cover image PEACOCK: and Other Poems

PEACOCK: and Other Poems

Valerie Worth, , illus. by Natalie Babbitt. . FSG, $15 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-374-35766-5

This collection of 27 poems by the late Worth (1933–94) once again heralds the joy of words, the way they feel in the mouth, the way they look on the page. "Ice Cream" makes the perfect example: "Melting, it/ Softly fills/ The mouth/ With something/ Like the velvet/ Word vanilla." Re-imagining everyday encounters, she urges readers to consider each and take pleasure in the entire sensory experience. "October" captures the month's role as a threshold to the wintry days ahead: "Frost a/ Presence in/ The woods:/ A sound/ Of footfalls, One here,/ One there,/ As the leaves/ Step down." The titular poem becomes a wry caution against vanity, "He fans/ Out that/ Famous halo,/ Turns it/ About for/ All to see,/ Folds it/ Down and/ Saunters away,/ Trailing his/ Heavy burden/ Of beauty./ (Meanwhile,/ His freckled/ Brown wife/ Rambles around/ Him, plain/ And free.)" Babbitt (paired with Worth for Poems and More Small Poems) characterizes the feathered duo with sketches that play up the male's upright posture, head cocked, one foot aloft, while the female examines the ground for food, toes firmly planted. Worth knows just how to pace a collection, tethering loftier subjects to earthbound images near and dear to her readers' passions, such as in "Crayons": "Their paper/ Torn, their/ Snapped sticks/ Worn down/ To grubby/ Stubs, they/ Still shed/ The colors of/ The rainbow." This poet will be missed. All ages. (Mar.)