The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination selected by Mary Ann Hoberman, the current National Children's Poet Laureate and Linda Winston, a cultural anthropologist and teacher, has re-opened a door for me that I thought I had shut firmly. I was a child of the perfect age when Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends was first published in 1974. I still remember the day I was given that book and how I clasped it to my chest while alternately reading all the poems out loud to the nearest pair of ears. I bought A Light in the Attic when it was published in 1981 and gobbled it up. I even studied poetry in college and wrote my senior thesis on a book of poetry as well as writing my own poems. But, by the time I had started a family and found a career, I didn't have the time, energy or interest to keep reading poetry. although I made diligent efforts and purchases. I bought Falling Up in 1996 when my oldest was three, of course. Because I thought it was the right thing to do as an English Major and lapsed poet, I bought A Child's Anthology of Poetry edited by Elizabeth Hague Sword which is basically a child's version of a Norton Anthology of poetry, commonly used as a college textbook. The book contains poems written by adults that are appropriate for children and include luminaries such as Maya Angelou, Bashō, Elizabeth Bishop, William Blake, Lewis Carroll, ee cummings, Emily Dickinson, Rachel Field (author of one of my all-time favorite Newbery Winners, Hitty: Her First Hundre Years), FedericoGarcia Lorca, Thomas Hardy, Octavio Paz, Czeslaw Milosz, Li Po, Theodore Roethke,Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, William Wordsworth and William Butler Yeats, to name a few (too many, I'm sure.) Some poetry books (thankfully) were given to my children. Painter and poet Douglas Florian, creator of Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings, Mammalabilia, and Insectlopedia, among others not to be missed. But, however beautifully illustrated and magnificently written and/or compiled these books were, I (sadly) rarely opened and read from them for myself or my children. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination changed that for me, and, I firmly believe that it was the accompanying CD that was the tipping point for me and my kids.
It probably goes without saying, but still bears repeating, POETRY SHOULD BE READ OUT LOUD - ESPECIALLY CHILDREN'S POETRY. Yes, poetry can be and is often meant to be a personally intense, private experience. But, so much of it is also meant to be shared with others, like any celebration. Before reading the poetry in the book, I brought the CD along on a car trip I took with my boys, ages 5 and 12, both of whom I assumed would at best, tune it out, at worst, demand to have it taken off. I was pleasantly surprised when, after turning it off to consult a map, my 12 year old asked me to put it back on. He is definitely a science minded sort, but not always a creative minded sort, so I was especially pleased when I learned not only was he listening, he was enjoying it! For a chance to listen to an interview with Hoberman and Winston, as well as hear a sampling of 10 poems from the CD, check out this story that aired on the radio program Here and Now with Robin Young. But really, just buy this book. If you only have two collections of poetry in your home, please make The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination the second one. The selection of contributing poets overlaps nicely with those in A Child's Anthology of Poetry and include Hans Christian Andersen, Wendell Berry, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, TS Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Rachel Field, Douglas Florian, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Langston Hughes, DH Lawrence, WS Merwin, Ogden Nash, Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, Rainer Maria Rilke, Theodore Roethke, Chirstina Rossetti, 1996 Nobel Winner Wislawa Szymborska, and Walt Whitman, naturally. Also contributing a poem and a reading is Ruth Padel, Charles Darwin's great-great granddaughter! Unlike A Child's Anthology of Poetry, there is an "About the Poets" section, a "Suggestions for Further Reading and Research" section and a glossary of the scientific terms at the end of The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination. There is also a superb introduction that explains the framework that brings together the selections in the book as well as a photograph of Darwin's "Tree of Life" diagram from his notebooks, inspiration for his Theory of Evolution. The book itself is divided into 9 sections with the titles, Oh, Fields of Wonder, The Sea is Our Mother, Prehistoric Praise, Think Like a Tree, Meditations of a Tortoise, Some Primal Termite, Everything that Lives Wants to Fly, I Am the Family Face and, finally, Hurt No Living Thing. In addition to all this, there are footnotes, of sorts, for many of the poems. Some notes pertain to the type of poem - haiku, extended metaphor, assonance, shape poem, found poem - and offer definitions as well as suggestions for young poets. Other notes pertain to scientific terms, such as camouflage, "deep time," adaptive functions and theory. All bold words that appear in the notes also appear in the glossary. Not only are we given the gift of hearing the poets reading their poems, we are offered instruction and gentle encouragement from a National Poet Laureate as we travel through the sometimes mysterious world of verse!
As a way to seal the deal, I leave you with a few short (but sweet!) poems from The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination.
Butterfly is born.
Mary Ann Hoberman
*Hoberman's note to text* The type of poem known as a haiku calls for three lines of five, seven and five syllables. I was delighted when I discovered that the words that define and mark the stages of a butterfly's development slipped so perfectly - rhythmically, melodically, and visually - into the haiku form.
"The Pedigree of Honey"
The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee-
A Clover, any time, to him,
Take a letter:
the ancient trees are falling.
the whale's song grows faint.
Say the passenger pigeon is gone.
The great auk is gone.
The rhino, the mountain gorilla,
Dip your quill
in the sludge
along the river,
in the soot
from the smokestack,
in the poisoned lake,
in the burning rain.
Dip it in the blood of the great blue whale.
Take a letter, bird:
to whom it may
*Hoberman's note to text* Unlike the Dodo, the Secretary Bird is still with us, although it, too is threatened by the loss of habitat and is a protected species in Sub-Saharan Africa. A large bird of prey, mostly terrestrial, its name probably comes from its feathered crest, resembling quill-pens tucked behind the ear, once the habit of secretaries. Playing with this coincidental name, the poet dictates a somber letter.
And, finally, The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination also nudged me into finally buying another book of children's poetry in which you can open to any page and find a read-out-loud gem...
The Llama Who Had No Pajama is Mary Ann Hoberman's collection of 100 of her favorite poems that she has written, illustrated by her long-time collaborator, Betty Fraser.