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Spark joy this holiday season with Caroline Kennedy and her poetry collections

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Two Great Poems to Spark Your Day

May today there be peace within.

St. Teresa of Avila

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that

has been given to you….

May you be content knowing you are a child of God….

Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to

sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and everyone of us.

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy, page 303

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems

I was an English teacher for years, so I am surprised at how much I have struggled with becoming a poetry reader.  I thought that I knew how to do that perfectly well, but I have realized that the actions we take as poetry students and as poetry teachers are considerably different from those that poetry readers take.  I’ve thought about this for several days, and I am planning a post on my solutions, but meanwhile, I need a poem (or two) for you to have with your coffee this Friday morning.   

Because I’ve been struggling with the issue of being a poetry reader, I’ve been haunting the poetry shelves of my local bookstores, who make finding poetry a bit easier than libraries do.  During one of these visits, I ran across a copy of She Walks In Beauty, which is a collection of poems compiled by Caroline Kennedy.  I was really browsing single-author collections, and to be honest this type of collection is the opposite of what I like: a celebrity trying to appear cerebral. But I already had a good experience with one of Caroline Kennedy’s other collections, Poems to Learn By Heart (right).

What I appreciate about She Walks in Beauty and Kennedy’s other collections is that they feature a range of quality poets with which I am familiar, but the choice of POEMS is not obvious.  Someone has dug deeper than the usual mix of “most famous” poems.  I see more familiar poems in the children’s books than I do in the adult’s, but that is to be expected because these poems aren’t “old news” to children, and they are great poems.  Regardless of how famous the poems are, I think they do speak to children in some way, and many are just plain fun. 

Kennedy published the volume of women’s poetry around the time she turned 50 (see the NPR link below), so I think the choices resonate with me because I am at a similar time of life, when I am assessing where I have been and where I want to go…what mark I want to leave behind.  Because of her age when she produced this book, she includes poems for all aspects of life, from the serious (dying) to the trivial (beauty and clothes).  In this smaller format volume (than the children’s books), there is only one poem per page, mostly without decoration, which is good.  Unless the poet has done illustrations that are specifically meant to accompany a poem, I really do not want anyone else’s interpretation of the poem, including an artist, to interfere with my impressions.  I used to assign students to respond to poetry through color and image, and I think that’s what all readers should do: if you want art, create what reflects your response to the poem.  

Although you may not be ready to admit it, we know that that November is upon us and the time has finally changed that we need to start thinking about Christmas presents.  Books can be difficult to purchase as gifts, but if your mind is running in that direction, any of these books would make great choices.  All of Kennedy’s collections are available in my local library’s system, as I imagine they are in many, so you can check them out and review them for yourself.   

When I need to purchase gifts for large nuclear families, I usually buy them a book, puzzle, or game because it’s possible to find gifts in these categories that the family can enjoy together, and I’m not spending a lot of money on individual gifts that probably aren’t going to get used.  I definitely have She Walks in Beauty on my personal wish list, and I encourage you to check all of these out.


Below is a 30 minute listen from NPR with Caroline Kennedy on her favorite poems.

Here is a short excerpt fromShe Walks in Beauty from ABC News.


The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

For this selection, Kennedy selected her mother’s favorites.

This is Kennedy’s slimmest volume. Many of the poems are more familiar to me that those in some of the other books…they are more likely to be poems you have seen before…but they are still lovely and appropriate to the occasion. I especially like the excerpts from Shakespearean and other plays, and usually I’m not, so this is big. There are also some details about the President and his family, Jacqueline Kennedy, where and when some of the poems were used during the presidency, This is an excellent gift book, especially for someone from the generation who remembers the Kennedy era.


What did Caroline Kennedy really have to do with these books? 

I am a suspicious person.  Sometimes I call it “cynical”. In school they might call it “inquisitive”, but whatever you call it, it means that I don’t look at things at face value.  So I did a little research into these books.  I looked them over carefully, and checked the “Acknowledgement” pages, then googled the individuals mentioned. 

Now, since I like these books a lot more than I expected to, honestly a part of me doesn’t even care WHAT Caroline Kennedy’s involvement in the book is because it is so well done; she definitely made sure her name is on a quality product that probably only someone like Kennedy could get published.   

What got me about Kennedy’s reason for these collection is her backstory.  Apparently, the Kennedys have long had a tradition of sharing poetry as family gifts.  That is just about the loveliest tradition that I have ever heard of.  And what else would you give, if you are a Kennedy?  We all know that family has certainly had their share of heartache, but financial worries are one thing they don’t.  As this holiday season approaches, and the stores will up with their annual inventories of, well, stuff (I’m thinking of a much less classier word), think about what you really want and what your family really needs.  And what will create the best memories? 

All of the books I have reviewed have introductions written by Kennedy that specifically mention poems in the section.  I was a little bit skittish about reading her introductions before I had browsed the poetry because I don’t like to have someone else’s interpretation in my mind when I read, but Kennedy has a light touch…and she doesn’t mention every single poem…so if you need her support, risk it.  Since her books are meant to owned, browsed, and reread, it also works to read the poems on your own then backtrack.

Here is another great gift for a family or individual (woman or man) with great Quick Reads or, on audible, quick listens.

A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love

This is an amazing compilation of documents that create a fascinating collage of that thing called “The American Experience”, and as far as I can tell, Kennedy gets all the voices in, which is saying a lot because a reticent people we are not. The bad is here along with the good, which is why I like it. This is not a cheesy collection of sentimentality: it is the US in all of its jacked-up glory. Every type of text is represented: fiction, essays, songs, poetry. The accompanying photographs of both areas the United States and the Kennedy family, are stunning. No matter what you are thinking about your country right now, if you are an American, you are going to find things to enjoy, and even laugh at, in this book. If you aren’t American, I would love for you to have a look so will know that we are more that big eating consumers with a lot of good movies and television.

This book is a big one to begin wit (650+ pages), and it’s printed on heavy stock paper…that is the biggest issue I have with it as a readable text. It’s great to pick up at home, but you can’t really take it anywhere, and it’s the only one of the books discussed here that isn’t available on kindle! There is an award winning Audio version, however, and from the reviews I’ve read, I think that Kennedy reads some excerpts and others are read by the original speakers, and where we don’t have recordings, by various actors. As I said, the book is very long, but many of the entries are 1 to 2 pages in length, what I would call “flash reads”. This book is a fantastic gift for a family, or if you have to find something for a man, which is always a challenge.

It’s also a good reference for those frequently needing quotes for speeches because there is even, bless her, a topical index. 

 

The First Book

Open it.

Go ahead, it won’t bite.

Well…maybe a little.

 

More a nip, like. A tingle.

It’s pleasurable, really.

 

You see, it keeps on opening.

You may fall in.

 

Sure, it’s hard to get started;

remember learning to use

 

knife and fork? Dig in:

You’ll never reach bottom.

 

It’s not like it’s the end of the world—

just the world as you think

 

you know it.

 

By Rita Dove

from Poems to Learn by Heart selected by Caroline Kennedy

 

Poems to Learn by Heart

About a year ago, however, I was working on developing a poetry curriculum for the elementary school section of the K-12 school where I was then curriculum director in a country where getting books is difficult.  The school library there had a copy this book. I ignored it for a while because I was mentally turning up my nose at what I believed to be a celebrity vanity project, but I finally picked it  up and was pleasantly surprised. 

This book is beautifully produced and well laid out, with only one or at most two poems per page (I immediately disregard any children’s collections in which the layout is crowded).

I am not a big fan of a lot of art work either, which this book has, but I have to concede that the artwork in Kennedy’s poetry books is not too literal and adds to the emotion in the poem. 

I don’t like artwork because I want the readers to create their own mental images.  It’s an important part of reading comprehension, and one of the more practical reasons I insist on children’s reading poetry is because the minimal text makes it easier for them to interact with the text.  I don’t want the art to do the children’s thinking for them.

Finally, the poems are fantastic.

Kennedy’s choices are not patronizing, like so much of what passes for “children’s poetry” is.

Remember, before the middle of the 20th century, all popular literature was meant to be enjoyed by multi-generation families.

I think of Poems to Learn by Heart as a children’s book. While the library copy I have is from the children’s room, but aside from the painting of two children on the cover of the book, this book does not actually have the word “children” in the title.

The poems within are not specifically written for children, the difference is that they are appropriate for children. Kennedy has a bit of everything in this book, and she is light on the poems that you studied in school although you will recognize quite a few of the poets. There are also a lot of poems here that are a lot of fun, and from every ethnic group and region of the English speaking world you can imagine, on every topic. This is the first of Kennedy’s collections I picked up, but I forgot how good it is. This book is also a great present when you need a gift for the entire family.

The Importance of Memorization: Why it shouldn’t be a lost art.

I am a big believer in the value of memorizing texts. I can still remember the preamble to the Constitution and Patrick Henry’s speech, that I learned in Fourth Grade! I was always the lead angel in Christmas plays because I knew the speech somehow before kindergarten…I’m pretty sure I did, but I was definitely the lead angel in kindergarten…and I can still say the books of the Bible and quite a few Bible verses from my years in Christian School. Memorization helps children play with language…that’s why it’s important for them to reread the same texts, and memorization takes it to next level. In the 20th century, spoken language started to be devalued as more written texts became readily available, but now with the ease of recording of all kinds, we have come full circle back to NEEDING TO TEACH ORAL LITERACY more frequently. Some groups already do this better than others. Take a look at Martin Luther King and other African American speakers. Pay attention to how they deliver their messages.

Once you’ve memorized something, you always have it with you no matter what, and that is a wonderful gift to give your kids. So think about that when you are reading with them or choosing what to listen to in the car.

My mom has been dead for five years, and she had Alzheimer’s before that, but not only the stuff she made me memorize (that angel’s speech), but the verses she came back to, are burned in my brain. In that way, she’ll be with me until my mind goes. I hope it won’t be for a while. 


Below is Kennedy’s first collection of children’s poetry with a sample.

The cover is unfortunately bland compared to the bright, full color artwork and lovely selection of poetry you will find inside.

Here’s a sample of what you will find inside…much better, right?

Note how abstract the artwork is: very well done.


Keep A Poem In Your Pocket

Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
The little picture bring to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you’re in bed.

So – –
Keep a picture in your pocket
And a poem in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children selected by Caroline Kennedy, page 135


If you want even more poetry, especially if you are a teacher or a home school parent, watch this video below.


Below is another mixed collection similar to the Patriot’s Collection left.

A Family Christmas is yet another beautifully produced book, printed on thick paper in green and red ink. It is organized in to chapters based on different Christmas carols. You will see a lot of classics that you’ve seen before, but I’m sure you’ll see some new things as well. This collection is American in flavor, but it is not meant for any one ethnic group…I certainly saw every group that I can think of represented, at least those who celebrate Christmas. As with her other collections, you will see a few unexpected passages as well, including those that will appeal to men.

This is definitely a family read.

If I had young children at home, I would try to make it a tradition to read something from it every night of the Advent. Most of the passages are short enough to be read in five minutes or less.

Obviously, this book is a great choice for a group/family Christmas present although I would probably choose A Patriot’s Handbook for that unless I were gift giving early. This is also a creative hostess or even wedding gift.

I always feel that you can’t go wrong with a book as a gift: they don’t spoil, they don’t break, they are easy to wrap. If the recipient doesn’t like it, it’s easy to regift or donate…eventually it will find a home.

Any of Caroline Kennedy’s collections are great offerings.