Siebert, Diane illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Chronicle, 2006. ISBN 978-0811850568 64 pp. $
Opening with a poem comprised of clever, absurd and unique names of American towns, Tour America is a whirlwind tour of sights in half of the continental United States. Following the path of motorcyclist poet Siebert and her husband, the poems take up from New Jersey, speed north through New York and New England, across the Midwest, down the west coast, across the southwest and back north up the east coast, coming to rest at the Washington monument in Washington, D.C.
Just like a video game that allows the player to go meta, each entry shows the state pinpointed on an outline of the US, and the location of the attraction pinpointed on a state map. Johnson’s vivid and dynamic images bring us along visually as Seibert chronicles the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of each place. Her poems pay tribute to the wonders of America, man made and natural, from the majestic to the fantastic: Charleston’s Old Ironsides; the St. Louis Gateway; Roswell, New Mexico; Mount Saint Helen’s, Washington; New York City’s gargoyles, Chicago’s El. The pit stops are as much a conglomerate as our melting pot of citizens.
The writing style matches each location–Mount Saint Helen’s poem is fittingly punctuated with ellipses and all caps: Kerplow! Ka-booms! The ode to the El has a rollicking, fast pace, while Niagara Falls’ simplistic sparse words convey the size and beauty of the falls in just twenty words. The Badlands has a quiet desolate tone, while Mount Rushmore is given a distinguished sound. Siebert’s Vortex poem has a dynamic energy, but a swirling or disjointed concrete poem might have better conveyed the “mind-boggling” inexplicable force for this location in Gold Hill, OR.
Each poem is accompanied by a fact box that at best expands on information in the poem with statistics and anecdotes (Lucy the Elephant, Golden Gate Bridge, Vortex) and at worst, seems to be little more than the poem in paragraph prose (Old Ironsides).
The illustrations are as rich and varied as their subjects, with the composition tone and medium chosen carefully to reflect an era, tone and attitude, a place in time, not merely a location. The El is represented by a photomontage collaged with painted newspaper clippings, fragmented the way the view appears like a film strip outside of train windows. The Cadillac Ranch shows cars on end with a combination of pastel, gouache, oil and charcoal that creates the rainbow effect of the hot sun’s reflection on oil and rust. Las Vegas is a busy, bright and shiny collage of jewels, fruit, dice and tropical plants. Rosewell’s photograph background gives and eerily realistic tone to the digital spaceship’s searchlights (pieced together from car headlights, perhaps?).
Mount Rushmore’s pencil and crayon etching on greenish paper reminds the reader that these dead presidents appear on our currency New York’s gargoyles are photos and digital collage to reflect the neon of the city that never sleeps. Many of the images have the feeling of grand masters, with their oil on canvas or panel medium created impressionist like swirls in prairie grasses, the aurora borealis, clouds, and oceans. This reviewer, hardly an art major, only sounds so smart about composition because the artist helpfully lists the medium for each image in an appendix. A partial postmark appears on each page to timestamp the visit, and dot the endpapers.
This picture book for all ages is recommended for collections in the US and abroad, could be used for units on poetry or geography, and would make a great gift for your favorite armchair traveler.