Poetry, uh, Thursday: Ted Hughes

h1 January 24th, 2008 by jules

“Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something — perhaps not much, just something — of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment, of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being — not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses — but a human being, we call it poetry.

-– Ted Hughes *

It’s Poetry Thursday here at 7-Imp, because we have something else lined up for tomorrow. I didn’t want to miss the chance to mention a wonderful poetry anthology, published last year. To the children’s poetry devotees who read this post this will seem So Last Year. I have been slooooowwwwwly reading and enjoying it, and I’m so behind on reviewing it that I’m pretty much going to offer up a review round-up post here for those of you who might be interested in this title.

The praises of Ted Hughes: Collected Poems for Children have already been sung and sung loudly by other bloggers and print reviewers. This, a collection of over 250 poems by the late English poet laureate with pencil sketches from Raymond Briggs, was released in March of last year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and I’ve been slowly taking it in. I find this a must-have poetry anthology for children. The poems are arranged by volume (The Mermaid’s Purse; The Cat and the Cuckoo; Meet My Folks!; Nessie the Mannerless Monster; Moon-Whales and Other Moon Poems; Under the North Star; poems from What is the Truth?; and Season Songs), and we see in these poems that Hughes had a good sense of what children would find fascinating. Here’s a round-up of some of the reviews (online and otherwise) it’s received and thoughts on the anthology:

  • Kelly Herold’s review at Big A little a. Kelly reviewed the Faber and Faber edition, released in October of ’05 in the UK, and then she had many more posts last year about her love for this anthology.
  • School Library Journal, though they praised the anthology’s impressive variety of poetic styles, added that “some of Hughes’s witty and irreverent verses require sophisticated and patient readers because he includes creative grammar when he wants them to rhyme (‘Far undergrounded, Moon-miners dumbfounded’) and uses mixed cadences within a single poem that confound reading aloud without practice.” However, they close their review with: “Although the audience may be somewhat limited, this is an important addition to any large poetry collection.”
  • The Horn Book wrote, “lucky are the children who receive this collection, for they will experience the world through the exquisitely tuned words of Ted Hughes,” adding here, “this collection of Hughes’s acclaimed poetry offers glimpses of life both familiar and strange.”
  • Hazel Rochman wrote in her Booklist review, “children will love the sounds of the rhythmic lines, and Briggs’ scattering of small black-and-white drawings perfectly captures the tiny details in the words. Some poems will be read over and over again.”
  • Kirkus Reviews starred their review, writing “amazing things happen when giants write and illustrate for young people.”
  • “It is marvellous to think of children growing up with this book, evolving until they are ready for the final poems,” wrote Kate Kellaway in January ’06 at Guardian Unlimited (I, for one, am happy she mentioned this evolution; it’s worth remembering when you read the point about many of the poems’ sophistication that the SLJ review made).
  • “Appreciative but unsentimental, the late poet laureate of England and husband of Sylvia Plath reveals his super powers of observation and expression in poems suitable for kids,” wrote Susan Faust last November in the San Francisco Chronicle (thanks to Big A little a for the link).
  • Christopher Bantick in the Sydney Morning Herald (February ’06) wrote, “there is a danger that at a time when publishers are pruning their poetry lists, fiction is the predominant form of new work for children and young adults. There is a risk that poetry publishing is declining at the very time when young readers are striving to find new ways to express their imaginative stirrings. What Hughes offers in this collection is a kind of gradation of language awareness” (thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for that link to the SMH).

I particularly love what Bantick writes there, as this collection begins with playful, simpler poems you could read to a preschooler but closes with more sophisticated poems with more complicated imagery and ideas; Hughes said those latter poems were written “within hearing” of children.

Now, to read some excerpts (or excerpts of excerpts), you can try this link at Scholar’s Blog from September of last year; this poem, “The Cat,” at Big A little a; and “The Harvest Moon” here. Enjoy.

* * * * * * *

Thanks to Cheryl Klein for that quote.

9 comments to “Poetry, uh, Thursday: Ted Hughes”

  1. J, I absolutely LOVE that quote about what poetry is and does. And I love Ted Hughes’s poetry in general, so I can’t wait to get a look at this anthology. Thanks!

  2. It took me awhile to appreciate Hughes’ poetry, simply because I was letting personal feelings get in the way (Sylvia Plath). Urgh. Now that I’m a little older than I was as a freshman in college, I can actually get a grip and enjoy Hughes’ poetry. I’ll have to place a reserve on this book soon….

  3. 1. I can’t wait to see what you have cooking for tomorrow.
    2. Thanks for the Quoteskimming fodder.

  4. Cool. Poetry Thursday AND Friday. Love it.

    And that is one magnificent quote there. I can’t digest it all at once.


  6. Here’s another good quote on poetry from a post today at The Cole Mine. This one’s from Carl Sandburg. I like it even better than Hughes’, which is saying a lot:

    “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment.”

  7. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness…

    To capture all that. Sigh…
    Something to aspire to. Even on a Thursday — you rule-breakers, you…

  8. Liz:

    Breaking the law! Breaking the law!

  9. I’ll now be sharing the Hughes poems with my preschooler…Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

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