Our stories are borne upon waves.
TRAVELING THE Blue Road: POEMS OF THE SEA (Seagrass Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 2017) is a recent and breathtaking collection by Lee Bennett Hopkins, featuring works by a dozen of today’s most stellar poets and mesmerizing illustrations by Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman.
First, the visual.
The violet- and indigo-hued cover is gorgeous, with its subtly-rendered small boat silhouette sailing along a horizon line of water above the title, against a backdrop of what I perceive as bubbly stars. Spot gloss on the boat and text adds to the appeal.
A variety of media is used in illustrations throughout the book, including pastels, charcoal, Conte crayons, cut paper and markers. An endnote about the artwork says, The images evolved over the course of the book, beginning with an entirely “archival” image, gradually blending archival images with drawn images, and ending with entirely drawn images. Even the art, which undulates between ethereal and gritty, is a journey.
The personal and creative story of father-son art team Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman is amazing – Click here for a 2014 feature in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
There is also a note about the various type fonts employed. (This causes shallow breathing in a lettering & type nerd such as yours truly.) I learned a thing or two, and I so appreciate the care taken with this aspect of the book. Exquisite.
Then – the words.
Wistful with wind and North Star,
the sea sailed steamships, …
I fell overboard immediately with those opening lines from Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s Forward poem, “SEA.”
Readers embark on a journey through centuries, from Columbus’s 1492 voyage and The Mayflower in 1620 through The Middle Passage and desperate travels during the Irish Potato Famine, World War II, and the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis, among others.
Here is a poem toward the end of the book from Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle, about the Mariel Boat Lift in Cuba, which took place over six months in 1980:
CARRIED ON SWAYING WAVES OF HOPE
Adiós, Mariel, crowded port
where boats swoop like seabirds,
each vessel filled up with people
who dream of seeing primos, tíos y amigos
on the far shore
in La Florida,
where we will soon
celebrate a fiesta
with plenty to eat
and freedom to speak
of our past, present, future
but still divided.
Adiós, Abuelita, adiós.
Will I ever see my grandma
©Margarita Engle. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Other contributing poets include Paul B. Janeczko, J. Patrick Lewis, Allan Wolf, Marilyn Nelson, Denver Butson, Georgia Heard, Jane Yolen, Naomi Shihab Nye, G. Neri, and Lee Bennett Hopkins.
The oceans portrayed in this collection are weighty, powerful, full of both promise and threat, as described within the final poem by Lee Bennett Hopkins:
seas seas smooth seas unfathomable seas titan seas …
After the poetry, brief, thoughtful notes explain the historical context of each poem and the dates of the events they describe. The collection targets ages 8 and up. It has been named a 2018 Notable Poetry Book for Children by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (Congratulations, all!) Read more, including some stunning reviews, at the publisher’s website here .
What was it like putting together such a challenging collection? Lee Bennett Hopkins shares these thoughts:
Compiling this anthology was an emotional experience for me. Each poet worked endlessly on each poem. We went back and forth to consider various points of view, honing not only lines and words but syllables! I wanted the poems to read like the waves of the ocean ... calling us, hugging us, showing its strength, power and what it had done, does, and will continue to do forever.
The imagery evoked gave me goose bumps: "Wistful with wind"; "fearless faith'; "facing the blue unknown"; 'the sea was never mine to see". Only poets can do this with language. They capture the sweeping, swooping, clinging, breathing sea.
I am indebted to know these marvelous talents. Ah, poetry. Ah, Poets.
(You caught that, right? The honing not only of lines and words, but syllables? That's why anthologies with Lee Bennett Hopkins's name on the spine are worthy of the accolades received, and then some!)
One final note: So delighted that Lee dedicated this book to Judith Mandell and Stephanie Salkin, whose persistence and organization of many moving parts supported Lee’s induction into the Florida Arts Hall of Fame last February, which I got to see with my own eyes. (A trip on land I’ll always treasure!)
Many thanks to Margarita Engle for sharing her poem here this week, and to Lee Bennett Hopkins for this brilliant collection, another wondrous and important addition to the bookshelf.
Speaking of journeys, for more fine poetry, steer your ship toward A Journey Through the Pages, where our good Captain Kay is rounding up Poetry Friday this week.