Miracle Plays

Miracles

edited by Richard Lewis
Simon & Schuster, 214 pp., $4.95

Bertha, and Other Plays

by Kenneth Koch
Grove Press, 134 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Reasons of the Heart

by Edward Dahlberg
Horizon Press, 159 pp., $5.00

Cipango’s Hinder Door

by Edward Dahlberg
University of Texas, 67 pp., $3.75

Richard Lewis is a musician, a teacher, a man gifted in the music of feeling. For some years now he has been teaching children to listen to words. In return, he listens while the children speak, particularly when the speech is verse. The subtitle of his book is: “poems by children of the English-speaking world.” As his earlier anthologies imply, what he values in these poems is the rush of wonder, the sense of life as miracle. It is not clear to what extent this has determined his reception of the poems. There must be some children who are not thrilled by the olé of things; who think of the sun, the moon, the weather, the sea as strictly neutral events, perhaps merely yet another version of the “malady of the quotidian.” If there are such children, they are not heard in Mr. Lewis’s anthology. These young poets write as if the world were an astonishing treasury, a carousel of metaphor. Mr. Lewis loves to attend to these sweet sounds. Splendid; but the chorale is misleading if it excludes that childish sound which is laden with distress, where the metaphors are stillborn and the new year says nothing new. Perhaps Mr. Lewis, wanting children to be happy, prefers happy children to the other kind. Or perhaps only happy children speak. I wish Mr. Lewis would tell us a little about his poets, beyond their names, countries, and ages. At the moment, many of the poems sound as if they were written by one well-adjusted child on the first morning of Summer vacation, playing with a basket of miracles. Maura Copeland (age 10) sees a skyscraper piercing the fog on a hot day, making the shapes “like temples of an ancient land.” Diane Cairns (age 10) imagines that the wind “is half the flower” because “it is in the flower”; as the white flower is in the clouds. Peter Shelton writes of a singing class in school, the children with their mouths open “like sleepy fish,” the teacher waving her arms “like a rhyme in water.” Peter Kelso, already moving at the age of eleven into adult assumptions of imagination and reality, speaks as if he were a young Wallace Stevens: “With a wave of words, a poet can/Change his feelings into cool, magical, mysterious/Mirages.” But the most remarkable poems in the book are those few that come from a darker imagination, where life is not a miracle play and we see fear in a small handful of dust. Charles Gluck (age 10) says in the poem “November”: “The birds have all flown/And I am alone/In the big sky’s mouth.” David Recht, an Australian boy of ten, has a Roethke-like poem:—

The little fish cries;
His mother has been
Taken by
Nets.
He dives
To the bottom
Trying to forget.
His stillness makes
Him afraid.
He swims after his
Mother
Silently crying.

I would like to know something of that boy’s mind, to which …

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