LS 5663 Performance Poetry

Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. New York, HarperTrophy. 1988. ISBN 0060218533

Upon hearing the title, Joyful Noise, many things come to mind, music, choirs, church, happy children, laughter, birdsong.  What doesn’t come to mind is insects.  However, Fleischman’s Joyful Noise is a collection of poetry for two voices with insects as the subject matter (and speakers).

For any single person reading this book, it is confusing.  Since the poems were written for two voices to read together, it has unique problems for a solo reader.  Which side of the poem do you read first?  How do you even read one of these poems? (To be fair, there is a note at the beginning to explain these first two questions.) How does this actually sound? It is difficult (though not entirely impossible) for one person to read these poems aloud and understand how they were intended.  For one person, it requires a recording device…phone, computer, microphone…tape deck, and playing back the reading already recorded while reading the other side.  Easy?  No, but possible.  The most effective way to appreciate this book is to grab a friend and head to a park or a place where neither of you mind reading poetry aloud.

Beddows’s pencil drawings are wonderfully detailed and potentially creepy (especially if you don’t like mayflies or beetles).  While some are focused on accuracy to the insect, others like the book lice are more like cartoon insects than what would be found in a science text.

For Joyful Noise to work in a library setting, the librarian would require pairs of kids and a partner.  Even so, this would likely work better for teens than elementary aged children.  It’s hard enough for adults to read a poem in synch without getting frustrated with each other.  That being said, Joyful Noise offers a wonderful opportunity to remind children of the power of hearing poetry as opposed to simply reading it.  Another nice thing about this requiring a friend, the reader is not alone.  It isn’t one person reading by themselves, it’s a pair of voices.  This may encourage more pairs to participate simply because they aren’t reading alone.

Spotlight Poem

Fireflies by Paul Fleischman

Light                                               Light
.                                                       is the ink we use
Night                                               Night
is our parchment

.                                                        We’re.                                                         fireflies
fireflies                                            flickering
.                                                        flashing
glimmering                                     fireflies
.                                                        gleaming
Insect calligraphers                       Insect calligraphers
practicing penmanship
.                                                         copying sentences
Six-legged scribblers                     Six-legged scribblers
of vanishing messages,
.                                                          fleeting graffiti
Fine artists in flight                       Fine artists in flight
adding dabs of light
.                                                          bright brush strokes
Signing the June nights                Signing the June nights
as if they were paintings               as if they were paintings
.                                                         We’re
flickering                                          fireflies
fireflies                                              flickering
fireflies.                                             fireflies.

Perhaps the most obvious activity to do with any of the poems in this book would be to encourage the pairs of teens to write their own poems for two voices.  In this poem, the fireflies are artists.  Perhaps the students could make similar comparisons.  For example, a painter could be considered a type of chemist, mixing paints and even other materials (glitter, bark, beads) together to create strange new wonders (new colors, interesting textures, whatever the final image is) and sometimes, whatever it is the artist is trying to make blows up in their face just as much as an unstable chemical mixture.  Could a mathematician or concert band member be an athlete?  If using this example, I would emphasize concert band, because if any of the teens are in the school’s marching band, they are probably pretty adamant about the athletic ability required to march and play at the same time (yes, I would be one of them).  If they want to, they should be encouraged to read their own creations aloud.


Newbery Award Winner 1989


“While most poetry can be appreciated by solitary, silent readers, Fleischman’s poems demand to be read aloud. That the words are not intended for private study is clear from the subtitle, Poems for Two Voices.”


Larson, David. The Five Owls. 1988. (Vol. 2, No. 6) Accessed via CLCD at


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