________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008


My Letter to the World and Other Poems. (Visions in Poetry).

Emily Dickinson. Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
48 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-339-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-103-5 (hc.).

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**** /4


This is my letter

to the World
That never wrote
to Me—
The simple News
that Nature told—
With tender Majesty

I have written before of my admiration for the KCP Poetry series of books, “Visions in Poetry,” where the people at KCP take one of the world’s best-loved classic poems, secure the services of one of Canada’s most talented artists and then beautifully present the poems to a new audience.

     The seventh book in the series, My Letter to the World and Other Poems, represents an interesting departure from the previously established format. For the first time, My Letter to the World contains a collection of poems, rather than a single piece. My Letter to the World contains seven intriguing Emily Dickinson works. What has not changed, however, is that the book is, once again, a true gem
internal art

     The Dickinson poems included in My Letter to the World are arguably not as easily understood as some of the narrative poems that have preceded this volume - Casey at the Bat and The Highwayman, for instance. In the biographical afterword on Emily Dickinson, mention is made of the “verbal density” of the Dickinson poems included in this selection. As such, this particular book might be most suitable for an older, more mature audience than some of the books from earlier in the series. Nevertheless, the literary merit of the “Visions in Poetry” selections are not in question and need not here be debated. So highly esteemed are the “Visions in Poetry” selections that a review need not focus on the quality of the writing. Rather, the reviewer must focus on what KCP Poetry has done with that writing - how it has been presented and, above all else, how the modern artist has met the challenge of illustrating the Classic text. The book is beautifully presented. From the sturdy, hard cover, the black cloth spine, the elegant silver title stamp, the vellum title page insert and, above all, the dramatic illustrations that accompany the text, every aspect of the book speaks of quality and the desire of KCP Poetry to ensure that the book is as visually pleasing as it possibly can be. Yet, the books still retail at less than $20 each, which, to me, represents wonderful value for money.

     The illustrations of Montreal artist Isabelle Arsenault feature somber tones highlighted by the discreet, but judicious, use of colour. For instance, the red of the lips and the rouge on the pale cheeks of the recurring figure of Emily Dickinson add greatly to the visual poetry experience when surrounded by dark greys and blacks and browns. Many of the illustrations contain smudged, indistinct lines, yet, in other places, the lines are sharp, with a strong, vertical quality reflective of the thin human figures. This juxtaposition of elements of art serves to create mysterious, thought-provoking and deeply engaging artwork.

     Arsenault’s mixed media illustrations are all richly textured, boasting the terrific use of light and darkness that adds depth and intrigue to each painting. There is an old-fashioned elegance to the appearance of many of the human characters in the artwork. Yet those same characters appear troubled and the illustrations reflect the turmoil suggested by Dickinson’s sparse, but careful, word choices.

     Arsenault’s artwork contains many biographical details from Dickinson’s life, and Dickinson’s image appears throughout the book. I took this to be the artist’s way of paying tribute to Dickinson. Dickinson, I suspect, would happily also sing the praises of Isabelle Arsenault for the delightful illustrations in My Letter to the World.

     As with the previous six books in this series, the new “Visions in Poetry” title, My Letter to the World and Other Poems, makes a wonderful addition to any collection of quality literature. Be sure to add it to your own collection.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan teaches Children’s Literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.