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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

African Acrostics, written by Avis Harley with photographs by Deborah Noyes. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $20.00 ages 12 and up

"ACROSTIC (uh-Kros-tik)

Welcome, all poets--both new
Or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
Dive in headfirst!

Inviting all writers--
Now you're just the right age.

Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get a word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself. Find that poem within!"

What an invitation! Avis Harley subtitles her book about African animals,'a word in edgeways', and she immediately sets out to share her incredible talent with poetic form and word choice. I think that I have mentioned to you before that the acrostic is an accessible form of poetry to use when doing a unit with your students. What this wise author shows us is the range of form we call acrostics...and she amazes me with the strength of the collection.

She is right when she says that the single acrostic is easy for most of us to write. Choose a word, think a lot about the subject and then start writing. But then...she also includes two double acrostics where the first and last letters in each line contain vertical messages. OK, I might try that. But, a cross acrostic?? The message is written in a step pattern...first letter in the first word and second letter on the second row of the poem and then the third letter of the third row. Her poem is seven lines long...I might have tried two lines, maybe four. Seven???

She is not satisfied with that! There is even a multiple acrostic!? It contains five vertical arrangements, perfectly written to convey an image of the impala and its vulnerability while also creating a message across the five lines, ending with the last word being the end of that message. I know, you can hardly believe it when you read it!

After sharing her wonderful poems, she adds information for aspiring poets about the form. Following that, she includes 'nature notes' about each one of the animals whose photographs grace these pages. Finally, the photographer adds a note that tells readers of her journey to find the images included here. Her note finishes with this: 'But I spent much of my time (hours at a time, really) alone in a fiberglass termite mound - or swaddled in camouflage in a make-shift photographer's blind in the V of a tree - sweaty and stooped (and, in one case, tick-bitten) to spy on kudu, jackals, and warthogs near small water holes. I loved every minute of it.' What artists will do to make books for us to love!

If you have a desire to be a writer and to follow in Avis Harley's footsteps, she has some advice for you:

"I am never without a pen and a scrap of paper. An image or line can pop into my head and pop out just as quickly. Ideas need to be recorded quickly, for fear they might disappear."

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