IF I HAD A PAKA: Poems in Eleven Languages by Charlotte Pomerantz

IF I HAD A PAKA: Poems in Eleven Languages

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There are indeed words from eleven languages in Pomerantz's 13 playful poems, which range in length from four short lines to 35. That sounds confusing, but English predominates in every poem, no one poem has more than one other language mixed in (and that language is identified in a heading), and Pomerantz makes the foreign words easy to decipher, either from the context (in Swahili: ""If I had a paka/meow, meow,/ meow, meow//I would want a mm-bwa/bow wow wow wow. . ."") or by slipping in an English translation. The idea is not to introduce a few words in Samoan, Serbo-Croation, or whatever, for their own sakes, or as the first step in learning any of the languages, but rather, perhaps, to loosen minds and play enticingly with language (not specific languages). Unfortunately, the poems don't take off with the infectious spontaneity achieved in The Tamarindo Puppy (1980). One selection here merely states, with all but the last line echoed in Vietnamese, that ""I like fish,/. . . chicken,/. . . duck,/[and] meat./But. . ./ Best of all I like to eat."" The Spanish selection simply expresses a preference for ""arroz y habichuelas"" over ""beans and rice"" (the same dish). But except for one fussy contrivance in Serbo-Croatian, the verses are light and invitingly repeatable. There is a tongue-twisting list of English words with American Indian origins ("". . . Moose, papoose, squash, skunk, chipmunk. . .""), with the words mixed and repeated for the aural fun of it; a very different-sounding Dutch list of trees; and a skippy little lament to an owl in Samoan. (""Lulu, lulu,/I've a lilo./. . . I lost my brand-new solosolo. . . ."") The concept suggests creative applications, and Tafuri's smacking, assertive pictures give each selection a distinctive stamp.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1982
Publisher: Greenwillow