POET OF THE WEEK: Myra Cohn Livingston

Each week we will briefly introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) a poet whose work is enjoyed by children and/or teens. We will start with the winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children before moving on to other poets, past and present. Some poets you will encounter here are already very familiar and popular; others are less widely known yet their poems deserve to be shared and remembered. Links within the profiles will take you to additional information about the poet.

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WEEK 4
MYRA COHN LIVINGSTON
(1926-1996, American)
[With special thanks to Sylvia Vardell and Lee Bennett Hopkins]

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“Poetry, because it is succinct, because it humanizes, and because it carries within it the form and language of change, is of vital importance. Poetry comes in strange ways and never at the moment when one might think it should come.” – Myra Cohn Livingston, from Hopkins’s Pass the Poetry, Please!

Photographer: Marilyn Sanders; Institution: Rita Berman Frischer

The grand-mère of contemporary children’s poetry, Myra Cohn Livingston was born on August 17, 1926, in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and worked as a professional French horn musician, reviewed books for Los Angeles newspapers, and served as a personal secretary to singer Dinah Shore and later to violinist Jascha Heifetz. She published her first book of poetry for children, Whispers and Other Poems, in 1958 and continued to write, teach, and mentor other poets until her death on August 23, 1996, in Los Angeles, California. She was married and had three children.

Although Myra Cohn Livingston is well known for her work as a poet and anthologist, she also had a tremendous impact on the entire field of children’s poetry. In particular, she was a senior extension lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles for more than 20 years and mentored many of the next generation of children’s poets, including Janet Wong, Kristine O’Connell George, Deborah Chandra, Ann Whitford Paul, April Halprin Wayland, Madeleine Comora, Sonya Sones, Joan Bransfield Graham, Tony Johnston, Alice Schertle, Monica Gunning, Karen B. Winnick, and Anita Wintz, among others.

Livingston’s numerous awards include the Texas Institute of Letters award, Parent’s Choice Award, National Jewish Book Award, and the University of Minnesota Kerlan Award. In 1980, she was the recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her entire body of work.
Livingston’s writing is characterized by its elegance and sensitivity and its devotion to form and structure. Although many of her more than 50 books are now out of print, they may still be on library shelves. Called the “poet’s poet,” she was a pioneer in the creation of thematic anthologies that gathered poems together on current single topics such as holidays, animals, and seasons.
Finally, Myra Cohn Livingston authored several important professional resources for adults who work with children, including The Child as Poet: Myth or Reality? (1984), Climb into the Bell Tower: Essays on Poetry (1990), and Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry (1991), a book suitable for young people who aspire to be writers, too.

Calendar

By Myra Cohn Livingston

January shivers,
February shines,
March blows off
the winter ice,
April makes the
mornings nice,
May is hopscotch lines.

June is
deep blue swimming,
Picnics are July,
August is
my birthday,
September whistles by.

October is
for roller skates,
November is
the fireplace,
December is
the best because
of sleds
and snow
and Santa Claus.

From  Wide Awake and Other Poems  by Myra Cohn Livingston (Harcourt, Brace). Copyright 1959. All rights reserved.

In 2007, Holiday House published Calendar in a lovely new picture book format illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.

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8 thoughts on “POET OF THE WEEK: Myra Cohn Livingston

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Steven. Myra was a demanding but incredibly generous teacher-mentor to many of us. My favorite books of hers (for people to try to find at their libraries or on the Internet) are THERE WAS A PLACE and NO WAY OF KNOWING: Dallas Poems. And her book POEM-MAKING is a whole year of poetry-teaching compressed into a day-long read (with lessons for all ages, from young poets to not-so-young).

  2. Like Alice, I feel as though I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole into a place that LOVES poetry for, and with, children! HURRAAAAY! Thanks for this feature of MCLivingston. I’ll be looking into the PACYA site further – and thanks for the references made for further readings from other fans. I’m so happy!

  3. Pingback: Interview with poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins « Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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