June 14, 2007

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Collected Poems for Children, by Ted Hughes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 249 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Many American readers will have little memory of Ted Hughes outside of his troubled and troubling relationship with Sylvia Plath. Given the way he was portrayed in the movie Sylvia, it may even come as a surprise to some that Hughes was as well known in England for his children’s poetry as he was for his adult work. Hughes was British poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998.

Collected Poems for Children gathers more than 250 of Hughes’ children’s poems previously published in such collections as The Mermaid’s Purse and The Cat and the Cuckoo. The new volume orders the poems by complexity, making it easy to figure out which poems are best suited for what aged children.

Thematically, Hughes is best known for depicting the beauty (sometimes the savage beauty) of animals both real and farcical, like in “Sea Monster,” a poem written from the point of view of a Nessie-like creature who scares a small child on the beach: “So huge, so near / So really here / Your stare goes dry / To see me come.”

Hughes does not play down to his audience in any way, his witty verse and phrases sometimes requiring a sophisticated reader to read the poems aloud to children. His use of creative grammar and complex rhyming schemes, coupled with British wording, requires more than a bedtime story afterthought to making sure children get the most out of his work.

Still, the sheer volume of poems, coupled with simple but clever sketches by illustrator Raymond Briggs, will assure a satisfying experience for both children and parents. B+