Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings was written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  It was published in 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

I have to admit that What the Heart Wants is the first book of poems I have picked up in years.  The only other collection of poems I can even remember off the top of my head are Shel Silverstein's books.  I loved those as a child and often referred to them when I was teaching in the classroom, but haven't read a new set of poems for a very long time.  I say that because, after reading What the Heart Wants, I realize what I have been missing.  Did all of the poems strike me as wonderful? No. But there were several that hit home and made me think of personal things within my own life. 

I was engaged from the front end cover.  "For centuries, we have believed in the power of words to change our lives.  Why else wold we pray, sing or write?"  Isn't that the truth.  I'm not always an open person.  Even with my family growing up, I didn't like to talk about problems or anything that was bothering me, but I would write my feelings down.  Written words always had a special place in my heart and was my first choice in communication. Reading this reminded me of the poems I wrote as a teenager.  The way to understand me had been through my writing.  It's sad to say I've let that go.

 What the Heart Wants is separated into four categories of poems -- Chants and Charms, Spells and Invocations, Laments and Remembrances, and Praise Songs and Blessings.  This was weird to me, as I never though of most of these things as poetry.  I've always though of songs as a type of poetry, but thinking of chants, charms and spells as poetry was new to me.  I read the poems as I would expect someone who was chanting to do.  It gave me a fun twist on the poems. The two chants I found most interesting were Come, Happiness and Chant Against the Dark.

Come Happiness                                                                                   
you're not what everyone says:
some flashy friend
who shows up with fireworks,
trailing fame and glory.

You are more like a raindrop,
governed by mysterious principles.
You fall from the sky
and hit -- plop! -- with
a cool kiss of surprise.

Or maybe you're a heartbeat,
always there,
speaking in your low, soft voice,
pumping, warming, strengthening
under the surface of things,
just doing your work.

Happiness, you're like a breeze
sucked in by eager lungs.
You fill and feed us,
and yet somehow, in the exhale,
you are shared.

So come,
come to us, Happiness
Bathe us with your cool spray.
Fill us with your splendid breath.
Help us do your work. 

Chant Against the Dark
Don't come close, dark.
Don't brush my face with your sticky hands.
Stay as cool and distant as a train whistle.
Don't single me out,
don't make me answer your questions.
Let me curl here, safe in my circle of light.

Don't come close, dark.
Don't speak to me in your crooked tongue.
I don' want to hear your stories.
I have stories of my own
to tell myself all night.

Don't come close, dark.
Don't breathe on me.
When the lamp clicks off,
don't creak and shift
like some wild-eyed horse
waiting for its rider.

Oh, dark,
don't call my name.

I'm not sure if it was because they were back to back, but these two poems made me think of the ups and downs we have in life.  I interpreted Come Happiness to be about the good things in life.  Being full of light and living the life you want, whereas I interpreted Chant Against the Dark to be about sadness or depression.  About not allowing yourself to give in to the dark feelings. 

There was one spell and one lament I really enjoyed. They hit home with me and I could connect to what the author was writing. Gift Spell made me laugh while Where is My Body made me nostalgic.

Gift Spell
Whatever is inside
that large, flat box:

Leti t not be made of wool -- snowflake
pattern -- one arm slightly longer
than the other, knit in my formerly
favorite shade of green.
Let is not be square and thick
with stiff covers,
full of wit and wisdom.
Let it not be the hope of a new hobby.
Let it not be anything
to keep me neat, or clean, or safe.

Whatever it is,
let it shrink down
small and hard and cold.
Let it have metal teeth
and a whiff of speed.
Let it slip with a sweet jingle
into my battered jeans
as I run for the garage.

That box: It looks like something else.
But let it be freedom.

This is how I felt when I was sixteen.  I told everyone at camp that I was going to come home to a car in my driveway. I was so sure of it and wanted nothing less.  School was going to start in a week and I wanted my own car to drive there.  I only hope that the author got her wish in her gift as I did.

Where is My Body?
Where is my body?
The one I'm used to,
slim and ordinary as a twig?
What happened to the scabby knees,
forgettable front,
hips that were not really
hips at all?

Where is the hair
that shed clips like needles,
its part of a soft pathway
through shining woods?
And my face --
where are the bright, fearless eyes
and elastic mouth,
the nose that sat like a gumdrop
on smooth gingerbread skin?

Where is the body
that housed an
Olympic gymnast,
sumo wrestler,
all waiting, poised
in endless possibility?
When did I grow
awkward, lumpish,
a stranger in my own skin --
each day revealing
some fresh freakishness?

Where is my body -- the one I loved,
the one that was really me?

The last line of this poem gets to me.  I think that all of the time.  What happened to the person I was? The athlete? The young face in the photos of only 6-7 years ago?  And when did I change to what I am today?
I enjoyed reading What the Heart Knows.  It reminded me of how great it is to put your thoughts, feelings and life into words.  I look forward to reading more poems over the next couple of weeks.

If you would like to learn more about the Newberry Honor nominee, Joyce Sidman, you can find information on her website

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh, I must get this book! I'm so glad you reviewed it! My wallet, however, is not. Thank you for including a few poems so I could get the feel of it.