The Skin Spinners: Poems by Joan Aiken (1976)
I am an unabashed Joan Aiken fan. I suppose she's now more famous for her juvenile novels and stories, but she also produced some stunning fantasies and gothic romances, as well as a number of novels of manners a la Jane Austin. She has also penned plays, television shows, and a how-to book on writing. Her Alternate England series of juvenile novels (beginning with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 1962) remain very popular. Her children's books about Arabella and her pet raven Mortimer still delight me, as do her stories about the very peculiar Armitage family. Her latest book, The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories, was published earlier this year, seven years after the author's death.
Aiken published over 30 collections of short stories (many obstenibly for children) that highlight her specials gifts. She could be funny, scary, sentimental, wise, or outrageous. These sensibilities are carried over in The Skin Spinners, a slim volume of 50 poems. In the title poem, Aiken compares poets to spiders:
...all is fortold, all comes to pass
spun, spinning, in a web of glass;
brooding over the throng of flies
they watch with penetrating eyes
and turn the living and the dead
impartially to daily bread.
Some of these poems are mood pieces, such as "House on Cape Cod":
Sharp sting of sand, saltwater stain
the house forgets, its boards retain
the winds sandpapered this demesne...
Aiken divides the book into five sections: Simple Things, Mysterious Things, Legends, People, and Ballads. We meet a boy with a wolf's foot, the ghost of a child happy to have other children living in the house again, a man who trained an owl as an alarm clock, a poem written on tissue paper one square at a time, and the truth about New York sewers. Some poems will make you smile, some would have made Shel Silverstein jealous, and some will make you reminesce. All should make you realize what a wonderful combination wit and words can be.