I have fallen in love … with a book of poetry.
Candlewick Press has published a paperback version of Classic Poetry: an illustrated collection, selected by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Paul Howard. Rosen was a Children’s Laureate of Britain, well-known as an author, poet, storyteller, and broadcaster. Paul Howard is a children’s book illustrator who confesses in the foreword to this volume that he considered himself a “poetus ignoramus.” While the two of them worked on this treasure, Paul listened to Michael read, immersed himself in images of the poets, and then proceeded to create portraits of each poet as well as illustrations in varying styles … each of them delightfully illustrating the poem in a thoughtful and sometimes elucidating manner.
This is a collection of classic poetry … some of the poems will be familiar and some of them will find you asking why you haven’t read them before. It’s a vital collection, in the sense that these poems are alive.
“Mulga Bill’s Bicycle,” by Banjo Paterson (the same fellow who wrote “Waltzing Matilda”), is a slapdash, calamitous bicycle ride down a mountain that will appeal to every Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote fan.
I found myself comparing Hilaire Belloc’s “Tarantella” to a hip-hop rhythm.
I’ve never read Carl Sandburg’s “Arithmetic” before: it’s a gem! “Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how many you had before you lost or won.”
Some of the poems, such as Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” make for a dramatic, clangorous read-aloud but the history was lost on me. Thank goodness Mr. Rosen provides notes on the poems for just this reason. His explanations help to place the poem in context, making it even more powerful.
For Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” is accompanied by a painting that brings tears to my eyes.
“Snow in the Suburbs,” by Thomas Hardy, is illustrated with exquisite detail and a black cat that will open the door to every heart.
The collection is also an opportunity for discovery. I confess that I had not heard of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a poet from Wisconsin who was immensely popular in her day (she died in 1919), but I know these lines from “Solitude”: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you, / Weep, and you weep alone;”
Classic Poetry is a book to love because it pays attention. The selected poems, the evocative illustrations, the portraits of each poet with words and art, the notes on the poems, and the index to first lines all create a book that will rest comfortably on every bookshelf. Consider it as a treat for yourself or have it on hand to give often as a gift for graduations, weddings, birthdays, and baby showers. It’s an ideal book of poetry for the visually-intrigued reader.