Friday, June 15, 2007

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #275- Javaka Steptoe (Illustrator): In Daddy's Arm's I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers

For those visiting my site for the first time, I'm from Newfoundland originally. For those who haven't visited Newfoundland before (the island portion, not Labrador), it's one of the whitest places in North America, I'm sure. Since most of the population have their roots in England or Ireland, and people tend to migrate out, not in, it's remained a pretty pale skinned place.

Perhaps that's where my fascination with other cultures comes from. Though I have to be careful. I don't want to feel like I'm studying another person like a lab specimen either. I'm careful not to point and stare.

In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall is perfect for me. And perfect for Father's Day as well. While some of the poems, such as Carol Boston Weatherford's "The Farmer" definitely make race a part of the picture:

His backbone is forged

of African iron

and red Georgia clay.
the overall theme is the appreciation for good fathers; fathers who love, show their love, and care for their family. It's an important reminder that completely different paths can lead to the same place.

Sociological, political, and moral issues aside, the poems are still fantastic poems. There's such a wide variety of styles and moods. Dakari Hru's "Tickle Tickle" for instance employs such a rich, captivating voice of a child:

me scream and run (but OH, WHAT FUN!)

when papa tickle me feet
Then there's E. Ethelbert Miller's "The Things In Black Men's Closets" who sets a more sombre tone with such phrases as "something missing" and "slowly walked" while seeming to suggest that the father uses his wardrobe to communicate. Earlier in the poem, we have the line "his head is always bare" then a little bit later we have:

then he stopped

and walked slowly to the closet

took the hat from the shelf

I sat on the bed

studying his back

waiting for him to turn

and tell me who died
My only problem with this poem is the title, which seems to be a generalization that this is the way of all Black men. Fortunately Michael Burgess's "Lightning Jumpshot" sets the record straight, that not all fathers are so subtle in their communication:
Daddy's voice thunders
Also, it is not possible to talk about this book without mentioning the incredible artwork of Javaka Steptoe. Not only are they technically amazing (collages using everything from pennies, to burlap, to basketball leather) but they are artistically brilliant as well. He manages not only to convey the literal components of the poems, but healso compliments the tone and impressions. "Promises" for instance, by David A. Anderson, is a short conversation between a boy and his father. The son apologizes for disobeying his father for an unnamed act, and the father gently reassures him that his love is unconditional and won't ever end. It's a simple, but beautiful poem, and what Javaka does best is recognize this. Amazingly, he doesn't resort this time to finding a unique material or highly constructed style. Instead, he creates a very basic torn paper collage, just a few colours, showing a boy being held in his dad's arms. Not even the details of the faces are added. It works.


Dewey said...

That does sound like the perfect book for Father's Day! If I had a younger child, I would probably go looking for it as a Father's Day gift for the child to give to my husband.

John Mutford said...

While it's marketed as children's lit, the poems could certainly appeal to adult as well.

Allison said...

This book does sound like an excellent gift.

I just realized most of my favourite books and poems would probably be considered "children's lit."

Suzanne said...


Thanks for letting me know about the crashing problems on my blog. I took off a lot of widgets.

Would you be willing to try again and tell me what happens?



Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love when a book has really imaginative illustrations. The pictures and the words then seem to add up to a sum greater than the individual parts.

Imani said...

I'm with Barbara -- that's exactly why I like illustrated books. Thankfully I've never owned a bad one.