Friday, June 15, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Poetry for Young People: Edna St. Vincent Millay

I must confess that I did not learn much about American poets and their work when I was growing up. We studied a few poems by Robert Frost but that was about it. It was only after I moved to the U.S that I began to explore the works of Whitman, Dickinson, and others. Not long ago, I was sent a book about Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I had a wonderful hour learning about her life and reading a sample of her poems. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys poetry.

Edited by Frances Schoonmaker
Illustrated by Mike Bryce
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 1999, 0-8069-5928-2
  Edna St. Vincent Millay had what many people would consider to be a very difficult childhood, and yet she did not see it that way. Her father was a gambler who squandered the family money until his wife asked him to leave, and her mother had to work long hours to provide for her children. At times Vincent (that is what her friends and family called her) and her siblings were left alone for long periods of time to manage on their own, which they did very well. The children worked together to take care of the household, and Vincent often found ways to make doing the chores enjoyable. Though money was scarce, fun and frolics were abundant.
   Vincent began writing poetry when she was only five-years-old. Of course her first poems were very simple, but they were very precious to both Vincent and her mother Cora, who was always Vincent’s staunch supporter. During lean times, and there were many of those, Vincent often chose to buy books instead of paying for heat or food. She would work long into the night, writing plays and poetry because for her, writing was an essential part of who she was.
   In this wonderful collection of poems the editor begins by telling us about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s life, and then she goes on to share some of Millay’s poems with us. Knowing Millay’s story helps us to better appreciate her poetry, to see how she delighted in the simple everyday and ordinary things in life. Often she wrote about what she saw and experienced.
   Though some people feel Millay’s poetry is “too simple” to be considered “great poetry,” other people see that there is truth and beauty in her words. The first poem in this book, Afternoon on a hill, perfectly demonstrates how you can use few words to capture a special moment in time. In the poem, we meet a person who is content to sit on a hill surrounded by “a hundred flowers” and yet “not pick one.” The person is happy to absorb the peace of the place, to savor the moment without needing to do anything, or take anything.
   Other poems explore travel, where a horseshoe went when it was being worn on a horse’s foot, what it is like to live far from the sea, and more. Throughout the book, the images Millay creates in her writings are beautifully complimented by Mike Bryce’s soft atmospheric watercolor paintings.
   This is one in a series of books about poets published by Sterling.

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