Tonawanda News

January 28, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Masterful handling of language in 'Water from a Toad'

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Poetry should, quite honestly, be required reading for anyone aspiring to improve their writing.

With so few rules to follow, poets are allowed to spew forth their feelings without having to worry about context or style. And such freedom yields creativity that is to be envied.

Consider the first line of Frederick Whitehead’s poem “Feng Shui My Ass” from his fourth and latest poetry ant- hology, “Water from a Toad”: “My shin is the last to learn of the new configuration for the coffee table.”

Such masterful language conveys the intended message while simultaneously allowing the reader to envision everything from what the color of the table might be to how loud the person screamed after his shin crashed into it. It, indeed, is a crafting of words to be aspired to.

So, too, are most of the 59 poems compiled into this book. Whitehead is a veteran of the local poetry circuit, organizing numerous area readings and penning literally hundreds of works. His book is an ideal introduction for novice poetry consumers, as it’s easy to read yet interesting and just thought-provoking enough to put a reader’s brain through an adequate workout.

Newcomers to poetry (i.e. me) might not understand why capital letters are so carelessly cast aside and indents are performed after every six, five or four words. Maybe it helps when they’re read aloud. I couldn’t say.

But after the first couple poems, the reader doesn’t really notice anymore. Instead, you get clever word plays, colorfully vivid images and insights into the human mind — the sorts of things not commonly seen in what’s read by the masses these days. He doesn’t rely on complex sentences or sophisticated vocabulary. Rather, he puts simple words in the right order to lose the reader and engage the reader in ways that should probably not be possible by something that’s 55 words long.

If you love poetry, you’ll love “Water from a Toad.” If you couldn’t name a poet to save your life, Frederick Whitehead would probably be a good place to start.

You’ll be glad you did.

Contact Paul Lane at

• WHAT: "Water from a Toad" • BY: Frederick Whitehead • GRADE: A-