Wednesday Book Notes, 4.09
In Which I Was a Read-Aloud Rock Star

Poetry Friday: Josephine Jacobsen

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.

Read the rest here.

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.


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I absolutely hated musical chairs -- the sheer terror of being without a chair was always taken far too literally by me, and someone usually ended up weeping when we played. This poem is definitely bittersweet, but lovely.

Gosh, you're right about the weeping, TadMack. Red Rover was another one. People cried then, too.

Susan, that is just lovely. What a line:

"One of the gifts was a year, complete."

Thanks for introducing me to a new poet.

Jeez, I hated musical chairs, too! It was just too much stress. "It's always funny until someone gets hurt" usually seemed to be the prevailing motto...

I just got a copy of the "New Oxford Book of American Verse"--I wonder which is the newer version? I'm looking forward to browsing it, in any case. I used to have an Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes as a kid that I adored.

What a lovely poem, Susan. And yes, I also found musical chairs somewhat traumatic. Who thought of that game, anyway?!

Eisha, I love that line, too. I tried to work it in, but was just writing too much! Jacbosen is new to me, too, but I hope to find more of her books.

A.F., that may be a newer version. Mine was edited by David Lehman. I got it as a Christmas present a few years back. I don't read much at a time, but have found some stuff I love there.

Jama, I'm so glad you like this one. So many of those old birthday-party games were not as fun as they were supposed to be! Pin the tail on the donkey was no better; I hated being spun around.


Congratulations! You have won a poetry book signed by Janet Wong from Wild Rose Reader. Check out the following post at my blog for further information.

Ooh, Elaine! Wow. That is AWESOME. Merci.

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