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Micro-Book Review: Mites to Mastodons

The poems in Mites to Mastodons, from Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin, are seriousness about play. The language and the rhythms found in each one are fun and original and dance off the page with delight. One of my favorite poems, about an owl, reminds me of a story I once heard from a friend who told me that, when owls hoot at night, their call sounds like they're saying, "Who cooks for you?" So, as you can imagine, I was smitten when I came across this poem:

Owl

My favorite barred owl, who lives in the woods
    nearby, wakes me, hooting, "Who cooks for you-u-u?"
And if I could hoot I'd answer, "I do-oo-oo
    but I wish you could, you could, you could."

Each poem is simply titled by the name of each animal. In the poem, Alligator, I love how the alligator is mythologized, given different monikers, detailing its history:

Alligator

Old bull of the waters,
    old dinosaur cousin, 
    with scales by the hundreds
    and teeth by the dozen.

These poems are almost like odes to each animal, because however cute or sweet, grisly or scary each animal may appear, each is praised in equal measure. The poems find joy in each creature, celebrating all of our many furry and scaley, feathered and leathery friends. The poems are also filled with charming similes and metaphors:

Kangaroo

When the kangaroo baby, a joey, is born
    he looks like a little pink lima bean.

As a nonfiction writer, I'm particularly impressed with the poems that delve deep into research, that talk a bit about the animal's history, its ancestors, its evolution over time. Take, for example, the manatee:

Manatee

Manatees and elephants
   had the same ancestor once.

Millions of years of evolution
   led to this bizarre solution:

The manatee stayed warm and wet.
The elephant climbed out to get

   four feet, a trunk, and grew to be
   the largest land mammal in history.

In addition to the research and history found in many of these poems, the writing also hums with repetition and rhythm, like in the poem titled Mastodon:

Mastodon

Back then
    he roamed a colder world of ice and snow,
    before women
    or men, great apes, or dogs even guinea pigs
    were known...

Oh, what a feast
it would have been, those million years ago,
to spy the herd galloping through falling snow.

Imagine them: ten tons
    of thundering mastodons!
 

As for the illustrations: a mix of paper collages, thick, chunky paints, and line drawings make the art bounce off the page. The poems themselves sing, but the art work makes them dance, sparkle, and maybe even wink a little. This book would be a great addition to a lesson plan on animals, (See previous Thematic Reading List on Lil' Critters for more fun books on animals).

Maxine Kumin is the author of more than twenty children's books, including What Color is Caesar?, Oh, Harry!, and The Microscope. She is also a profilic poet, as well as an essayist, memoirist, and fiction writer. To read more about Maxine Kumin's many accomplishments, please click here.

She has published numerous books of poetry, including Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 (W. W. Norton, 2010); Still to Mow (2009); Jack (2003); The Long Marriage (2003); Bringing Together (2003); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize.

She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and five books of essays, most recently The Roots of Things: Essays (Northwestern University Press, 2009) and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts.

She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in New Hampshire.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/94#sthash.bTme0jdY.dpuf

he has published numerous books of poetry, including Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 (W. W. Norton, 2010); Still to Mow (2009); Jack (2003); The Long Marriage (2003); Bringing Together (2003); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize.

She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and five books of essays, most recently The Roots of Things: Essays (Northwestern University Press, 2009) and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts.

She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in New Hampshire.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/94#sthash.bTme0jdY.dpuf

She has published numerous books of poetry, including Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 (W. W. Norton, 2010); Still to Mow (2009); Jack (2003); The Long Marriage (2003); Bringing Together (2003); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize.

She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and five books of essays, most recently The Roots of Things: Essays (Northwestern University Press, 2009) and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts.

She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in New Hampshire.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/94#sthash.bTme0jdY.dpuf

 

Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.

Created on: 
Thursday, November 14, 2013
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