I have found that sometimes introducing youth to new and different forms of poetry can be daunting. It can be made much easier by introducing to the mix an element of fun. This is what editor Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Chris Raschka have accomplished with the collection A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms.
Janeczko collected poems to exemplify 29 different poetic forms, from the familiar (the haiku, the sonnet) to the somewhat less familiar (the aubade, the villanelle). Some forms have only one representative poem, but some have two, often to present a contrast. For example, in the case of the limerick, the first poem offered is from Edward Lear:
“There was an Old Lady whose folly
Induced her to sit in a holly;
Whereupon, by a thorn
Her dress heing torn,
She quickly became melancholy.”
To illustrate how poets can play within a form and break the rules, Janeczko contrasted this classic limerick with a selection from Steven Herrick:
“There once was a limerick called Steven
whose rhyme scheme was very uneven
it didn’t make sense
it wasn’t funny
and who’d call a limerick Steven anyway?”
I really appreciated these contrasting examples, as they illustrate very well the axiom, “First learn the rules, then you can break them.” I think these poems will help readers realize that those some forms of poetry have rules, the beauty of poetry is that once you understand these rules, they are fluid.
Janeczko’s selections for poems are varied. He highlights classic poems from William Blake, Edward Lear and William Shakespeare, as well as modern poets like Alice Schertle and Gary Soto. There were even some poets with whom I was not familiar, such as Penny Harter.
The arrangement of the poems works very well. Janeczko starts with the simplest forms, such as couplets, then moves to more complicated forms, both in length and in style. Poetic forms that are considerably visual, such as a concrete poem, are found towards the end of the collection. Every spread is beautifully illustrated with lively paintings from Chris Raschka. For every poetic form, Raschka includes a small icon to represent the form, and to signal to the reader that something new is coming.
Janeczko includes a very helpful introduction to prepare readers for the collection to follow, along with suggestions as to how to the read the book. Backmatter includes more detailed information about each poetic form than is included throughout the book. A list of acknowledgements at the end give credit to each of the contributing poets.
There are so many opportunities for poetry breaks given throughout this book, but one idea that struck me the most had to do with a found poem. According to Janeczko, a found poem “is taken from a piece of writing that wasn’t written as poetry…and arranged on the page as a poem.” The example given in the book is “The Paper Trail” by Georgia Heard:
“They fluttered from the sky like a sweet and peaceful snowstorm:
sheets and scraps – a crumpled page of cleaning instructions
with a reminder to damp-wipe smudges and smears;
a woman’s cell-phone bill;
a hand-written note on aper decorated with kitchen herbs read:
‘…it would be nice to have another pot-luck dinner for parents’;
a blank check numbered 3746 neatly torn from a check-book.
Bits of paper floated into the open classroom windows,
drifted into a second floor apartment window on Liberty Street.
At St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Lower Manhattan,
three inches blanketed old graves.”
In the backmatter, Janeczko admits that this is not a true found poem, as it is made largely of Heard’s own words, but the idea is still the same. I have seen other examples of found poems, and one I have seen that I would love to try with students involves taking a page from a discarded or damaged book (and in a library, we have no shortage of those) and selecting words along the page to create a poem, highlighting them through artwork on the page itself. I think a project like this would resonate with my older patrons.
Janeczko, Paul B., ed. A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780763606626