Written by Sheila Griffin Llanas
Poetry inspires dread in the most intrepid of students. If reading literature is seen as a slog through heavy tomes, then reading poetry is walking the path wearing leaden shoes. Enslow’s Poetry Rocks! series works to tame that fear with books that describe both poet and poetry in simple, easy-to-understand language.
What gives such value to the book (and the series) is the chapter organization. Each chapter begins with a short biographical sketch that helps to place the work in the context of the poet’s life and answer the question why: why did the poet choose those particular topics and themes. Even poets who were contemporaneous didn’t write about the same subjects. We see that it is the life experiences that dictate the choice of topics.
One representative poem is subject to a detailed analysis: summary and explication, poetic techniques and themes. Middle school and high school students will benefit immensely from this reading of the techniques of literary analysis in a non-threatening manner. Armed with that knowledge they can work their way to an understanding of the poem, rather than putting away the book, frustrated at their lack of understanding of writing that is different from the prose works they are used to.
Each poet’s style is given its own analysis, creating easy reading activities and discussion points. The reader can discuss how one poet’s style is similar to, and differs from, another’s. A few more poems are included (the number varies from poet to poet) and the discussion paragraph points to further questions to be considered. The chapter ends with a listing of the poet’s major works and a final paragraph on related poets, which helps to understand the poet’s cultural milieu.
The eleven contemporary American poets included in the book are Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsburg, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Louise Gluck.
Chapter notes, a glossary, further reading suggestions and links to poetry sites comprise the back matter. “A poem is not the end but the beginning of an excursion.” This book is a good start to an excursion into the world of poetry.