By Stuart Mitchner
I still have the bound volume containing the first 20 issues of Classic Comics my parents gave me on my 7th birthday. Along with vivid graphic renditions of the likes of Moby-Dick and Gulliver’s Travels, I found poetry, everything from “Ojibwa War Songs” to Emily Dickinson’s “Railway Train,” pictured in the style of “The Little Engine That Could.” I also found Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing,” where “each sings what belongs to him or her and to none else,” and Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” which told me the world “which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams” has “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”
I doubt if Arnold’s message got through to me at 7 (what’s “certitude”?), but when I was moved by the poem years later in college, the feeling that I’d been there before deepened the experience. Poetry seemed to be a primal element, as much a part of life as the air we breathe. I felt it again at the same age during the singing of Christmas carols, breathing in the beauty of “Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by” in “Little Town of Bethlehem.” Ten years later, when I discovered Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” there was a chill of recognition as I read “And little town thy streets for evermore / Will silent be.” I’d been there before, long ago, in another little town.
Issues of the Day
In this pandemic-haunted year, a number of new poetry books for children reflect issues ranging from slavery to social justice to environmental awareness.
One of the most appealing expressions of a time of loss, loneliness, and togetherness is Patrick Guest’s Windows (Starry Forest 2020), illustrated by Jonathan Bentley. Guest wrote the rhymed story at a time when he was forced to isolate from his family as a medical worker. The book begins: “Out the window, I can see a new world looking back at me. The streets are still, there are no crowds … but looking up, I see the clouds.”
A physiotherapist by day and a children’s book author by night, Guest lives in Melbourne, Australia. An award-winning illustrator of over 30 children’s books and the author and illustrator of four of his own, Bentley grew up in West Yorkshire, England. more