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Robert Frost, so seldom thought of as a sporty Californian even though he lived in San Francisco until he was 11, may have had boyhood in mind when he said that poetry without rules was like tennis without a net. Paul B. Janeczko uses the sport metaphor and quotes Frost in his introduction to A Kick in the Head, and thus tries to convince readers that the topic of poetic forms can be as much fun as a ballpark frank. (When, let's face it, something described as "an everyday guide to poetic forms" sounds like it would be as much fun as a gluten-free diet, freeze-dried.)
Janeczko's introduction is short, because he leaves the real convincing to the eclectic variety of poems he's assembled here and to the dazzling collages that Chris Raschka has created as illustrations. (You think it's a rare talent to be able to illustrate a story? Try illustrating Shakespeare's Sonnet 23 or a tanku that opens with the words "Fish guts". Extra points for using bits of origami paper that children may recognize from their own trips to Michael's craft stores and for devising tiny graphic icons that make syllabification and rhyme schemes easy to remember.) Janeczko gives Odgen Nash, so often the playmaker in poetry anthologies, the first at-bat, with his couplet The Mule.
In the world of mules.
There are no rules.
And, thus, does Janeczko pledge his allegiance to both the rules of poetry ("A couplet is a two-line poem, or stanza, usually rhyming", explains his tiny footnote) and to its jazzmatazz of meaning, music and emotion.
Janeczko and Raschka collaborated on an earlier anthology, A Poke in the I, about concrete poetry.(As the footnote to the airplane-evoking "AmeliaCramped" explains, "The words in a concrete, or 'shape', poem are arranged on the page to indicate the poem's subject.") That book was very nice, but A Kick in the Head is even better - evidence, perhaps, of the ways in which pros just keep on doing things better. This book is an instant classic that gives to double dactyls, villanelles and aubades, the same taxonomic pleasure that children might give to distinguishing Dodge Darts, Volvos and Audis. But the beauties classified here can take them farther than the fastest Ferrari.