Joni Wallace Recommends...

Joni WallaceJoni Wallace recommends…

1.  Alphabet Poem, Nonsense Alphabet, Edward Lear, The complete Verse and Other Nonsense, Penguin Books, 2002.

Lear’s abecedarians slyly introduce symbol, i.e. letter as sound, stage, scaffold, prop and actor in a kind of Jack and Jill tumbler. Kindergarten.

2, 3. Snow Piece and Drinking Piece for Orchestra, Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, Simon and Schuster (2000).

Ono shows – never tells – how to hear with the acutest ear, how to see with that same eye, how to be listener, artist, poet. Each piece is an irresistible invitation to imagine. Get the book. You’ll fall in love. Kindergarten and up.

4. Maggie and Milly and Molly and Mae, e.e. cummings, The Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 1991.

“All that we call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are,” wrote Emerson. Each of four girls finds self-reflection in the sea. Grades 3 – 5, particularly girls.

5. Thing, Rae Armantrout, Next Life, Wesleyan Press, 2007.

Armantrout lets meaning twist and pulls her readers into a more complex relationship with text. Plus, Thing is quirky. Its movements mirror the inner experience of pre- and early adolescence while tackling the wide, wide world. Grades 5 and up.

6. A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island, Frank O’Hara, The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, Alfred A. Knopf. Inc., 1971.

This poem laughs while stretching far out into space (though a darker subtext underlies by both its reference to poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and O’Hara’s later accident on Fire Island). Grades 5 - 8.

7. Grasshopper, Ron Padgett, How Long, Coffee House Press, 2011.

An elegant cheeky discourse on meta-cognition. Grades 7 – 12.

8. For You Today, Jessica Greenbaum, The Two Yvonnes, Princeton University Press, 2012.

This poem uses the sounds and things of the twenty first century to make a light box called Being Here Now. Grades 9 -12.

9. Walking Around, Pablo Neruda, Residence on Earth/Residence en la Tierra, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1973.

Neruda at his darkest heights. This poem valorizes the experience of walking alone and adrift in the world. Enough said. Grades 9 – 12.

10. Inferno, Dante Alighieri, Translation by Mary Jo Bang, Graywolf Press, 2012.

Bang’s contemporary translation serves up Dante for hipsters. And check out artist Henrick Drescher’s uber-cool graphic illustrations, a radical reprise to Gustave Dore’s visuals of yore. (Dresher apologizes, p. 69). Grades 11 -12.

Notes and resources:

1. Read Alphabet Poem here:

2,3. Read Snow Piece here:

Read Drinking Piece for Orchestra here:

4. Listen to poet Emma Goldman reading Maggie and Milly and Molly and Mae here:

5. Read Thing here:

6. Read O’Hara’s poem here:

7. Read Grasshopper here:

8. Read Greenbaum’s poem here: /poem/244186

9. See/here Walking Around as a Moving Poem here: (Four Seasons Productions, Robert Bly reading).

Other Resources:

Poetry Foundation. Each month J. Patrick Lewis, current Poet Laureate for Children, recommends a book of poetry for children.

One Pause Poetry mp3 Project. Begun in July 2011, the One Pause Project is a national digital resource for teachers, students, readers, and listeners. Poets from around the country record and submit three mp3 files to the site: one poem of his or her own, one by another poet, and one poem for kids. Listen in at

Yoko Ono poems are available online:

Snow Piece:

Cloud Piece (image): pasted from Google images

Drinking Piece for Orchestra:

Joni Wallace is the author of Blinking Ephemeral Valentine (Levis Prize, Four Way Books, 2012) and a chapbook, Redshift (Kore Press, 2000). She earned her MFA at the University of Montana and teaches poetry in the Arizona schools, community and through the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Joni is the mother of two young writers, ages 7 and 9.

Created on: 
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Arizona Board of Regents