Poetry Friday: “Very old souls” (in adolescent bodies) on the nature of things

h1 April 11th, 2008 by jules

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Pictured, left:
MORNING SCENE IN MY HOMETOWN
by Jeane Renee T. Nubla,
age 14

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I suppose it’s possible that reading poetry crafted by children is not for everyone. But I believe that if it’s done well—and presented well—then you might experience what Barry Lopez describes when talking about the new poetry anthology I have the distinct pleaure of telling you about today, River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, edited by Pamela Michael and with an introduction by Robert Hass (Milkweed Editions; March 2008): “To turn these pages—to gaze and peruse here— is to discover an unfamiliar joy. These young people offer transcendence, enchantment, and the experience of human attainment—sensations adults too often, now, lose track of.” Having just finished this impressive new poetry collection, I concur entirely with Mr. Lopez. This is a beautifully-designed collection of thought-provoking, nuanced, and sometimes breathtaking poems—all written by children or teens.

In 1995, then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and writer Pamela Michael founded the nonprofit group, River of Words, based in California. Since their inception, and as their web site will tell you, they have “been conducting training workshops for teachers, park naturalists, grassroots groups, state resource agencies, librarians and others . . . helping them to incorporate observation-based nature exploration and the arts into their work with young people.” River of Words conducts an annual art and poetry contest — which culminates with an awards ceremony at The Library of Congress (winners of the 2007-2008 contest will be celebrated on May 12 this year with Hass hosting) — and K-12 students from all over the world are eligible to participate. This new poetry anthology is a collection of these images and poems from the past ten years, the ones that have been chosen as award winners, created by students ranging from ages six to eighteen. Every poem and every piece of art work is an exploration or appreciation of the watersheds in which these children live (the program is “structured around the local watershed: Kids learn where a raindrop starts and ends its life in their region,” as this Sierra Club feature describes it). As Hass put it in (in that same piece), when describing some of these astonishing poems and images, “{s}ome of our youngest children have very old souls.”

This really is one of the most inviting poetry anthologies I’ve read in a while. It is beautifully-designed (and, of course, printed on acid-free paper); well-organized (there is an Index of Poems and Art by Bioregion at the book’s close, as well as a List of Schools and Organizations, including a mention of the teacher’s name, which is an extra-nice touch, I must say); and, best of all, each poem and each piece of art work is entirely given its due with the book’s refreshingly non-cluttered design. I can’t recommend the book enough, particularly for school libraries, as it’s such an engaging title for poetry units as well as environmental ones. And not only did I get a lot out of this poetry, but—to boot—I’m now aware of the work of River of Words and their efforts to build environmental awareness and community through art. As the book’s editor puts it in this piece at Common Ground, “{t}he struggle over water in the 21st century will make oil seem like child’s play,” Hass adding, “{t}here is no reason we cannot give our kids hope, and a sense of pride, and a love of our amazing earth, and a sense of purpose, and we need to begin now. River of Words is the seed of a place to start.”

And, because I want you to get a sense of how captivating some of these poems and images are, I secured permission (from Milkweed) to share some with you, including the art work and poem that opens this post. Here are some more. I saved my favorite for last. It’s short but packs a sucker punch to the heart.


RAINY DAY by You Na Park, age 15


RIVER OF WORDS by Tan Shu Huey, age 18

Cloudscome at a wrung sponge is handling the Poetry Friday round-up today. Happy Poetry Friday to one and all . . .

Note: All poems and images from RIVER OF WORDS, copyright © 2008, posted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.

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12 comments to “Poetry Friday: “Very old souls” (in adolescent bodies) on the nature of things”

  1. Must have. Immediately. Wow.


  2. Whoa. This looks incredible. “Dear Night” is excellent, but the real standout for me is the ART!! How gorgeous.


  3. eisha, I love “Dear Night,” too. As for the art, I agree, and I totally added each of those three artists to our featured-artists page. They’re all mingling over there with the older, professional artists, but they deserve it. I wonder if we’ll see their work again one day, published some place. Beautiful stuff. There are even more beautiful images in the book.


  4. Gorgeous artwork! Will have to add this collection to my “must purchase” list. Thanks!


  5. Oh, wake my red heart, indeed. I think I’m seriously in love…


  6. Oh boy, those poems! SO good. And that artwork – it’s positively luminous!

    And so is this blog. I just love visiting.


  7. Wow oh wow!


  8. Those poems are significantly better than the ones I see in the college-level creating writing class I teach. They’re really gems.


  9. Very awesome illustrations. Wow. I enjoyed “O fresa/Perdoname…” That’s a funny beginning to a poem, and I love funny beginnings.


  10. These are amazing! Wow. I’m really starting to think that we lose some sense of clarity in seeing the world as we grow older. I don’t know.

    BTW, I wrote about Robert Hass today at Finding Wonderland! Cool coincidence.


  11. Oh my soul this is beautiful! I have GOT to get this anthology! The poems and the artwork are just unbelievable. Great review.


  12. I am a poet. I also am an older person/citizen/writer/reader an former teacher (25 yrs) and I was blown away by the profound, original and reflective poems. They were not merely written as an exercise except with the exercise of digging into their souls. Beautiufl language and thoughts. And incredible art work. WOW! I am impressed and I don’t impress easily.


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