A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems


"These aren't poems to read aloud, but to look at and laugh at together, with young children and especially older readers, who will enjoy the surprise of what words look like and what can be done with them." —BOOKLIST (starred review)

Concrete poems startle and delight the eye and mind. The size and arrangement of words and letters can add or alter meaning — forming a poem that takes the shape of crows that fly off the page or becoming a balloon filled with rhyme, drifting away ...

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"These aren't poems to read aloud, but to look at and laugh at together, with young children and especially older readers, who will enjoy the surprise of what words look like and what can be done with them." —BOOKLIST (starred review)

Concrete poems startle and delight the eye and mind. The size and arrangement of words and letters can add or alter meaning — forming a poem that takes the shape of crows that fly off the page or becoming a balloon filled with rhyme, drifting away from outstretched hands. Here, in a single extraordinary volume, are thirty poems from some of the world's finest visual poets, including John Hollander, Emmett Williams, Maureen W. Armour, and Douglas Florian. New to the paperback edition, tucked inside the front cover, are tips, guidelines, and inspiration for writing your own concrete poems.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Who can resist a concrete poem, a poem that visually reflects its subject? This elegant collection brings together thirty clever examples of them. Some form images, like a giraffe or a popsicle, while others vary the size of typeface to make a point. The table of contents, for instance, is shaped like a table. Brightly colored collage illustrations, which enhance some of the poems but almost overwhelm others, have the same playful spirit as the poetry itself.
—Kristin Kloberdanz
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On this book's cover, a winking man nudges a letter "I" with his umbrella. This multilayered image, with its homonym and visual game, provides a stimulating introduction to 30 concrete poems by various authors. Throughout the volume, crisp black words on spotless backgrounds do double-duty as concepts and physical objects. Raschka (Waffle, reviewed below) works in tandem with each poem's design; for example, he fashions the palindrome "eyeleveleye" as a bar across three faces, with each pair of "E's" standing for eyes, and the giddy eat-it-before-it-melts "Popsicle" presents a block of words atop vertical letters spelling "sticky," as a nearby ice cream vendor gazes out from the page. Other poems contradict top-to-bottom reading conventions. The phrases of "Sky Day Dream" ("Once I saw/ some crows/ fly off...") ascend the page, diminishing in size as though growing distant. For the spread "Tennis Anyone?" words and artwork suggest a tennis court with the gutter as the net, so that readers glance from side to side as though watching a volley. Janeczko (Very Best [almost] Friends) selects economical works that allow plenty of space for reflection. "Whee" offers a slope of six single-syllable words ("Packed snow steep hill fast sled") and a scattered group of rag-doll figures; another piece simply joins "merging" to "traffic." Raschka's restrained collages of calligraphic watercolor lines and torn paper leave most everything to the shaped poems. He and Janeczko provide an uncluttered, meditative space for the picturesque language. All ages. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Twenty-seven offerings poke, prod, delight, confuse and surprise the reader/viewer with concrete poems, words that also shape an idea—like STOWaWAY. There are five choices from the master, Robert Froman, including his well-known lightbulb-shaped definition of a seeing poem. Raschka adds a delightful "Cat Chair"—a chunk of paper on which the word "cat" appears, largely claiming ownership of a torn-paper- rendered plush chair. A pair of Popsicle-shaped poems¾one obscure and challenging for older readers about childhood memories, by Robert Hollander, and another a sensory exploration that would appeal to younger readers, by Joan Bransfield Graham¾show how poets play with the same summer treat. Anyone, young to young adult, can see the humor in the way Monica Kulling's "Tennis Anyone?" makes your head turn back and forth from left page to right page just to read the poem. Raschka uses torn origami paper, checkered cloth, watercolors and ink to create quirky and slightly off-balance images and each double-page spread has some sort of unifying color or texture. What a treat—to see words, illustrations, and ideas at play. Even the endpapers, repeating fragments of Helen Chasin's "Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe," make you smile. La la la. Whack a doo. 2001, Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 5 up. Reviewer: Susan Hepler
From The Critics
Looking for lyrics with a little life of their own? Some verse with vigor? Some sonnets with shape? Look no further than Paul Janeczko's and Chris Raschka's A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems where the words move about the pages and take on shapes of their own. All this liveliness adds meaning to the poems beyond what the words say on their own. For example, Robert Froman's "Easy Diver" would just be a simple poem about a pigeon were it not for the clever arrangement of the words. The poem leaps from the roof of a building and dives straight for the bottom of the page, opening its wings at the last second and landing softly. Other poems add an interactive quality to their structure. The word's of Monica Kulling's "Tennis Anyone?" bounce from the edge of one page to the edge of the other and back again. Your head will be turning side to side just like in a real tennis match. When you are done with all that exercise, see if you can spot the trespasser in Reinhard Dohl's "Pattern Poem with an Elusive Intruder." Of course, plenty of clever illustrations accompany the poems. Chris Raschka's off-kilter images stagger off the stark white pages in vibrant reds, cool blues, and shining yellows. The mixed media of paint and torn paper look as if you could pick them straight up off the book. In some cases, the poem becomes the illustration. "Eskimo Pie" by John Hollander takes the shape of a frozen treat on a stick, and in Raschka's own "Cat Chair," the word cat replaces the fat feline reclining on a big, soft chair. It's difficult to place an appropriate age range on a book like this because it appeals to anyone with a sense of playfulness, whether they are five or fifty, butsix-to-eleven-year-olds will probably have the most fun with it. A Poke in the I may not be the first choice for read-aloud story time, since many of the poems have to be seen to produce their full effect, and some are downright impossible to read aloud. Still, if you're looking to spend a little close together time with your children, make some room in your lap and let A Poke in the I introduce them to the animated side of poetry. 2001, Candlewick, 48 pages,
— Brian Patterson
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Starting with a contents page shaped like a table, clever design and illustration bring out the best in Janeczko's selections. Thirty concrete poems of all shapes and sizes are carefully laid on large white spreads, extended by Raschka's quirky watercolor and paper-collage illustrations. Some of the poems bend or turn or fall down the page, some are shaped like an object. Some evoke a sound or an emotion or a landscape. Kids with a taste for the unusual and tricky will have no end of fun with these puzzlers. The effectiveness of the poems is clear when you consider that the one in German needs no translation. Reinhard D hl's "Pattern Poem with an Elusive Intruder" is a rounded block of text consisting of the word "Apfel" repeated over and over, except in one place, where there's a "Wurm." Janeczko's brief "Notes from the Editor" (laid out in radiating lines like music blasting from a saxophone) serves as a quick introduction to concrete poems, but kids will have little trouble figuring out what they are all about, or trying out their own. Beautiful and playful, this title should find use in storytimes, in the classroom, and just for pleasure anywhere.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Not only a "poke in the I" but a tickle in the ego, some giggles and ah's and ha's await readers of this collection of concrete poetry, gloriously enhanced by Raschka's colorful torn-paper, watercolor, and ink images. Even the table of contents, the flap copy, and the front and back matter take concrete forms. As the introduction points out, "The arrangement of letters or words on the page, the typefaces chosen, and the way space is used, add meaning to the poem beyond that contained in the actual words." This means that some of these poems are difficult to read aloud because much of their impact comes from seeing them on the page, but the playful presentation will inspire readers of all ages not only to read them, but to create concrete poetry of their own. Raschka has outdone himself here; see, for example, his own poem, "Cat Chair." Scraps of floral paper shape a chair with the single word "cat" resting in the seat. Throughout, his brilliant take on each poem adds humor and meaning. In addition to their visual appeal, some of the poems do read aloud splendidly. Joan Bransfield Graham's "Popsicle" is "tickle tongue fun" indeed. Every one of these poems is a winner, and each stimulates a kind of mental acrobatics that is as exhilarating as the exuberant art, and as refreshing and fun as the poems themselves. Truly a tour de force. (Picture book/poetry. 5+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763623760
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 410,001
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.90 (w) x 9.85 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Raschka is the illustrator of more than twenty highly praised books for children, including YO! YES?, a Caldecott Honor Book; CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BE BOP; ARLENE SARDINE; and RING! YO? He says, "Concrete poetry is the yoga of words. Like feeling your breath and your bones, you begin to notice what words and sentences actually look like. It’s just like the feeling you get after a fifteen-minute handstand. And you don’t even have to put on loose-fitting clothes!" Chris Raschka lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Paul B. Janeczko is a poet and teacher and has edited more than twenty award-winning poetry anthologies for young people. He says, "I want young readers to see the spectacular possibilities of poetry. I’m hoping this ‘poke in the I’ kicks kids’ imaginations into high gear and lets them run wild writing their own concrete poems." Paul B. Janeczko lives in Maine with his wife and daughter.

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