Eating My Words: And 128 Other Poems

Millbrook. Mar. 2024. 120p. Tr $34.65. ISBN 9781728487649.
Gr 1-4–This inventive collection boasts a dual identity: it’s simultaneously a book of poems and a primer on poetic craft. Nearly every page features a sidebar or footnote inviting readers to examine the structure of the verse as well as its content. Bolstered by a thorough glossary, Cleary adroitly explores concepts of meter and rhyme and defines linguistic concepts, such as alliteration, simile, and personification. His precise, uncomplicated language makes these explanations accessible and appealing, and he cannily draws the eye toward helpful examples by asking, “Did you notice…?” Along the way, readers are introduced to poetic forms from around the world, including the French villanelle, the Indian doha, the Italian rispetto, and the Malaysian pantoum. As noted in the front matter, a several pieces were published in the author’s previous collections, as were some of Rowland and Watson’s zany cartoon illustrations. Is the artistry itself as successful as the instructional content? On the whole, yes. Cleary’s writing is lively, earnest, and visually playful, with concrete poems, acrostics, rebuses, and even music-note letter substitutions providing spirited entertainment. While a few entries pass by without much impact, many strike an arresting tone, particularly the Japanese tanka “Dead to Me,” which likens a shoebox to “a cardboard coffin,” and the wistful, pun-filled ballad “When I Am No Longer,” which declares, “They can give my arms to the army,/ take my eyes of blue,/ and give my knees to the needy,/ but my heart goes out to you.”
VERDICT An excellent addition to poetry collections, this volume will excite and engage, and—most importantly—it will empower children to write poems of their own.

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