Thursday, May 10, 2018

Poetry Friday: Imperfect

There's so much to love in this new anthology for middle schoolers, Imperfect: Poems about Mistakes.  Tabatha Yeatts has collected an appealing mixture of poems old and new (including a few by middle schoolers), interspersed with quotes perfect for inscribing on binders. At a time in your life when mistakes can feel enormous, permanent, impossible to get over (and really, is there any other kind of time in your life?), this book brings a great big dose of perspective.

Brenda Davis Harsham categorizes mistakes as three-alarm, two-alarm or one-alarm in her "Three-Alarm Mistakes," a poem that started me imagining how fun it would be to brainstorm those with my students.   Mistakes do come in all shapes and sizes, and all are represented here, in seventy poems both funny and serious.

Is the mistake being mean to someone, like in "To the boy playing with his army men on the front lawn," by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes? Is the mistake not speaking up when you really had plenty to say, like in Suzy Levinson's "Lots of Things"?  Did a vampire get seriously hurt, like in Heidi Mordhorst's "Vampire Vs. Venti"? Was it a mistake that ended up turning into an invention, like  in "Persistence, or In Praise of Post-It Notes," by Keri Collins Lewis? Mary Lee Hahn writes about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Irene Latham takes on the voice of the Titanic.

All of these imperfections lend themselves perfectly to poetry.  In Tabatha Yeatts' introduction, she quotes Kellie Elmore: "Poetry will die when love and pain cease to exist."  Since both love and pain abound in middle school, poetry abounds there too.  As Liz Garton Scanlon asks in her series of haiku entitled "Haiku for How to Screw Up Middle School,"

Will this never end?
Middle school's not forever,
You can do this thing.

I started reading this anthology last weekend on our eighth grade retreat, an annual event when we take our oldest middle schoolers, soon to leave us, off to somewhere beautiful overnight and spend some time introducing them to what awaits them in high school.  (Credits! Time management! Setting goals!)  Middle school certainly isn't forever, we're reminded each year as we pass on another class we've come to love.  They don't go far - just upstairs - but they do go away.  As I told them about GPAs, I tried hard to balance advice to take academics seriously right from the first day of ninth grade with the comforting fact that all is not lost - life is not over - if you get a D.  Poetry like this helps as we try to share our experience (compared to a map in Carl Sandburg's poem "Experience") while still recognizing that the way is theirs to choose.  It will be an imperfect way, but they are going to be fine.

Yes, there's a lot to love in this book, and one thing I must mention is the beautiful cover.  It depicts the Japanese art of kintsugi, mending cracks using gold. Instead of trying to hide mistakes or broken places, we can look at imperfections as part of our history, something to be honored as contributing to who we are now. What better metaphor for growth, in middle school and beyond?

Here are some other people's takes on this anthology.

Jama has this week's roundup.

16 comments:

Robyn Hood Black said...

Terrific write-up, Ruth - and your students are so lucky to have your generosity of spirit and wit and wisdom. Best wishes as the school year turns toward summer!

Linda B said...

I've only read a few poems, but wish I had had this book when I was teaching those middle-schoolers. I know they would have loved them. It's a lovely review, Ruth.

Molly Hogan said...

What a lovely review of Imperfect! I think you forgot to mention that your delightful poem is first in line to set readers off on a journey through this wonderful collection. Congrats!!

Kimberly Hutmacher said...

The more I read about this collection, the more excited I'm getting to read it. Thanks for sharing your insights.

jama said...

Thank you for this wonderful review, Ruth. Can't wait to read Imperfect -- and congrats on having a poem in the collection! :)

Kay said...

I love your review--and I am looking forward to reading all the poems myself. It is such a treasure for middle schoolers and mistake makers of all ages.

Alice Nine said...

Thank you for a wonderful review, Ruth. Like Kimberly, the more I read about this anthology, the more I want it... I just dropped it and a link to your review into my books-to-buy folder. I have both a professional and a personal interest --I have grandkids who are middle schoolers and soon-to-be middle schoolers.

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for reviewing "Imperfect" your poem speaks to this topic so eloquently–it surely is a rich collection from all different voices and wonderful quotes!

Tabatha said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful take on IMPERFECT, Ruth!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I keep hearing so much about this book, I can't wait to see it! Indeed, so many different avenues for exploration when it comes to defining and describing "mistakes." Thanks for sharing your review, Ruth.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

What a terrific job you did with this review, Ruth! It's difficult to encapsulate all the different ways we can be hard on ourselves. In middle school especially, but really throughout our lives. Your own poem sets the tone for this wonderful anthology in a way that's friendly, understanding, caring, and approachable. I'm still trying to master the art of being thirteen going on fourteen!

Brenda Harsham said...

What a lovely review. It's important to remember that we can recover from most mistakes intact, lessons learned and heart-whole. I wish I'd had a book like that in middle school. :-) I hope your students fly high.

Janet said...

Thanks for a great review. I would have been helped by this book as a middle schooler; I don't think the idea of addressing such a collection to that group would have been on anyone's radar back in those days.

I love the idea of mending cracks with gold. I think I'm almost solid gold through and through at this point in my life!

Catherine Flynn said...

Ruth, your review is exactly right: "there is so much to love" in Imperfect! Thank you for highlighting this wonderful book, and thank you to Tabatha for creating it!

Mary Lee said...

Great review--great book!

Tara Smith said...

What a wonderful review of this must-have middle school anthology. Thank you, Ruth!