kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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The Seldom-Ever-Shady Glades by Sue Van Wassenhove

As I noted in my blog post on Friday, last week saw a box of books from Wordsong and the other Boyds Mills Press imprints landing on my door step, much to my suprised glee.

Inside the box, I found several titles including today's selection, The Seldom-Ever-Shady Glades: Poems and Quilts by Sue Van Wassenhove. If you've been reading my blog recently, you'll know that I've been doing some quilting myself, but the quilts I'm working on are nothing like the art quilts pictured inside the pages of this book.

Van Wassenhove has created a series of quilts to serve as illustrations for her book, The Seldom-Ever-Shady Glades, which contains 17 poems and, as best as I can figure, 19 quilts. The Miami Herald agrees with my count, so that's what we'll go with (and they have a great article/interview relating to the book at the link I've just given you). The title comes from the first poem in the book, which consists of 11 stanzas written in rhymed (or near-rhymed) couplets, reproduced on two separate two-page spreads. The first spread features an alligator, an anhinga, a frigate bird, and a spoonbill appliquéd onto a striped quilt with a four-patch border turned on point; the second includes elder turtles, a cormorant, a great blue heron, and a skimmer, again done in appliqué on a quilt that combines patchwork cloudy skies and blue stripes to represent the water. You can see some of the quilts at the Miami Herald website slideshow.

What's great about this book:

1. The quilts. They are really gorgeous, and work exceedingly well as illustrations. That had to be difficult for Van Wassenhove to manage, because she needed to include images and patterns in order for the quilts to work as quilts, but she also had to leave space for the placement of text. And she managed it magnificently, with excellent fabric, texture and color choices and with enough graphic appeal to hold a reader's attention.

2. The poems. The poems are as diverse as their subject matter. The rhymed couplets of the first poem give way to a slightly more sophisticated rhyme scheme in the second poem, "Change of Seasons," which uses a lot of internal rhyme and assonance to move it along. The fourth poem, "Standoff", is accompanied by a quilt depicting a gape-mouthed gator. The poem itself is a villanelle that uses moderate manipulation in the repeating lines, and succeeds tremendously as a result. "Professor Heron" is a masterpiece of free verse, and is accompanied by a gorgeous appliqué of a great blue heron (which is actually tall and grey) set on a a lush, deep blue patchwork background:

Professor Heron
by Susan Van Wassenhove

Our Professor,
the great blue.
That black, slicked-back hairpiece
and subtle, mottled cravat
hide his bony neck.
A dusty, gray tweed jacket
with rusty academic shoulders and elbows
tops long, lock-kneed legs
and polished wing tips.
But his yellow-eyed stare
and gripped, tight-lipped silence
can outwait
squirming indignities
we try to submerge.

From later in the book, here's a short poem about a snakebird, also known as the anhinga. A note explains that the anhinga has no oil glands, but is nevertheless a swimming bird that eats fish. It must spread its wings in the sun to air-dry them. The poem is accompanied by a green and blue patchwork quilt interrupted by blue stripes wher the water lies, with appliquéd anhingas, one with wings wide-stretched. The language of the poem is playful and relies largely on alliteration using "N" and "G" independently and in combination.

Anhinga Flings
by Susan Van Wassenhove

And another anhinga
in the hinterglades
unhinges its wings
after animated angling,
flinging for any hint
of drying sun.

I wasn't fully prepared to love this book as much as I do. A must-have for children's libraries (school or otherwise), and an excellent companion to units on natural habitat (endangered areas, wetlands, and the Everglades in particular) and on wildlife (including wading and fishing birds, alligators, manatees, rays, Portugese man-of-war and more). The variety of poetic styles and the inventive use of imagery and language keep this fresh; the focus on animals of the Everglades means that a number of species not found in some of my poetry books involving birds are represented here. The use of individual art quilts as illustration adds another interesting layer of detail to the books, and Van Wassenhove's skill in depicting animals using fabric is truly remarkable.

So, to sum up: I highly recommend this one to folks interested in natural sciences and birding, and to folks interested in poetry and/or quilts. And that's a lot of folks, I think.

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Tags: book reviews, poetry, poetry collections, quilting, van wassenhove
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