Archive for February, 2012

Review: “The Dead Beat”

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of ObituariesThe Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As someone who enjoys meandering through old cemeteries, gazing at tombstones and wondering about the people who lie below, I was excited at the prospect of an entire book about obituaries. Author Marilyn Johnson focuses not so much on interesting obituaries themselves but on the craft of the creative obituary writer. A self-proclaimed obituary fan, Johnson shares fascinating insights into the writing process: from research to publication.

When I worked for a local newspaper, about a decade ago, we followed a very different process. Except for a few high-profile local celebrities, which entailed front-page feature stories, most obituaries were dictated to us by the local funeral home directors. But as Johnson relates, the art of creative obituaries has become more prominent in recent years.

Johnson interviewed a host of talented obituary writers, and when she relates their stories, the book is engaging. Too much of the book, however, concentrates on Johnson’s own stories about seeking out other obituary fans. The end result is an information-packed book that lacks focus. She should have emulated her favorite obit writers, who distill an entire lifetime into 1,000 words.

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Making a Place for Poetry as a Mom

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

I often tell people that I founded Wild Violet because a poetry instructor had once inspired me to “make a place for poetry in the world.” As poets, he told us, we had to do more than simply submit our work to literary magazines. Instead, it was our role to help create make poetry more integral to society. That is part of why I created an online literary quarterly: because I wanted it to be more accessible to readers.

Now that I’m a mom, I’ve got a new goal. I want to introduce my son to poetry and show him how beautiful and, yes, fun it can be. Before he was even born, one of my oldest friends gave me “A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children,” a collection edited by Caroline Kennedy.

While he was a newborn, I read anything to him, just so he could hear language. That book was one of the first things I read to him. It has been shelved for a little while, since he has been hard on his board books and it is a beautiful, hardback edition. Yet, he is now gentle enough with paper pages that I can read to him from it without fearing that he would suddenly hit the page and tear it.

This same friend has also given me numerous other poetry books, many of them retired from the library where she worked until recently. I also took a book from our local library lately, “The Usborne Book of Poems for Little Children.” It’s got colorful illustrations and simple poems that are better geared towards a child his age.

I’m also probably going to buy for him “The Random House Book of Poetry for Children,” edited by Jack Prelutsky, which I just purchased for my 7-year-old nephew’s birthday.

At this point, my 20-month-old son is just beginning to speak and to recognize some letters. But I’m hoping that, by introducing him to poetry early, I will help to make a place for poetry in his life.

What poetry books would you recommend for young children? (Or, indeed, for adults?)

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