CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006
“I Did It Because…”: How a Poem Happens is really two books in one. On the one hand, as the title suggests, it is a “how to” book. Liberally scattered throughout the 64 pages of the book are numerous tips for budding young poets. As the excerpt I selected for inclusion with this review demonstrates, some of the tips constitute a list of poetry starters or topics to write about. Elsewhere, the tips include things such as instructions for identifying and sustaining a poem’s rhythmic beat, directions for recitation of poetry, and tips regarding brainstorming and broadening poetry ideas. On the other hand, however, the book is also a poetry collection. There are thirty-odd Loris Lesynski poems for children included in the book. In essence, there is plenty here for the poetry writer and the poetry reader.
Most of the poetry writing tips are quite simple. For me, the real value of the tips is the emphasis on having fun with language. The author clearly believes that poetry should be fun for children, and I believe that the tone of the book neatly fits that objective. Neither teachers nor students are likely to find many earth-shatteringly innovative poetry writing ideas, but all of the tips will serve as fodder for thought and exploration. Perhaps the most valuable item for young poets is her chart for finding rhymes. Having said that, Lesynski appropriately counsels that poems do not have to rhyme.
On page 44 and 45, Lesynski lists dozens of what she terms, “inspiration sparks”—sparks to start a poem. Lesynski includes her email address and invites readers to email other inspiration spark ideas to her.
Lesynski’s poetic style includes a generous dose of playful fun and frolic with the English language. This is perhaps best reflected in the poem, “No Smirchling Allowed.” The new teacher insists that, in her class,
Lesynski encourages young poets to experiment with language and to make up words of their own.
The poems included in the book are of somewhat mixed quality, but there are enough really enjoyable poems for most readers to get a good chuckle. Along with “No Smirchling Allowed,” my other favourites include, “If I Had a Brudda,” “Go Away, Poem!” “Walking Past Kindergarten,” “Curious,” and “What I’d Like to Know.” Many of the poems in this collection have previously appeared in earlier Lesynski collections; however, Lesynski fans will be pleased to learn that four new poems appear in print for the very first time.
Michael Martchenko provides the colourful pencil, watercolour and gouache illustrations for the book. Martchenko is, of course, best known for the illustrations he has provided for many of Robert Munsch’s best-loved works. Here, Martchenko retains his playful and engaging nature, with the illustrations consistent with the style so popular in Munsch’s books. There are even self-portraits that many of Martchenko’s young followers will be interested to see.
Just as I have a weakness for clever plays on words, I also have a weakness for illustrators who indulge in “plays on pictures.” On page 43, beneath one of the book’s new poems, “Me, My, Mine!” Martchenko depicts three monkeys sharing a laugh while they read a book containing a cover illustration that looks suspiciously similar to the artwork that appears on the cover of “I Did It Because…” How a Poem Happens.
Toward the book’s end, there are a couple of pages entitled, “How Illustrations Happen.” These two pages include useful tips for youngsters wanting to add pictures to the poems they have penned.
Early and middle years teachers will do well to add this book to their classroom library. I suspect that many children will enjoy flicking through the book’s pages and experimenting with some of Lesynski’s suggestions. I am also sure that teachers will find many of the playful poems are suitable for sharing as classroom read alouds. Furthermore, teachers will have no trouble identifying tips well worth using for whole class instruction in poetry writing exercises. The very last page lists a host of internet sites and books about poetry and art. Under the heading, “Go Exploring!” readers are encouraged to seek out further information on their own. Teachers might use this page as a starting point from which their students can engage in various extension activities or information literacy lessons.
In addition to the poems I list above, another of my favourites from the book is “I Hate Poetry!” With creative and playful use of a book like this one, teachers will find that very few of their students feel the same way. No doubt, many children introduced to this book will be keen to create their own “I Love Poetry” books.
Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children’s literature classes in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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