case here, with poem after poem containing lines that leave you scrabbling for a pen to write them out on a scrap of paper, or phrases that raise the corners of your mouth and leave you feeling sparks. These are poems written from the heart, and the energy and passion of Alexander, Colderley and Wentworth are authentic and infectious. In one interview about this book, the authors themselves describe their poems as “mimicking“, but point out that “T.S. Eliot said, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” The way we learn how to write is by reading other writers. I say take that a step further and mimic their style, their voice, as it’s a great exercise in craft. It’s practice. Do it enough, and you just may find your own voice, your own style.”

Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Ekua Holmes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The poems by Alexander, Corderly and Wentworth act not only as mouthwatering appetisers to widen one’s palette for poetry, they show by doing rather than telling, implicitly encouraging readers to try this out themselves. There are plenty of “how to write poetry” books out there for children, but this takes a different approach; it infects you with wonder for great wordsmiths, it subtly breaks down how you can be a little bit like these amazing people, and then goes on to demonstrate line after line of magic. It’s fun and full of joy and leaves you wanting to have your own little slice of that, thank you very much. This isn’t a book about poetry dissection, it’s about discovering what poetry can feel like, and by connecting on an emotional level this book becomes a game changer.

Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Ekua Holmes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The poems are wonderful and clever and curiosity grabbing, and are gloriously matched in their exuberance by Ekua Holmes’ rich and robust illustrations. Playful textures and colourful patterns feature strongly in Holme’s collages and prints. I was also struck by how every person featured in the illustrations is or could be black. This was surely a deliberate decision, and one which I find refreshing; poetry illustration, like that for non-fiction, still lags a little behind fiction illustration when it comes to giving more than lip service to our hope and need for diverse and inclusive books.

You can find out more about Ekua Holmes in this podcast from Candlewick and see some more of her illustrations for Out of Wonder here.

Brief but meaningful biographies of each of the poets who have acted as inspiration for the anthology can be found in the book’s backmatter. Many of the poets may not be so familiar (at least to UK readers; the book is a US publication) and I would have loved for each biography to conclude with a suggested starting point of what to read next. By the time readers reach these bios, I suspect there will be many who want to know more, and a choice suggestion or two would capture and funnel that enthusiasm.

This is a beautiful, uplifting and thrilling anthology for curling up at home on the sofa with (though many will revel in the good dose of movement and music within the pages) but it could equally brilliantly be used in schools, where this set of teachers’ notes from the publisher may come in handy. Out of Wonder: Poems celebrating Poets is an unusual and innovative approach to introducing readers to new poets, full of passion, pleasure, and phenomenally good original poems.

I do hope you’ll be back tomorrow to find out what is under tree no. 2 in our poetree forest!

OUT OF WONDER. Preface copyright © 2017 by Kwame Alexander. Poems copyright © 2017 by the individual authors. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Ekua Holmes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

5 Responses

  1. Simone Fraser

    This is such a beautiful post. We readers are lucky you share such things. It feels like we’re part of a creative tribe. I might be projecting but, oh, well… = D I’m looking forward to experiencing this lovely book.

  2. Thank you Zoe! You make me want to go read our book again. You articulate our attitude and approach perfectly. What a beautiful review. I love the idea of a poetry for kids. Brilliant.

    With gratitude,
    Marjory Wentworth

  3. […] Poetry Heaven… Playing by the Book has a Poetree Adventure with a beautiful new poem from a different and beautifully illustrated children’s poetry book […]

  4. Only just getting to this now – wow, I would love to have seen your girls’ faces when they came downstairs to this 🙂
    This book looks truly fantastic and you’re right, v refreshing indeed to see such diversity in its pages. I will definitely get hold of this. Thank you!

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