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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Dictionary for a Better World

 

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!

 

For the last decade give or take, I've written for a wonderful Character Education program, CORE ESSENTIAL VALUES, used by schools across the country. (If my editor happens to be reading this, I know I'm behind!  Sorry!  You'll hear from me soon…) A different core value is celebrated each month.  My bits of territory in the greater monthly offerings include an animal profile that somehow links to the value; a color that does the same, and quotations which reflect and expand its meaning.  I'll try to do a real post about it all.  I mention it now simply because I feel that such education is important – vitally important.  Perhaps it reinforces what a student is learning at home, or perhaps it introduces students to ways of being or conversations they don't often experience otherwise.

 

This interest is part of the reason I was so excited about the second book co-authored by my friends Irene Latham and Charles Waters, whose groundbreaking CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?  (Carolrhoda Books, 2018) has helped foster discussions of race relations for all ages. 

 

Chances are you've heard the buzz about, or are lucky enough to have read, DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD – Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z (hot off the press, also from Carolrhoda). "Rich" is the word that fills my mind and heart to describe this unique treasure.  It includes: poetry galore, in many familiar and off-the-beaten-path forms;  quotations that inspire and challenge (from contemporary voices and those that live on through their words); and thoughtful reflections throughout from both Irene and Charles. The back is chock-full of resources, making this volume oh-so-handy for teachers, media specialists, and parents.

 

And, the ART!  Oh, my.  Well, first, I'd dare you to resist the colorful cover.  It is a treat throughout – Mehrdokht Amini's varied images provide surprises at every turn, but are unified with an accessibility and sophistication through bold colors anchored with lots of (wonderful) dark shades, and a downright symphony of lively lettering and type. (Here is her website.)

 

The idea for the book sprouted two years ago when Charles and Irene were each waiting on flights home from snowy Michigan, after their school visit for that day got cancelled because of the weather.  Some free hours in a restaurant, some conversation… and, magic!  A book idea was born.

 

As Charles notes, however, these things are rarely an easy, straight shot.

 

"Through a rejection of another book idea, this book came into being," he says. "When one door closes, find that sliver of sunlight elsewhere."

 

Good advice!

 

And this book is full of good advice.  In addition to a poem to savor, each "entry" on an alphabetical topic (& some letters get more than one topic!) includes a quotation, a reflection (either "Charles says…" or "Irene says…" – or, for the four they co-wrote, "Irene and Charles say…"), and, finally, a "Try It" exercise suggesting ways to incorporate the theme into daily life. 

Many poetic forms will be familiar (cinquain,  persona, found poem), while others might be new to you (tricube, shadorma, etheree).

 

You'll see in the photo above that my Chihuaha's favorite poem was Irene's senryu. My little Rita does love mealtime!

 

SERVICE

 

helping hands fill plates

with meat-and-potato peaks

hope is gravy

 

©Irene Latham

 

The quote that goes along with this poem is from Lao-tzu (Tao Te Ching):

 

"The heart that gives, gathers."

 

Irene's response paragraph introduces us to some of her favorite childhood memories, when she lived down the street from a convent in Louisiana.  "One of my favorite things to do was to hang out in that enormous kitchen and help make cookies and soup to serve at retreats and community events," she writes.   The "Try it" piece invites readers to seek out service organizations and find one that fits.  "Sign up and serve just one shift, and see where it leads you."

 

Speaking of Japanese poetry forms, Irene says, "The poem that went through the most revisions -- and we still wish we could revise it at least one more time -- is 'Equality,' the renga. For that reason, it's one we ALWAYS read at school visits. So kids will know it takes a lot of work to find the right words... and even when a poem looks 'done' (as it does in a published book), there are often ways it can be improved."

 

I'll bet students are eager to add stanzas of their own.

 

Here are a couple from Irene and Charles:

 

...

 

star student, or one

who doesn't enjoy reading

we are all equal

 

whichever bathrooms we choose,

each of us wants to feel safe

 

 ...

 

This book will make readers of many different backgrounds feel safe, and, beyond that, inspired.  And beyond that, hopeful.

 

Certainly welcome in these challenging days! And a great jumping off point for National Poetry Month, don't you think? In fact, Naomi Shihab Nye has chosen DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD as the Young People's Poet Laureate Book Pick for April! :0) Here is a PDF with more of the book's story. (Learn more about Irene here and more about Charles here.) 

 

 

For more great poetry this week, visit our amazing and thoughtful Tabatha, who is always about making the world better, at The Opposite of Indifference.

*(Also, I'm working on my Spring artsyletters newsletter, which will include an old but timely poem and a quote or two, so I'll add the link here when it's ready.)* :0)

 

 Wishing you and yours the best of health.

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