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Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the NightDark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman

Each look reveals new, fabulous details: the dusk and dawn double-page spreads that begin and end the book. The eft, a newt-like creature, that stars in his own poem (“Come all you young efts,/ so brave and so bold”) but creeps onto each page, even the verso. The fact that the illustrations are made by the process of relief printing – “there are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.” The richness of the poems – a compelling combination of ordinary and grand, from the “perched missile” of the great horned owl to “the tiny hiccup/ of my heart” described by the fleeing mouse. The way information – both necessary and fun – has been condensed for the unobstrusive sidebars, tucked next to the illustrations in a smaller print than the poems.

Source: my public library

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PS – Dark Emperor took the gold in the Oakland Public Library’s Mock Newbery, and I totally would have voted for it if it had been on the OLA/WLA list. ┬áSidman’s other book this year, Ubiquitous, has been getting some love on “best of the year” lists, but so far I’ve only seen Dark Emperor on the Horn Book’s Fanfare list – I hope it gets more love come awards time.

Following on the heels of Kate’s ode to William Carlos Williams, I just happened to get two books of poetry from the library that referenced him. Okay, so I got Joyce Sidman’s This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness purely because of the title – that Naomi Shihab Nye’s Honeybee also mentioned ol’ WCW was a coincidence. I picked up Honeybee based on a review over at 7-Imp (one of my favorite sources of in-depth reviews – and interviews!) – go check out their review (the link will take you straight there).

This is Just to Say was a fun collection – written as though they were class compositions – and I particularly liked the way the response poems related to the original apology poems. My only quibble might be that you could pick it up and be confused about whether they were actually written by kids or by one author…otherwise, a nice idea.

Honeybee was a lovely little collection of poems and prose poems – some hilarious (the raccoon on a leash, the museum story) and some sweet and some moving. I’ve been reluctant to write a review and return it to the library because I’d like to keep dipping back into it. There are so many perfect turns of phrase (turn of phrases?) I loved how the title poem referenced William Carlos Williams:

“You had no idea, did you?
You kept talking about

That wheelbarrow
and chicken…

Out there in the far field
Something has changed but

You don’t know what it is yet
And everything depends

On us”

That “you had no idea, did you?” reminds me of high school English class discussions about “The Red Wheelbarrow” – we certainly tried to put WCW in his place. Nye has done a much better job than we did – while still giving him a nice little nod.

October 2021

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