Friday, February 13, 2009

Poetry Friday, Valentine's Day Edition

(The full round-up doesn't seem to be posted yet, but should be found later at Big A, Little A)




More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf. Illustrated by Sara Holbrook. Wordsong, 2008 (978-1-5078-587-4) $16.95

More Than Friends is currently a finalist in the Cybils poetry catagory; the big announcement is Valentine's Day and I would so love to wake up tomorrow and discover that it won. It's the most captivating book of poems I've read since last year's winner, This Is Just to Say.

More Than Friends is told in two voices, those of a teenage boy and a teenage girl, and it had me from "His" first words:

    What Do You Do When She Looks at You?


    Become unglued
    and crimson-hued?
    Turn away,
    afraid to stare?
    Bury your face in your biology book?

    Or return the look?


(I wondered if the similarity in form to Langston Hughes' "A Dream Deferred" was deliberate; after seeing the obvious nod to Dylan Thomas in the later villanelle, "Do Not Bolt Screaming, Clutching All Your Stuff," I'm pretty sure it was. And of course it makes total sense for teen-aged characters to be thus poetically inspired.)

The poems take us through a relationship as it gingerly moves from "just friends" to dating, love, problems, arguments and a bitter-sweet ending. Several different forms are used: free verse, villanelle, sonnet, terza rima, a rather heartbreaking poem for two voices ("The Argument,") and a complex Vietnamese form called luc bat which works perfectly to create the sound of a teenage girl at her boldest and sassiest. Tankas (similar to haiku but slightly longer) are scattered throughout, like conversational sound bites capturing a short piece of each character.

The frequent change in forms helps keep momentum and excitement building throughout the story; the poems also build on each other, as "he" and "she" quote both their own past words and those of the other.

It's such a pleasure to read narrative poetry that is truly poetry, showing genuine care for rhythm and imagery, rather than just prose chopped up into short lines. I've gotten leery of free verse published for young adults, but then most of it isn't like this:



    I estimate the distance to her knee
    at about... three football fields.
    And suddenly I'm thinking
    of my football moves.
    My soccer moves.
    My hands moving on a chessboard.
    My feet moving on a skateboard.
    My family moving out of state.
    Moving to another universe. To the Outer Rim,
    to the dead planet Dagobah where Yoda hides.
    What would Yoda do? I ask.
    Use the Force I would, the master replies.

    So I close my eyes and mentally
    shift all resources to my comatose hand.
    The life-force begins to drain from me
    yet my massive arm moves--
    a quick robotic lurch--into the air.
    With all the grace of a John Deere backhoe,
    the arm swings up and out and drops,
    crash-landing for the touchdown.
    Neil Armstrong, successfully landing on the moon,
    could not have felt the same fear and awe.


(This is about as sexually explicit as the story ever gets, by the way. The poems are equally accessible to younger and older teens.)

Form and feeling--in More Than Friends we are so lucky to have both, so beautifully rendered. * (13 & up)

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