River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things Review

river_of_wordsRiver of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things edited by Pamela Michael

Milkweed Editions, 2008. 978-1571316851

Synopsis: The California-based River of Words (ROW) has gained fame as an important nonprofit that trains teachers, park naturalists, grassroots groups, and others to incorporate observation-based nature exploration and the arts into young people’s lives. One of the group’s most important annual projects is to take the youth pulse from the United States and 22 other countries, by asking for writing on water and nature. This anthology collects the best of that writing, with accompanying artwork. Divided into nine geographical areas (California, Pacific Northwest, Inland West, Midwest, Southwest, Northwest, Mid Atlantic, South, and International), the book presents writers from ages six to 18. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: The anthology reminded me of the literary anthologies that my college would put out every year and I love celebrating the work of young writers.

Why I finished it: This collection is an amazing showcase of the potential of young writers and artists. The selected works describe life in many different corners of the United States and the rest of the world and the true beauty that comes from nature, should we be still long enough to appreciate it. Poetry is so rich and so deep because the poet is describing for the reader a scene or a moment in time with only a few choice words, and these collected poems are no different. Some are sparse and minimalist in their descriptions, others are crafted with a deeper meaning embedded between stanzas. And the topics are just as diverse as the forms. True, they all deal with nature in some way, shape or form, but it is how the poet or artist sees nature that creates a whole new way of looking at creeks and streams, skipping rocks and fishing, taking a dip or dipping in clothing to wash. The images created by the poems are just as powerful as the pictures that were selected to become part of the collection: There are simple crayon and colored pencil drawings as well as more complicated chalk, watercolor, and folk art. What spoke to me the most about this collection is that it was produced by aspiring poets and artists, who were given the chance to contribute to something much bigger than themselves and invite the reader to explore the nature around them where they live. For more information, check out the website here.

Other related materials: River of Words: Images and Poetry in Praise of Water edited by Pamela Michael; Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Ashley Bryan; The Tree is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems & Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists selected by Naomi Shihab Nye; This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World edited by Naomi Shihab Nye; Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Eric Beddows; I am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Ken Nutt; Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Beppe Giacoppe; Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature by Heidi Mordhorst, illustrated by Jenny Reynish


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