Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"How Fragile Is the Boat...." Emily Dickinson (Poetry for Kids) edited by Susan Snively

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me --

Almost unknown in her lifetime, Emily Dickinson's letters to the world, short, nature-infused poems hidden away in her room in the old house in Amherst, made her one of the most beloved of poets in the twentieth century. And today the freshness of her voice, the immediacy of her personality, and her way of finding "a World in a grain of sand, Heaven in a flower, and Eternity in an hour" as English poet William Blake put it, speaks as powerfully as ever.

Dickinson's immediate surroundings became the simple subjects of her poems--a bird, a snowstorm, a snake (her "narrow fellow in the grass"), a word, a book--but the universality of her poems sits well with the young today. In many ways she is "thoroughly modern Emily," perhaps the earliest of the modern poets, whose off-rhymes and spare language, filled with wry wordplay and inventive simile and metaphor, combine humor with depth of meaning:

Hope is a thing with feathers....
That perches in the soul.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away...

How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul.

Dickinson has a way of personifying her allusions with homely images that children understand:

Like brooms of steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street.

A near recluse, a baker, caretaker, a woman "who never saw the sea," she had no vapid Victorian lady's soul. Here is Emily on science:

Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.

Edited by Susan Snively, the just-published Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson (MoonDance Press, 2016) provides thirty-five of Dickinson's poems, some well-known and some lesser so, but all of which are carefully selected for middle readers, offering as all her poems do, a startlingly new look at common things and questions that all of us, kids, too, ask ("Will there really be a morning?"). With benedictions for butterflies and bees, a look at Death personified as a kindly wagon driver, and a little snake that still inspires "zero at the bone," Snively's selections, sorted by the seasons, give young readers a varied and generous look at Dickinson's work. There is no better teacher of the power of poetry than Emily Dickinson. With exquisite illustrations by the noted artist Christine Davenier, this slim new annotated anthology is inviting, intriguing and absorbing, offering an arresting and yet accessible introduction to a true American master. As Emily tells us...

A word is dead
When it is said
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

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