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A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams    by Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet order for
River of Words
by Jen Bryant
Order:  USA  Can
Eerdmans, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Have you ever wondered where or how a writer or poet obtains his inspiration? In this lovely picture book that uses superb mixed media drawings with a collage-like effect, we learn that prolific American poet, William Carlos Williams, loved to listen to poetry in school.

In fact, listening to poetry was the only time that this active little boy slowed down: 'The gentle sounds and shifting rhythms of the poems were like the music of the river. As the teacher read each line, Willie closed his eyes and let them make pictures in his mind.' From his early school days on, Willie wrote poetry, continuing even while he went to school to study medicine, and all throughout his forty-year career as a pediatrician and obstetrician.

In addition to educating the reader about the life of William Carlos Williams, the book is also a celebration of freedom of expression. Poetry, as the book seems to say, does not have to follow a traditional format. Williams was best known for his poetry about everyday objects. He developed his own style, which the book describes as using 'shorter lines, brief stanzas and little or no punctuation.'

I loved the book not only for the incredibly creative illustrations, which are peppered with words from Williams' own poems, but because it gave me a rare glimpse into the life of someone with whom I only had a passing acquaintance, perhaps from a long-ago college course. It is also eye-opening, at least to me, to think that poets have regular lives; I often have images of famous poets isolating themselves in a candlelit room, using a feather quill, and never seeing the light of day. To learn that Williams often wrote poems on prescription pads was, at least to me, nothing short of fascinating.

Both the author and illustrator have included additional information about this poet's life, as well as a timeline of events that help put the era in which he lived in perspective. Some of Williams' more well-known poems are reprinted on the beginning and end pages. Although I have not yet read A River of Words with my children, I plan to do so in the hopes that it will inspire their own creativity.

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