Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poetic Form: A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems


Janeczko, Paul B. 2001. A poke in the I: A collection of concrete poems. Ill. by Chris Raschka. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 978076362376


Looking for a new way to hook reluctant readers? The concrete poems assembled by poet Paul B. Janeczko in A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems do not conform to readers’ typical view of poetry. Rather than neat, clean lines with numerous words, some of these concrete poems are a single word. Instead of the meaning coming from only the words, most of the poems found in this collection show meaning through the type on the page: the size, arrangement, and even shape.

“A Seeing Poem” by Robert Froman (p.2) uses both words and shape to convey meaning. The poem, shaped as a light bulb complete with filament, shows and tells about the little light bulb that goes off when one has an idea or have figured something out.

Some of these poems take a moment to figure out, especially if they include the element of sound. For example, “Visual Soundpoem” by Edwin Morgan (p.3) is simply “go ng!” When looking at it, this seems odd; however, after realizing it is a sound poem, the reader understands. This type of poem begs to be read aloud.

Janeczko warns readers in an editor’s note, however, that some of these poems are difficult to read aloud as they were designed to be seen. Such poems include “Acrobat” by Ian Hamilton Finlay (p.29) and “Crickets” by Aram Saroyan (p. 21). The manipulation of letters creates a unique looking poemone that will encourage readers to write their own single-word concrete poems.

Not all poems in this collection are single-word poems. Many sound like a “typical” poemwith the added bonus of shape! “Giraffe” by Maureen W. Armour (p.28) is a playful poem about giraffes in the shape of the animal! “Swan and Shadow” by John Hollander (p. 24) is a lovely poem about a swan’s shadow cast upon the water. The text is typed out in the shape of the swan, the water’s horizon line, and the shadow. The splendor and complexity of the shape add to the beautiful words penned by Hollander.

Again defying the laws of traditional poetry, a handful of poems read in ways other than from top to bottom. “Sky Day Dream” by Robert Froman (p.20) and “The Salmon” by Douglas Florian (p.22) begin in what looks like the last line. Actually the lines move from the bottom of the page to the top. In both poems, the line arrangement complements the poems’ meanings.

The concrete poems found in A Poke in the I naturally appeal to young readers. The novelty of each poem will hold the reader’s attention. Each page contains a new topic, a new shape, a new way to express meaning! So many of the topics are relatable to children: popsicles, balloons, and skipping rope. The clever ways to present poems (as described in preceding paragraphs) will aid readers’ perception of poetry. While poetry is traditionally presented as an auditory literature, these poems will extend readers’ understanding of poetry with added visual elements.

Most of these concrete poems are easy to understand. As mentioned with “Visual Soundpoem”, some poems look odd and need to be read aloud. A few poems are so visually complex that a single reading will not suffice. (See “Forsythia” by Mary Ellen Solt [p.25].) The imagination included in each concrete poem will guide students to view poetry in a different light and hopefully encourage reluctant readers and writers to try their hand at creating a concrete poem.

The poets featured in this collection are mostly well-known, well-established poets. The numerous authors showcased in the book serves as a great resource for introducing readers to new-to-them poets.

The book does not appear to be arranged in an exact order. Poems with similar topics are grouped together: fish poems are together; poems about cold treats are paired up. However, Janeczko does not create any divisions indicating a particular grouping.

The illustrations created by Chris Raschka (also a featured poet) are uniforma combination of ink and torn paper art. Each illustration is unique to each poem but cohesive to the overall collection. Much added illustration is unnecessary since the poems naturally display their own art.

In order to quickly locate a particular poem, a table of contents (in the shape of a column) is included in the front. Listed is the title of the poem, author, and page number. Tables of content are common in many collections. However, not all of them include the author’s name. I find this helpful when the need arises to exhibit a single poet or a group of poets. Also helpful, each poem’s title and author are listed on the corner of the page. This makes thumbing through the book to locate a poem a bit easier.

A Poke in the I will challenge readers’ perceptions about the “rules” of poetry and expose them to a whole new and more playful world of words!


“Balloon” by Colleen Thibaudeau

Display the poem “Balloon” on a document projector or overhead. Slowly read the poem to the students as they study the shape. Allow them time to reread it silently. Then ask the whole group to read the poem in unison. To add another element of fun oral reading, reread it in rounds, dividing kids into three groups. Use the beginning “as” of the second simile as the starting point for echoing groups.

Allow students to share how the shape of this poem adds value to the words used to describe the balloon.

As a follow-up activity, students will create their own shape poem. Either allow students to select their own topic or let them draw from a basket topics such as airplane, duck, lollipop, swing, hairbrush, or truck.

As a pre-writing brain-stretcher, students will list characteristics of their item in a web such as the one below.

A rough draft poem can be written in traditional lines or in the shape of the topic. (The latter is recommended as students may choose to add, delete, or substitute words that aid in constructing the poem’s shape.)

Once the rough draft is complete, students will present their final poem on cardstock with the option of adding color or illustrations. Display these poems in the library for other readers to view!

(“Balloon” was retyped and Pre-Writing Web was created by Chrissy Adkins.)

1 comment:

  1. Here I am several years after this post to thank you for sharing this and helping me discover more about Colleen Thibaudeau! I'll be teaching it to my 2nd graders after reading the Junior Great Books version of The Red Balloon.