cover image Chortles: New and Selected Wordplay Poems

Chortles: New and Selected Wordplay Poems

Eve Merriam. Morrow Junior Books, $15 (53pp) ISBN 978-0-688-08152-2

Cavorting with words, Merriam maintains a serious purpose: by bending the rules of diction and syntax, she aims for a universal language of rollicking onomatopoeic richness, where words achieve a lyricism that reduces the reader to a state of wonder before verbal music. As she puts it, ``language like / a giraffe's neck grows,'' and it grows in polyglot directions; yet whether cocks crow in Russian (`` kukareku '') or Japanese (`` kokekkoko ''), ``wherever you dwell'' they announce daybreak. Such is the poet's mischievous delight in breaking language barriers and awakening young and adult readers to the melody and rhythm of words that her verse commands it be read aloud, and seems to sing itself into the waiting ear. Merriam's conceits may vary--in ``Mr. Zoo'' she trots out a herd of animal metaphors and applies them to people; in ``Llude Sig Kachoo'' her words are hungover with symptoms of the common cold (``cobbod code'')--but her wit and verbal flourish never falter. A cat is described as a ``self-made rug''; a garbage truck sings ``goopidy guck''; when consonants are coaxed to trade off, ``yaffodils are dellow.'' Like kudzu, the vine that inspires one poem, Merriam's language ``grows and overgrows,'' yet a brisk shaping hand exercises inconspicuous, immaculate control. Pencil illustrations by Hamanaka gently embellish the verse without attempting to reach the heights of its invention. Ages 8-12. (Apr . )