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National Poetry Month begins today. Of course, every month is poetry month around my house, but I realize that's not "normal".

I thought I'd kick off this month's celebration of National Poetry Month with a review of the wonderful new anthology from Paul B. Janeczko, FIREFLY JULY: A Year of Very Short Poems, which the good people at Candlewick Press were kind enough to send me. It is illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who did the illustrations for Jen Bryant's remarkably wonderful A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams as well.

The book is organized into four seasons, and includes short poems including haiku, couplets, free verse, cinquains, and short, cross-rhymed stanza. "Short" is the operative word, and Janeczko has done an excellent job of culling and organizing a variety of short, evocative poems into seasons. Some, like "November Night" by Adelaide Crapsey (inventor of the cinquain), have an obvious seasonal connection. Others, like Langston Hughes's "Subway Rush Hour", William Carlos Williams's "Between Walls", or Bruce Balan's "Moonlight", do not seem to be limited by season, but make sense where they are put, a tribute to Janeczko's skill as an anthologist.

Most of the poems fall into the "imagist" category: full of clear, sharp language, and conveying a clear snapshot description of the poem's subject matter. Or if you'd prefer the Poetry Foundation's definition, "clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images. These are spare, muscular poems that accomplish quite a bit with their few words. Consider, for instance, "Snow Fence" by Ted Kooser. It is spectacular when paired with Sweet's illustration of snow fence, capped by crows, with a mother bear and cub in the background. See?

The red fence
takes the cold trail
north; no meat
on its ribs,
but neither has it
much to carry.

And here is a spread showing two poems, each with their own page. On the left is "Firefly July" by J. Patrick Lewis, and on the right is "Sandpipers" by April Halprin Wayland.

Although short, none of these poems qualifies as "small", really. They each pull quite a bit of weight. An excellent anthology well worth your time and attention!

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