Poetry Friday: Josephine Jacobsen
April 11, 2008
After coming across a couple of poems by Josephine Jacobsen in The Oxford Book of American Poetry, I've wanted to read more. Here is the beginning of "The Birthday Party," which is also online at the Poetry Foundation.
"The Birthday Party"
The sounds are the sea, breaking out of sight,
and down the green slope the children’s voices
that celebrate the fact of being eight.
One too few chairs are for desperate forces:
when the music hushes, the children drop
into their arms, except for one caught by choices.
Musical chairs was a staple of birthday parties of my childhood; I haven't seen it around lately, though. The game was both exciting and dreadful. Dreadful, because it taps into children's fears of being left out. Exciting, because of the possibility of winning, of course, and in musical chairs, you inevitably sat on someone else, to great hilarity. Jacobsen even uses the term "scary fun" to describe the action. The poem moves on from the game, and focuses on the sea, contrasting its constant rhythms with the children's one brief moment, "the fact of being eight." Jacobsen writes,
Onto the pitted sand comes highwater mark.
Waves older than eight begin a retreat;
they will come, the children gone, the slope dark.
Even though it's about a celebration, Jacobsen's poem is bittersweet, and definitely told from a grown-up's point of view, not a child's. I know the perfect image to go with it: a photograph by Tina Barney of a children's party at the beach. When I first saw the large-format picture, it took me a while to realize that the camera's focus was not on the kids, but on the adults behind them, cocktails in hand—and one step closer to the sea, now that I think about it.
Around the children's literature blogs, you'll find more poetry talk today. The roundup of posts is over at a wrung sponge.