Friday, June 10, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Death of the Hat (Paul B. Janeczko)

Selected by: Paul B. Janeczko

Illustrator: Chris Raschka

Target Ages:  9 and up

Publisher Summary:
"Poetry, scholars claim, is one of the oldest living art forms.  The Death of the Hat:  A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects traces the canon from the Middle Ages—when poets may have written about a sword, a candle, or a bookworm—to the current day, when their subjects may be cocoa or a birthday card.  Yet a fascination with the natural world has held true for poets across the millennia, as evidenced by Cui Tu’s Tang Dynasty poem 'A Solidary Wildgoose' and Mary Oliver’s contemporary poem 'The Summer Day.'”

Evaluation: The anthology is separated into 9 sections covering the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romantics, Victorian, Modern, Postmodern, and Contemporary writers, making it easy for educators to match poems up to historical or literary time periods being covered or compare poems from different eras. In addition, it allows for general readers to get an overview of the progression of poetry and forms.

Many well-known favorites are included like Frost, Hughes, Poe, Plath, Rossetti, and Dickinsen along with lesser-known poets like Kim Ku, Basho, Jusammi Chikako, and Witter Bynner. 

This anthology is not made up of poems written FOR children. However, there are some wonderful poems that are easily accessible to children. “The Cat and the Moon” (Yeats), “The Red Wheelbarrow” (Williams), and “My Shadow” (Stevenson) are a few.  My favorite one is

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
         William Wordsworth

Some poems are more challenging (which is a good thing). For instance, “Mushrooms” (Sylvia Plath) needs some unpacking to fully understand, but it can also be appreciated solely on its lyrical language.

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.
         Sylvia Plath

Also, I was surprise by the inclusion of William Blake’s “The Sick Rose" due to its theme.  I use this poem every year with advanced high school seniors and college students.  It is one of my favorites because the students come up with many varied interpretations that fit well with the imagery—most are not child-friendly though. An innocent eye interpretation would be interesting to hear.

     The Sick Rose
     O Rose, thou art sick!
     The invisible worm
     That flies in the night,
     In the howling storm,

     Has found out thy bed
     Of crimson joy:
     And his dark secret love
     Does thy life destroy.
        William Blake

Finally, Raschka's watercolor impressionistic paintings frame and enliven the poems. The soft colors and, often, playful images enhance the emotions and sensory imagery. 

The Death of the Hat:  A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects is for educators and families who want to incorporate poetry formally for lessons or informally for exposure. Due to the variety in eras, authors, forms, complexity, and subjects, there are so many uses and opportunities for enjoyment.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Beyond Literary Link.  Visit there to read more great poems from around the web.


  1. I love that Wordsworth poem, and the Plath one is a good choice for finding something good to come out of dark and rot. The Sick Rose I always wondered if it was an STD perhaps. But it could be anything from a rumor believed to infidelity. I think I'd go with a rumor if I was teaching it to young children. It looks like a great anthology.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I have heard STD, adultery, and, even, rape as the most common.

  2. Mushrooms is fantastic. Such an earthy strength and determination.

  3. What an interesting collection! Thanks for your thoughtful review.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful review of the anthology. The Wordsworth poem was one of my favorites in high school but I have not looked at it again in years.


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