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ereksonj

Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart - Mary Ann Hoberman, Michael Emberley This is a difficult review (and it's going to be a long post). What I like most about this anthology is the wide variety and deep volume of poetry. We need more 'catalogs' of poems like this. Why do I like this kind of poetry book? Because my own experience and my experiences with kids teaches me that the process for selecting poems to learn and recite is as follows:

First, want a poem,
Which is hard today.

Second, go hunting
In a junkyard of poems,
Looking for one
That doesn't belong there.

Third, do what you do
with that kind of find.

Hoberman starts with an interesting question, but gives a too-simple answer: What makes a poem memorable? She breaks it into 'easy to remember' and 'worth remembering' and assumes that these qualities live in the poem and not in the reader. This is a semiotic mistake on her part. My experience with poetry is that I have to browse and browse and reject dozens before I find one that 'sticks'--this seems to be more about me than about the poems.

So the starting point is to believe that you need poems to have with you all the time. Nancy Willard said that you have to want poems to carry around with you wherever you go, because you like the feeling of being able to 'pull it out of your pocket or bag' at a moment's notice. As Kenneth Burke wrote, poetry is equipment for living. Poetry has nothing like this place in today's popular media or education, the way it did a hundred years ago.

BUT, instead of being a throwback to a bygone age, poetry is something powerful we have learned to ignore. Most of the current generation of adults probably hates poetry because of New Critic teachers who told us what the poems meant and berated us when we offered our own interpretations. Also, I was exposed to only a narrow set of poets. I never liked the serious issues poets who wrote of death and love and god--usually canon poets; and I never liked the silly poets like Silverstein and Prelutsky. In sum, these were all I ever got of poetry as a child or teen. This means I had mostly teachers who did not understand or care for poetry. Get braced for more crappy authoritarian teaching in guise of 'close reading' (demanded by the Common Core State Standards), and even less poetry available as classroom libraries are 'adjusted' to meet the required ratios of informational text!

This book is well designed. As others have noted, the generous white space encourages browsing, which is necessary. The illustrations do not provide too much of an interpretation for the poems, but in general I don't like to see poems illustrated at all unless originally written that way. Also, the topical organization is unnecessary. I rarely seek out poems because of what they're about, and I'm suspicious of topic headings as a way of finding poems because of what they suggest about how to read poems.

I might have liked this book little better than the Kennedy family collections that came out a few years ago, because of the well done design and illustration--Saho Fujii deserves a title credit for her design. But I didn't really like that Hoberman included thirteen of her own poems. Granted, she is one of the children's poets of our time, but it would have been better form if someone else had done the collecting. Caroline Kennedy's collecting was probably better, but the illustration in this book was handled better.