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by Eve Merriam
Illustrated by Harriet Sherman
I first came across the poet Eve Merriam when 2012 Poetry Out Loud State Champion, Josh Furtado, recited her poem “Catch a Little Rhyme." The poem is simple and playful, but it was Josh’s spunky, West-Side-Story-like performance that really made the poem come alive. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I came across one of Merriam’s poetry collections. To my delight, in the Poetry Center’s Children’s Area, I came across her children's collection, Out Loud. Published in 1973 and with illustrations by Harriet Sherman, the drawings that accompany the poems are delightfully funkadelic, reminiscent of some of those commercials in between skits on Sesame Street, like this one.
These illustrations aren’t just illustrations that accompany the poems, per se. The illustrations are the poems. In other words, these poems are concrete poems, in that the shape of the poems mimic the subject matter of the poem. For example, in a poem about a snake, Merriam uses the form of a slithering snake (and also a lot of alliteration) to make the poem seem alive:
sliding over stones
a silent spill
sleek as silk
Other fun poems include “Crowd,” in which the the words are crowded close together, then separated. The shape is reminiscent of tight traffic or a being smashed, back-to-back, on a Subway ride. And also, in the poem “Argument,” the poem is wrapped in a huge speech bubble, with lines separating a conversation between two people. The text is indented like in a play. For example:
These poems jump off the page. In fact, I’m convinced that the poem “Riddle Go Round” should be tapped danced to. The poem is perfect for paddle turns.
Riddle go round and roundabout.
Is the middle of a wood
or halfway out?
The poems in Out Loud rhyme, but not in a cliché, predictable way. Instead, the poems are filled with intricate and interesting sounds:
Creak creak a wicker rocker
flick click a fire fly
mid-July and the creek is dryer
tick tick the time goes by.
These poems are both visually and sonically striking. They make me want to sing and dance aloud. These poems are meant to be performed, chanted, called-and-responsed, sung, and danced out with joy.
Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.