Since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I’d read and review one of the (very few) books of poetry that has won the Newbery, Nancy Willard’s A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers (1982).
I confess I’m not altogether sure what I think of this book. I read it twice—once to myself and once to my daughter. She kept asking for another poem, so I’m assuming she liked it.
Or maybe she just liked the illustrations. Alice and Martin Provensen won a Caldecott Honor for their pictures for this book, whimsical gouache paintings that are perfectly suited to Willard’s fanciful, even nonsensical, poetry.
Some of the poems I liked a great deal—the rhythm and rhyme of them, the images and playful language. And paired with the Provensens’ illustrations, the whole effect is delightful.
Other poems just made me feel old, like I’d somehow missed or lost something. While reading “Blake’s Wonderful Car Delivers Us Wonderfully Well,” for instance, my daughter asked me, “Why are his suitcases purring?” And I had no idea.
“Maybe they’ve been turned into cats?” I said. But if that was the case, how could he wear them flat on his hat or served with mustard on a bun?
Clearly, my rational brain was working too hard. But what can I say? I’m fairly left-brained and I like being able to understand things, especially words, and when I can’t, it makes me feel incompetent, and there are few things in life I hate so much as feeling incompetent.
Which is why I left this book—both times—with a feeling of ambivalence.
I loved the idea of the book, based as it is on the poetry of William Blake and written as a sort of homage to his “Poems of Innocence and Experience.” I also loved the illustrations.
And I liked many of the poems (especially “William Blake’s Inn for Innocent and Experienced Travelers,” “The Wise Cow Enjoys a Cloud,” “Two Sunflowers Move into a Yellow Room,” and “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way”).
But I came away wondering if there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t able to get lost in the magic of this book. Perhaps I’m simply too experienced a traveler, and regardless of what the subtitle says, this inn is just for innocents.