Friday, April 01, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Braid

How awesomely appropriate is it that the first day of National Poetry Month falls on a Friday, which is a day that we celebrate poetry every week?

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'm planning on having a poetry post EVERY DAY (that includes weekends!) So I'll either share a poem or review a novel written in verse, like I try to do every Friday. And I'm not the only blogger doing something special to celebrate! Check out this loooooooooooooooooooooooong list of all the ways we're adding more poetry into our lives this month!

Let's get started with a review of a verse novel by my hands-down favorite verse-novel author.

The BraidThe Braid Helen Frost


Holding almost a weightless warmth
(or chill) letters pass from one hand
to another, shifting borders
between the unknown and the known.
Such minute detail: a cricket
chirping by the dam and midnight;
a cracked blue plate. Someone sitting
at a table writing, absorbed in thought.

In 1850, at the end of the Highland Clearances, the MacKinnon family is evicted from their home on the island of Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. The oldest child, Sarah, elects to stay behind with her grandmother on a neighboring island. The night before they leave, Sarah braids her hair together with her sister Jeannie's. She then cuts off the braid and takes half with her, leaving the other half for her sister. The book then follows their respective stories-- Sarah's as she makes life in the small village and falls in love and Jeannine's as she and her family make the dangerous crossing and arrive in Cape Brenton, which is starving itself and has no place for strangers.

As with all of Helen Frost's verse novels, this one is expertly crafted. It alternates narrative poems told from each sister with shorter praise poems. The narrative poems read like prose, but when you read the author's note in the end, you discover that each line has the same number of syllables as the speaker's age and that the last words of each line are used for the first words of each line of the next narrative poem, braiding them together. At the same time, the praise poems braid the last line with the following first line. Like her other books, I saved the author's note until the end (sometimes knowing too much about how she crafted her work can be a plot spoiler!) and then went back and reread the story with the craft in mind. I love how her work is always so meticulously crafted but that it never, ever, ever, ever interferes with the story she's telling.

That said, while I love the story, overall this one didn't do as much for me as Frost's other work. That's not to say it's not brilliant and awesome, but just that Frost has a really high bar set for herself and this one wasn't my favorite of hers. The interspersal of the praise poems, which aren't part of the plot, broke the flow up a bit.

But, how can you not love lines like this? (From one of Sarah's narrative poems)

In love they say, as if love is a place you enter--as if we
slice open time and find a whole new island inside one moment

Today's Poetry Friday Round-up is over at The Poem Farm.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Jeannine Atkins said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on The Braid. I share your Helen Frost love, though never managed your discipline of reading the verse before reading the notes. Maybe I'll try to hold off on the next one!

Amy L V said...

That braid image is a poem in itself. Verse novels are so interesting - I need to read more of them! Thank you for the inspiration! A.

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for reminding me that I still haven't read this one of Frost's. Just went to the library website and put a copy on reserve!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, this is one of my favorite verse novels too. Oooh, a whole month of verse novels. I can't wait!