Backpack Blues is a young adult story in verse set in a fragile world, the rural Mountain Valley High School, located in the extreme northeastern section of the Adirondack Mountains. ACE JACKSON serves as a master of ceremonies, but each student shares the limelight for a moment.
The narrative begins with an invitation by MARISOL GARCIA to enter the world of her senior class. We hear CORA SIMMONS’ cry for acceptance. One by one, Cora’s classmates speak about themselves and their lives through the poems they hand in to the English teacher MRS. DEYON, or crumple up and throw into the basket to be retrieved by the snoopy janitor SAWYAH TRUMAN. Sometimes they gossip about each other. More often, they spill their troubles, complain about their lives, or criticize the lack of justice.
ROSS PARROTTE, the ballplayer frequently mentioned by others, makes most of his classmates’ lives miserable. His bullying prompts TOBY THOMAS to eat his troubles.
Problems escalate until the day of the senior ball. The anthology of vignettes in verse explores the pressures of home life, relationships, and school life faced by the members of Cora’s class. Combined, the culturally diverse poems demonstrate a blend of humor, alienation, and determination.
Backpack Blues celebrates the resourcefulness it takes to make it in the classrooms, halls, and locker rooms of contemporary schools, but also reminds readers no one ever leaves school totally behind.Order Paperback Now
A Backpack Full of Poetryby Sandy Atkins
Do I ever wish I’d had Melody Dean Dimick as a teacher when I was younger.
In her latest book, Backpack Blues: Ignite the Fire Within, Dimick presents her poetry for, and about, young adults, and then explains the poetry form she has used, and why. She also connects her poetry styles to other noted poets who have used those styles in their writing.
Dimick makes her verse accessible and useful, and it is also fun to read out loud.
The first part of the book is the Backpack Blues section. Dimick’s student characters use their poetry to talk about their lives and to comment on the lives of other students and their actions. One student, Ace Jackson has short, enigmatic verse that serves as a counterpoint to the longer poetry comments in the developing story.
Dimick uses Jackson’s poems to illustrate poetry forms. All of Jackson’s poems are composed of twenty-one syllables, seven syllables to a line, or stanza.
The student characters tell, poetically, about the issues that concern young adults: young love, lost and found; abuse; immigrant parents; friendship, lost and found; identity and gender; addiction and illness, to name a few. These poems reflect the blues of the title. Dimick, who taught at a school in upper New York state, must have certainly been an empathetic instructor. She dedicates the book to her former students.
But Dimick’s poetry is only half of the book. In Ignite the Fire Within, she goes on to urge the reader to write poetry, and tells how to do it. This is information, as an adult, I would have loved to have as a young student.
She begins her instruction by defining what she calls the gadgets in the poetic equipment bag, and goes on to explain the tools: alliteration, metaphor, foots, rhythm, imagery, symbolism and more. She uses the poems from the first part of the book, as well as popular song lyrics and classic poetry, as examples to illustrate each concept.
Then, Dimick goes on to explain the types of poems, which include the classics like quatrain and lyric, but also blackjack poems, Fibonacci poems, chants, rap and the complex sestina. There seems to be something for everyone and for every type of expression.
She goes on to give techniques to convey meaning and how to make the poem manuscript easy to read (out loud at a poetry slam).
Backpack Blues is a departure from Dimick’s previous books for young adults (Silent Screens, Sinister Silence and Blame) but one wholly appropriate for her: as a teacher, and an outstanding one at that. This book is a gift for students of poetry, young adults and adults, as well.
Dimick has local Hardwick connections, and will read from and sign her book on Friday, August 10, at 4 p.m. at the Galaxy Bookshop, Main Street, Hardwick.