Pour Me.

A review of Bob Raczka's Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

So I love this book. It's another "shelfie" for sure. The masterful Raczka pours out concrete poetry/word art/vispo and makes quite the impression. A permanent mark on the form that further solidifies his place among the best in children's poetry.

But why pour me? This work is so good that it almost makes me want to quit writing. Seriously. Just read the last poem (my favorite in the book) and tell me it isn't brilliant. It makes me think: "why should I keep trying at this writing thing?"  "Who can top this?"  "When will I ever get a poem published?"

But I won't quit. Because Wet Cement also does what great writing does: it INSPIRES. And, that is reason enough to put this book on the Christmas/birthday list for the kids. Creativity takes courage and this book takes risks that pay off. To be a good writer you have to read good writing. Inspire young writers, expand their view of poetry and buy this book. Put it on the gift list. (Remember books are easy to wrap.) Adults, put it on your coffee table - it's a alphabetical architecture book that your friends will love. In the meantime, I am reading and writing and I will be back.

Poetically Speaking,


Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka is published by Roaring Brook Press, 2016.



Children's Books You Need On Your Shelf...Right Now

With the Christmas season upon us I want to list a few unique books that would make great gifts. As my children were growing up, we had a tradition in our family to give a special book to each child at Christmas. Now, I am doing the same for nieces and nephews to help them build their home libraries. Maybe I’m becoming the “crazy book lady” but I’m OK with that. And one more thought....if possible support you local bookstore for your purchases. (If you live nearby in Nashville, support Parnassus Books in Green Hills—they have a fantastic children’s section—including a nice selection of children’s poetry).
So, give that little elf on the shelf something to read this Christmas and Happy Christmas to all....

Press Here by Hervé Tullet. A New York Times bestseller of which you may already be aware. But if not, it’s a blast. A fun interactive picture book where the reader supplies the magic to change the next page. (Ages: 2 and up /Chronicle Books 2011). Also pick up his latest book Mix It Up! Tullet does it again with colors and the combinations are magical. No technology required! (Ages 2 and up /Chronicle Books 2014).

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. (Ages 5-8 /Dial Books for Young Readers 2014). This one is just funny. Read it aloud with your favorite little person and laugh and enjoy the sounds of language.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone. An oldie but a goodie. I was reminded about this book at a recent conference and am so glad to revisit it. This Little Golden Book was put out by Random House in 1971. Cleverly illustrated by Michael Smollin so that the turn of each page is a feat leading toward the ultimate confrontation with “Lovable, Furry Old Grover” from Sesame Street. A fun way to feel scared without really being scared.

Of course the pop up Christmas books by the wonderful illustrator Robert Sabuda are a must to collect. We have them all! There are several but The 12 Days of Christmas written by Clement Clarke Moore and Illustrated by Sabuda. (Ages 4-8/ Publisher: Little Simon 2001) and The Christmas Alphabet by Robert Sabuda. (All ages/Orchard Books 2004) are a good place to start your collection.

Here’s one you may not know about: A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes. (Ages 4-8 published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 2013). Look this one up. A visually stunning book by an award winning author/illustrator that teaches the importance of putting others first. The use of white space within the illustrations is brilliant.

My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young and illustrated by Catia Chien. (Candlewick Press 2013). This beautiful picture book ties colors and emotions together in fun surprising ways.

And....of course a poetry book is on the list....

Nest, Nook and Cranny by Susan Blackaby Illustrated by Jamie Hogan. (Ages 8-12 Charlesbridge 2010). Combines poetry, animals and a great little index in the back of the book that describes different poetical forms and devices.

You can see more about this book of poems and some more of my favorites on the
For Readers page of the website.





The Shape of Things to Come

It is theorized that some pattern poetry (an early precursor to concrete poetry) was written to be inscribed upon objects like an ax handle, a statue’s wings, an altar or even an egg! (Further information about these ancient Greek poems of the third century B.C. can be found in the text of The Greek Bucolic Poets. See note below.)

Objects embedded with verse would allow the shape of the object as well as the text to reflect back on the theme of the poem. For example, winged shape verse inscribed onto a statue's wings could lend reference to the wings of love. It is a very interesting idea to think about and makes concrete poetry all the more tangible.

All of this made me wonder. If I were to inscribe a shaped poem onto a physical object today, what would I choose? Would I superimpose verses in circles around the tires of my minivan about feeling the pressure to be in several places at once and running endless exhausting errands? Would I write a poem about body image and what I am learning about real beauty along the handle of my hand mirror?

I’ll end all of this pondering with reference to a children’s poem titled “Pencils” by Barbara Juster Esbensen. She describes how:

                “The rooms in a pencil
                are narrow
                but elephants    castles and
                fit in....”

and she speaks to the potential of the many wonderful poems and stories contained inside every pencil. I would love to inscribe this poem on pencils that could be handed out in every classroom — to inspire students to write and remind them of the power of words.

What would you write on?


*The Greek Bucolic Poets. Translated by Edmonds, J M. Loeb Classical Library Volume 28. Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press. 1912.)

*I found the poem “Pencils” in the book Another Jar of Tiny Stars- Poems by More NCTE Award-Winning Poets. Bernice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten, editors. Boyds Mill Press. 2009.

What's Black and White and Read All Over?

>Concrete poetry.

Ok, so it can also be very colorful- but I love the graphic shapes of black letters and symbols in various fonts and sizes against a white background. And concrete or visual poetry often displays movement that can carry the eye up, down, across and around the page. The eye can chew on the visible impact of the poem while you taste the images, swallow the words, and digest the meaning. If the typographical arrangement of the poem reflects on the the meaning of the piece, then you’ve got a concrete poem.

Pictures speak louder than words; so here is an example of one of my favorite concrete poems:

Check out Mary Ellen Solt’s poem “Forsythia” @ http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/solt/

You get the picture. The visual text of this original work makes it's own impression and has its own voice right along side the words. It changes the language into something different—so much more than just letters on a page. 

I'm wondering what's next for vispo or visual poetry? Maybe we get a clue from the progress and exploration being made involving sound, spoken word and performance poetry. It seems to me that sound poetry is a verbal translation of the written word and not simply an oral reading or retelling. Just as every written language used for interlingual translation is intelligible and distinct, sound and performance poetry is a unique systematic rendering of a poem into the “language” of sound. There is definite intent in the chosen vocalization that gives meaning to the piece. So, if sound can be used to translate words and letters on a page, why not use text design and images to create visual translations? Going beyond the idea of individual interpretation, vocal and pictorial translations have denotations and constraints that can be measured and repeated just like any written language. Can both sound and visual manipulation be considered vehicles of translation that can be applied to the written word? The alphabet characters of any language can be written, read, equated, vocalized, and visualized just like the words within a poem.

I would love to know what you think. Is visual poetry more than just a library category or genre and is it a valid means to translate and adapt established works of poetry? Will vispo ever be considered a treatment of the written word that is taken as seriously as interlingual translation?

Concrete poetry is already the visual translation of an idea. I am thinking there could be many interesting concrete translations of standard poetry as well.