Poetry sampler. Songs of moonfish, sand castles, and Mother's slide trombone

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The Sea Is Calling Me, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Walter Gafney-Kessell. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 32 pp. $14.95 The finest poem in Hopkins's anthology, The Sea Is Calling Me, is a heartbreakingly tender ballad by the British poet Charles Causley, which begins: Tell me, tell me, Sarah Jane, Tell me dearest daughter, Why are you holding in your hand A thimbleful of water? Why do you hold it to your eye And gaze both late and soon From early morning light until The rising of the moon?

Beautifully crafted, emotionally firm, sure of itself and its story, Causley's poem might stand as a model for a kind of poetry that young readers are likely to find memorable.

Eighteen poets in all, mostly contemporary, are represented in this collection. Each poem refers in some way to sea or shore life. Some old clich'es have been dragged up again -- sand castles washed away by time's tides, and others -- but Hopkins has mainly chosen closely observed poems of honest emotion.

Recommended: Poetry quiz: Can you match the poet to the poem?

Walter Gafney-Kessell's pen-and-ink drawings are scenic in the conventional way of New England souvenir sketches. His images of children can be both thoughtful and animated, though some are only indifferently drawn. The Song in My Head, by Felice Holman. Illustrated by Jim Spanfeller. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 62 pp. $11.95.

Felice Holman offers a collection of small poems, some told from a child's viewpoint, about a variety of experiences remembered or imagined.

Holman can be verbally deft and exceedingly playful. Her nature poems are especially well formed. In ``Moonfish,'' for example, she asks: Is the moonfish moonish -- silvery, slithery and capricious in the moonshiny briny deep -- or does he sleep ?

She can also be precious. The child in ``When I am President'' imagines dispensing ice cream from the Oval Office and abolishing such disagreeable things as cauliflower and baths -- a tepid fantasy (even as escape) for a world in which five-year-olds know about mushroom clouds and shuttle disasters. But several poems are probably simple enough in design to serve even the very young as models for making up poems of their own.

The more closely detailed Jim Spanfeller's pen-and-ink illustrations are, the more interesting they seem. The more labyrinthine drawings are good daydream material. Those that sit more plainly on the page are also imaginatively plainer. Sea Songs, by Myra Cohn Livingston. Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher. New York: Holiday House. Unnumbered. $14.95.

Livingston's Sea Songs are songs of praise, cast a bit precariously in the heroic cadences of the verse epics of old: Crashing on dark shores, drowning, pounding breaker swallows breaker. Tide follows tide. Lost in her midnight witchery moon watches, cresting tall waves

Fishermen and mermaids, ghosts and surfers, are all summoned in a steady building up of detail meant to convey the grandeur and mystery of the earth's ocean world. To Livingston's credit, the energy behind her words never slackens. But apart from the techniques of rhythm, image, and sound, no unifying vision is holding together her mystic ``phantoms'' on the one hand and day-at-the-beach picnickers on the other. The result is a highly crafted text with an overwrought, synthetic quality about it.

A number of Leonard Everett Fisher's acrylic paintings are deeply evocative. His fishermen are monumental, timeless-looking; his sailboats, moving figures of solitude and grace. About half the paintings, though, are statically composed. ``Sea Songs'' is an ambitious work of parts that don't come together. Brats, By X. J. Kennedy. Illustrated by James Watts. New York: Atheneum/A Margaret K. McElderry Book. 42 pp. $11.95.

In the churlishly witty verses of Brats, good behavior and common sense are both on holiday. The mischief and folly that remain are by and large rich material for laughter: Bathing near Oahu, May Stepped aboard a manta ray. Where'd it take her? -- South Pacific. Sorry can't be more specific.

The more calamitous the absurdity, the funnier it seems: Hiking in the Rockies, Midge Meets out on a natural bridge A long-horned goat. Just one can cross. Tough luck, Midge: you've lost the toss.

There are milder predicaments for milder temperaments: ``Into Mother's slide trombone/ Liz let fall her ice cream cone. . . .'' A few poems are overly caught up in the cuter kinds of cleverness.

About half the time, James Watts's line and wash illustrations are not pointed enough. The better ones pack their own explosives.

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