Friday, May 5, 2017

Tiger Poems and the Problem with Reviewing Poetry Books

Isabella helping me during a poetry session
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit delicious Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup for Roundup. (If I was really with it, I would have posted something food-related today! Alas. I know Jama's got us covered!)

A couple of posts I invite you to read:
Brenda's "Self-Portrait of a Wildflower" poem (which also includes my "Self-Portrait as a Tangerine" and some great interview questions). Thank you, Brenda!

A post I wrote for Smack Dab in the Middle about writing and quilting and words and... Anne Lamott. :)

MORE about Anne Lamott, including my takeaways from her recent visit to Birmingham. 

OKAY. And now for today's poetry post! Last weekend it was my distinct pleasure to share my work at the inaugural Reader Riot Book Festival in Florence, Alabama. It will take me a few posts to cover all the highlights, but I will get there!

One of my duties was to host a "My Favorite Poem" session, in which members of the community share favorite poems and tell why they are important in their lives. Imagine my surprise and delight when one little girl, Savannah (whose face was painted like a tiger), got up and read my "Tiger" poem from ARTSPEAK! Portraits! So so honored. Thank you, Savannah!

In my hunt for other tiger poems, I found an interesting post by Betsy Bird, about HYPNOTIZING A TIGER by Calef Brown. She praises the poetry, but admits her difficulty in reviewing poetry books. She also writes this sad sad line:

"They [poetry books] are the most unloved of the books for kids."

I guess it's true by the measures Betsy cites. BUT. All one needs to do is visit Poetry Friday to find out that we who love poetry are the most passionate readers of all! I would really love to hear your thoughts on this in comments.

And now for some tiger poems, beginning with arguably the most famous tiger poem of all:

The Tyger by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand, dare sieze the fire? 

And what shoulder, & what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? And what dread feet? 

What the hammer? what the chain? 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

When the stars threw down their spears, 
And water'd heaven with their tears, 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

tiger by Valerie Worth

The tiger
Has swallowed
A black sun,

In his cold
Cage he
Carries it still:

Black flames
Flicker through
His fur,

Black rays roar
from the centers
Of his eyes.


Anyone else have a tiger poem to share?


  1. That line about unloved books was painful! It hardly seems accurate to me, but I don't know whether I am being obtuse. I can think of some lion poems, but no other tiger ones. How touching it must have been for Savannah to read your poem!!

  2. That is a bolt to the heart for kids poets. Yet there are the few kids who are drawn to poetry. Who need to hear it, taste it, cover themselves up at night with it. Then there are the kids who hear and never knew what they were missing. My daughter loves Tigers best of all. I love your Tiger poems and your Tiger poem story. So adorable.

  3. I have a tiger poem that I sent as a puzzle to - Wait! It was YOU! I didn't remember that it was to you!
    Tiger Says

    I am wild
    not so mild.
    Don't get me riled
    for I have
    claws -
    Sharpest claws
    on my paws.
    To capture flaws
    for dinner -
    My low purr
    Can allure
    and reassure,
    But I'm a cat -
    An untamed cat,
    Do not pat:
    I don't chat,
    For it falls flat
    On dead ears -
    Oh, so precious
    I'm not vicious;
    You're just delicious:
    A most nutritious
    Tiger says.

    Don't you think kids are liking poetry better now. My students did, but you have to read it to them for a bit so they get the rhythm, especially younger ones, as the actual act of reading gets in the way of the rhythm and rhyme in their first attempts.

  4. Perhaps Betsy Byrd was speaking of the "sales" she may know rather than what children in the world do love. I found that my students loved that the language was sometimes so new to them when we explored poetry, and they began to realize how much they could find and love. I enjoyed your 'visits', too, Irene!

  5. Sigh, yes, what a very sad quote from Betsy. But I think if poetry books are indeed the most unloved, it is by the gatekeepers and not necessarily the children who hear/read the poetry books (if they are lucky enough to be exposed to them). There are still too many adults who fear poetry and they are in part responsible for not exposing kids to it more. I become mildly "alarmed" when I hear some picture book writers say they don't like poetry. Huh? To me, some of the best PB texts are written by poets! Hello, condensed, lyrical language, saying a lot in just a few words!
    Especially with the current trend of very short PB texts, the best books have poetic elements.

    Love hearing that Savannah read your poem. And thanks for these tiger poems. Blake took me right back to college. :)

  6. Thanks for reminding me about Worth's tiger poem, Irene - I want to share it with my students. PS. I think Betsy is wrong about poetry books - they are much loved in my classroom.

  7. Here's my favorite tiger poem for my Kindergarteners by Mary Ann Hoberman -- "I'm a tiger striped with fur/Don't come near or I might grrr/Don't come near or I might growl/Don't come near or I might BITE!" :-) Christie @

  8. Poetry books may be loved by few in numbers, but I have to agree that those who read poetry are among the most passionate. I also found that when I was teaching middle school, students who said they didn't like poetry, didn't really know poetry. I loved connecting them with poems and poetry books they loved...and I love the tiger poems you share!

  9. Sadly I would have to agree - put the word "poems" or "poetry" on a book, and it will likely languish on the shelves. It doesn't help that many of us shelve poetry in the nonfiction section, where kids (and parents) often fear to tread for recreational reading. The really funny part of it all is that so many picture books are really just extended, illustrated poems, with rhyme and rhythm!

  10. It takes time to help children rediscover their love for poetry once they move from hearing it chanted to them in rhyme or sung to them in lullaby. But if you give them a chance even once every week to read and read aloud poetry, they will come to love it! This is the power of Poetry Friday in the classroom.

  11. Hooray for Savannah— such great taste in poems she has! xo In my eyes, your samurai lullaby tiger has a similar flavor to Valerie Worth's swallowed sun. As for that burning comment Betsy Bird made, I don't believe it. I don't believe it speaks to a child's instinctual preference, it has to do with whether that child has been suitably exposed to poetry by an adult who loves poetry. Like Jama said (much more eloquently than I did).

  12. Calef Brown is a great guy, and writes unlike anyone I know! As for a tiger poem, I don't have it at the tip of my fingers right now, but check out David Elliott's "Tiger" from his collection, "In the Wild" - which pays homage to Blake.

  13. Thanks for "The Tyger," by William Blake, he's a favorite of mine, and I liked your "Tiger" poem. I don't think it's the kids that don't like poetry but the adults lack of interest. I agree with the comments from Michelle and Jama above.There's many young budding poets out there, proof of it is in the High School poetry clubs and slams.

  14. They certainly weren't the most unloved books in our household! My kids loved poetry from the earliest age. Mind you, "unloved books" isn't really a thing in our household at all.


Your thoughts?