Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hey, You! Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes and Other Fun Things selected by Paul B. Janeczko - Janeczko Collection

Janeczko, Paul. 2007. HEY, YOU! POEMS TO SKYSCRAPERS, MOSQUITOES, AND OTHER FUN THINGS. Ill.  by Robert Rayevsky. New York: Harper Collins. 
ISBN 9780060523473.

Review and Critical Analysis
          HEY, YOU! POEMS TO SKYSCRAPERS, MOSQUITOES, AND OTHER FUN THINGS is an anthology of 30 poems, selected by Paul Janeczko, about a diverse group of subjects. In the field of poetry ‘apostrophe’ is a term used to describe addressing poetry to inanimate objects, animals or concepts, and that is what the 30 poems in this anthology do, in tones that vary from silly, to mirthful, to subdued. Young readers will be able to readily identify with the subjects in this anthology. They may not have had personal experience with all of them; however, they most certainly would have been exposed to the less familiar ones through school, books or television. Many popular and well known authors of poetry were selected for inclusion in this collection including Nikki Grimes, Emily Dickinson, Douglas Florian and Bobbi Katz. Janeczko provides the reader with a Table of Contents which lists both title and author. 

          There is no discernible organization to this anthology, apart from the fact that in several instances there will be two different poems, one on each page, that relate to each other. OLD FARM IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN by Gary Gildner and TO A MAGGOT IN AN APPLE by Richard Edwards are examples of this. Gildner’s poem, which discusses a barn on the verge of toppling over, makes reference to the barn leaning too far “trying for those wormy apples.” Edwards' poem carries the theme forward as the chronicler of this piece bit into one of those same apples and discovered a worm inside. The narrator speaks directly to the worm throughout the poem. BEE, I’M EXPECTING YOU! by Emily Dickinson and STRAIGHT TALK by Nikki Grimes are two additional examples of poems that associate with each other. Dickinson’s poem is narrated by a fly, and is a letter to a bee asking when he will be returning now that spring has arrived. Grimes’ poem is a request by the narrator for the bees to leave and stop bothering him.

           All of the poems, apart from WHAT ARE YOU DOING? by Charles Reznikoff, are written in stanza form. Reznikoff's is two lines of non-rhyming poetry. The majority of the poems are written in free verse, with no obvious rhyme scheme. However, there are several instances of rhyming poetry found throughout the collection. For example, in SOFT-BOILED, a five line stanza by Russell Hoban, the first and second lines rhyme with each other, as do the third and fourth, the fifth line does not rhyme with any other. Another example is TO AN ASTRONAUT by Beverly McLoughland, which is written in four three line stanzas, where the last word of the first and second, and third and fourth, stanzas rhyme with each other. In CAMEL QUESTION, an eight line stanza by Bobbi Katz, the second and forth lines rhyme with each other, as do the sixth and eighth.

This anthology also contains one example of concrete poetry and several examples of letter poems. LIGHT by Joan Bransfield Graham, is the one example of concrete poetry. The poem itself takes the shape of the ray of light in Robert Rayevsky’s illustration. In addition to Emily Dickinson’s poem BEE, I’M EXPECTING YOU!, there are two other examples of letter poetry. DEAR SHELL by Karla Kuskin is two letters written to a seashell wherein the narrator comments on the sounds they hear when putting the shell to their ear. The last two lines of the poem are the second letter in which the narrator, very succinctly, states that the shell smells. LETTER POEM TO A MAILBOX by Marjorie Maddox is written as an homage to the blue metal mail boxes, and how they stand stalwart and secure, never failing to protect the letters and packages deposited within. 

          Several of these poems have features within the type that highlight important words or passages that relate to the subject matter the poem is examining. In LOVELY MOSQUITO by Doug MacLeod five words in the last line, “swipe!,” “splat!” and “I got you!” are all in large bold type, and different colors other than black, emphasizing the narrator’s triumph at finally killing the mosquito that was biting him. TO A MAGGOT IN AN APPLE by Richard Edwards has the last line in bold, and in red, to show the narrator’s squeamishness at the thought that his apple had more than one worm. It is the entire poem that is a different color in the case of LIGHT by Joan Bransfield Graham. The text is completely yellow to reinforce the subject matter. A final example comes from WARNING TO A FORK by Marjorie Maddox. This poem, warning a fork about the dangers of being consumed by the garbage disposal, has the word “beware” in uppercase red letters, strengthening the message of the entire poem. This technique of having words, sentences or entire poems in different colors and typefaces draws the young reader’s attention to critical elements within the poetry.

          Robert Rayevsky’s illustrations bring a sense of unity to this collection. His watercolors, that in most cases span two pages, provide a rich backdrop for the poetry. Each of his illustrations visually create key elements, and are wonderful counterpoints to the poems. There is also an abstract, cartoon like quality to them, which will appeal to young readers. This is best expressed in the illustration for the poems SKYSCRAPER by Dennis Lee and WHAT ARE YOU DOING? by Charles Reznikoff. This two page illustration of a city with a highway running through it presents the facial features of the people in a cartoon like and simple manner. Streaming hair and sparsely drawn facial features augment the lack of realism. Also, the cars and buildings are not highly detailed, and there are extreme similarities in their appearances. These illustrations are similar to what young people, the same age as the intended audience, would create, thereby producing more vivid images in their minds.   

Poem Used to Support Critical Analysis and Follow Up Activity

By: J. Patrick Lewis

Old black hole,

Too fat to hang
Far out in space,
You’ll pop-and BANG!

Your insides get
So blazing hot-
One day you’re there,
The next you’re not!

And no one knows
Exactly why
But in the ceiling
Of the sky,

Black hole, you swallow

Starry light
As big as day
And black as night.

          Lewis’ poem HELLO, BLACK HOLE describes a subject young readers will be familiar with from science class, the black hole. Its tone is quite amusing and it conveys a very buoyant tempo. Alternating lines within the poem rhyme, and it is written in stanza form. This poem also employs the technique of utilizing a unique element within the type. The ‘o’ in the word ‘hole’ is enlarged, and much bigger than the surrounding letters. This is done to not only emphasize the poem’s topic, but also to give the reader a visual impression of it within the words of the poem itself. Also, the word ‘black’ in the title is in black type, whereas the remaining poem is in white. Rayevsky’s illustration has muted, dark colors, with a large central circle in black on which the white type sits. This provides another visual clue to the reader. 

          This poem contains a lot of very visual words. As a result, a good follow up activity for this poem would be an art project. Students would be asked to listen to the poem, and then, using the words in the poem as inspiration, draw their own black holes. The students would be encouraged to use various types of drawing mediums, crayons, markers, paints, and to mix the mediums they use. Then, based on their art, the students would be asked to write their own short poems describing their individual black holes. To end the activity, students would be invited up to share their drawings, and their poems, and explain how both connect. 

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