ACTIVITY: Madness! Writing 126 New Kids’ Poems in 21 Days

Every March, millions of fans flock to college basketball’s “March Madness” championship tournament, one of the most thrilling sports events of the year. This March, Ed DeCaria at Think Kid, Think! is bringing this madness to the world of children’s poetry.

Madness! 2012 is a friendly NCAA-style tournament for children’s poets. Prompted by individually assigned words (where the words themselves are seeded 1 through 16, scaling upward from intuitive to seemingly impossible), each poet will have 36 hours to create a new-to-the-world poem using their word. Readers will then have another 36 hours to vote for their preferred poem, and the winner will advance to the next round.

Together, the tournament’s 64 participants will introduce 126 new poems to the world in just 21 days!

The tournament bracket will be unveiled on Selection Sunday: March 11, 2012. The event is already 75% full, so if you are a poet and want to enter the madness, immediately click the logo below to reserve your spot. If you wish to participate as a voter and commenter, visit Think Kid, Think! every day throughout the month of March to read the latest batch of poems and to vote for your favorites before each poll is closed.

NEWS: Douglas Florian exhibition at Poets House in NYC

Poets House Opens Exhibition of Children’s Poet and Artist Douglas Florian

Sunday, February 26

Poets House art exhibitions focus on both the physical and visual manifestation of poetry, as well as works by visual artists that correspond to the poetic impulse. This month we launch two entirely different exhibitions of New York artists — one showcasing the work of children’s poet and artist Douglas Florian, the other highlighting the paintings of Darragh Park, whose art often graced the covers of poet James Schuyler’s books.

A Florianthology: An Exhibition on the Art and Poetry of Douglas Florian

Special Book Signing & Reading at 11 a.m.

Children’s poet and artist Douglas Florian’s collage-work, witty wordplay and educational rhymes have inspired and entertained countless children. Florian was born and raised in New York City where he still lives and works. His love of poetry began in the fifth grade when he discovered the light verse of Ogden Nash at his local Queens library. He has written and illustrated more than 30 books of poetry, including the national bestsellers Insectlopedia, Dinothesaurus, Poetrees and more.

This exhibit features original artwork and poetry from his award-winning books.

Opening Reception: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; on view through Saturday, April 21.

All programs take place at Poets House, 10 River Terrace (at Murray St.) in Lower Manhattan, unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (212) 431-7920 or visit www.poetshouse.org.

NEWS: 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award announced

The winner of the 2012 LEE BENNETT HOPKINS/PENN STATE UNIVERSITY POETRY AWARD is WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt, 2011). One honor book was selected, HIDDEN by Helen Frost (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011).

The winning title receives an honorarium of $1,000. A gold seal with art by Jessie Wilcox Smith is affixed to the book; a silver sticker for the honor book(s).

The award, established in 1993, is the first and only award of its type for poetry in the United States — given either for an original collection or anthology. A complete history of the award can be found at www.leebennetthopkins.com under PENN STATE.

NEWS: Claudia Lewis Poetry Award winners announced

Congratulations to the two Claudia Lewis Poetry Award winners: for younger readers, Kristine O’Connell George’s EMMA DILEMMA: Big Sister Poems (Clarion), illustrated by Nancy Carpenter; for older readers, Allan Wolf’s THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT: Voices from the Titanic (Candlewick).

Bank Street College is presenting its awards on Thursday, February 23. If you are in the New York area, you are welcome to attend. Information can be found on their web site.

(Thanks to Marilyn Singer for the news.)

FEATURED POET: Mary Ann Hoberman

One of our goals is to introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) accomplished poets whose work is enjoyed by children or teens. We start with the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children winners before moving on to other poets.

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MARY ANN HOBERMAN

(American, b. 1930)

Photo by Lois Dreyer

Mary Ann Hoberman was born on August 12, 1930, in Stamford, Connecticut, to Dorothy (Miller) and Milton Freedman. She attended the Stamford public schools, where she wrote for her school newspapers and edited her high school yearbook. In 1951 she received a B.A. in history from Smith College and, thirty-five years later, an M.A. in English Literature from Yale University. She married Norman Hoberman, an architect and artist, in 1951. They have four children, all in the arts — Diane, Perry, Chuck, and Meg — and five grandchildren. The Hobermans have lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, for almost fifty years in a house that Norman designed.

Mary Ann Hoberman has taught writing and literature from the elementary through the college level. She co-founded and performed with both “The Pocket People,” a children’s theatre group, and “Women’s Voices,” a group giving dramatized poetry readings. But ever since her first book was published in 1957, her primary occupation has been writing for children. She received a National Book Award in 1983 for A House is a House for Me and the 2003 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her body of work. In 2008 the Poetry Foundation named her the second U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, after Jack Prelutsky and before J. Patrick Lewis.

Mary Ann Hoberman recently published her first novel, Strawberry Hill. She is the critically acclaimed author of more than forty books for children. One hundred of her favorite poems are collected in The Llama Who Had No Pajama. Other popular titles include The Seven Silly Eaters and the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series.

In recollecting when she first decided to become a writer, she has said:

“I knew I was going to be a writer even before I knew how to write! I think I was about four years old when I first understood that many of the stories I loved so much had been made up by real people, with real names, rather than having always been here like the moon or the sky. I decided then that when I grew up I would write stories, too, that would be printed in books for other people to read. But meanwhile I didn’t wait to grow up or even to learn how to write. I started right away to make up stories and poems and songs in my head, which I told to myself or to my little brother…

“Many years later I did become a writer, just as I had decided back when I was four. I saw my stories and poems and songs printed in books just like the ones I loved so much when I was a little girl. But I still make things up in my head before I write them down. And most of my ideas have originated in memories of my own childhood and in my own early interests and pastimes. As a younger woman I had almost total recall of myself as a child; and even now, when I am a grandmother and the years on which I draw for my stories and poems are more than half a century behind me, I can still tell you the names of every one of my elementary school teachers, where I sat in each classroom, who my friends (and enemies) were, and how I felt about myself, my family, and my world. In many ways, despite the sorrows and pain of childhood, I loved being a child; and as a child I was somehow already aware that childhood was fleeting and that I must never forget what it felt like to be new in the world.”

(Adapted from: Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators)

For more information about Mary Ann Hoberman, please visit:

NEWS: Blackaby, Jackson, and Kennedy recognized by The Lion and the Unicorn children’s literature journal

Congratulations to Susan Blackaby, Rob Jackson, and X.J. Kennedy — and their illustrators and publishers — for being named winner (Nest, Nook & Cranny) and honor books (Weekend Mischief and City Kids: Street & Skyscraper Rhymes) of the 2011 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry.

Thanks also to the award judges — Michael Heyman, Michael Joseph, and Joseph Thomas — for sharing their intriguing essay with us.

Message from PACYA’s founder, Steven Withrow

Thank you all for taking part in Poetry Advocates for Children & Young Adults. Since September 2011, we have begun to build a base for a thriving children’s poetry community worldwide. I view PACYA as a long-term, multigenerational project, and I’m honored to be here at the very start.

The Poetry at Play blog and our Facebook page will continue to be outlets for news and features, including our popular “Featured Poet” series. We will soon announce a children’s poetry conference in Montreal, Canada, sponsored in part by PACYA. We are also exploring the creation of an advocacy award and the use of YouTube for kids and teens to see and hear poets read their works aloud.

What do I need from you?

  • Essays (critical, historical, or craft-oriented)
  • Reviews and interviews (text or audiovisual)
  • Lesson plans and activities
  • Event reports and calendar items

Please email me at stevenwithrow(at)gmail(dot)com if you’re interested in submitting materials. I can’t keep PACYA growing without your generous contributions. Thanks for your support and for spreading the word!

FEATURED POET: X.J. Kennedy

One of our goals is to introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) accomplished poets whose work is enjoyed by children or teens. We start with the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children winners before moving on to other poets.

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X.J. KENNEDY

(American, b. 1929)

Equally at home in poetry for children and adults, a superb teacher and critic as well as a legendary poet and anthologist, X.J. Kennedy (known to his friends as Joe) was born in Dover, New Jersey, on August 21, 1929, shortly before the crash of the stock market. For summaries of Kennedy’s voluminous biography, please visit:

In 2000, Kennedy received the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for his body of work. In 2009, the Poetry Society of America gave him the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime service to poetry.

The Kennedys have five grown children and six grandchildren. They now live in Lexington, Massachusetts, in a house half century-old and half new.

INTERVIEW BY STEVEN WITHROW

In your afterword to John Ciardi’s The Reason for the Pelican, you wrote that Ciardi was responsible to a large extent for the change in climate that allowed poets writing for adults to publish children’s verse without shame. Do you feel that poets writing for adults are more open today to children’s poetry than they were in past decades, or has the trend moved in the other direction?

 Back when John Ciardi’s verse for children was flowering, you could count numerous other poets who had ventured to write for kids. Ciardi’s example certainly encouraged me. While I’m not exhaustively familiar with the current scene, I don’t see that happening now. One reason for this lack may be that book publishers, overly aware of the bottom line, bring out so few new collections of verse for children nowadays. Maybe there’s more kidpo being written and published on blogs and websites, but I daresay that pre-readers and very young pre-hacker-stage kids can’t get to it.

Do you think the borders between poetry for children and poetry for adults are more permeable than many teachers and writers think? Should children and teens be given more opportunities to explore poetry written for adults?

You bet, the borders are permeable, all right. When Dorothy (M. Kennedy) and I were scouting out stuff to put in anthologies, we were always elated to find adult poems that kids could dig—for instance, Wallace Stevens’s wonderful rigmarole “John Smith and His Son John Smith” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s “Pete at the Zoo.” We put those in an anthology for pre-readers. I could never share Kenneth Koch’s conviction that you could read Milton ’s “Lycidas” to little kids and if they didn’t grasp all of it, so what, they’d get some of it. But it’s true that the receptiveness of little kids is easy to underestimate. As for teenagers, anthologies aimed at them have always been hard to tell from anthologies aimed at adults.

We are clearly facing a difficult market (some say a dire crisis) for publishing and selling children’s poetry collections and anthologies. Lee Bennett Hopkins said only three new anthologies were published last year in the US. Do you see this as an especially troubling development, or a challenge that poets have always faced?

It’s troubling, all right, more so than ever. Digital technology, I think, makes it easier for poets to circulate their work, but harder to reach readers who will keep it on hand and sometimes go back to it. When read on screen, poems aren’t physical objects, like poems on pages of a book, and I suspect we tend to pay ’em less attention and dismiss ’em with a click forever.

Do you think more rigorous standards should be adopted for teaching poetry in schools? Do you think a more structured and mentored educational course of study, such as is common in classical music or ballet, would benefit poetry? Or should learning to read and write poetry follow a different course?

God, no, the teaching of poetry doesn’t need to be more rigorous. Let’s have fun with it, not make it a duty. No kid needs a course in onomatopoeia or poetic metrics in order to survive. To paraphrase W.H. Auden, thousands have lived without poetry, not one without water. (Auden didn’t say “poetry,” he said “love.”)

I appreciate your response about having fun with poetry. Do we risk making poetry seem too simple, though, and therefore of lesser value than other art forms—something that can be done by anyone instantly without need for instruction, practice, or revision? Or am I missing your point?

 I meant that poetry should be fun to read, that teachers shouldn’t make it a grim duty. What about writing the stuff? I think that should be fun too, even though it may also be work. To be sure, for young writers, instruction, practice, and revision are called for. Without some instruction, kids writing in rhyme risk writing lines like “When you’re alone / It keeps you Capone”—to quote an example from a small girl’s poem cited by Myra Cohn Livingston. The kid had heard the name of Al Capone and threw it in, not knowing what it meant. In such a poem, rhyme is like a big dog taking the poet for a walk. As for revision, ah, if only all poets, young and old, were like Yeats, who told a correspondent that he had a large batch of first drafts and looked forward to months of hard work revising them—“What bliss!”

Many teachers are wary of meter and rhyme, as they have been taught that formal poetry is out of fashion, while others merely use forms as tools to teach grammar and vocabulary. Are meter and rhyme still vital and essential, and what does formal poetry offer to young readers and writers that free verse does not?

No doubt formal poetry is out of fashion, but if kids are to read practically any poems written before 1960 (and many good ones written after), it won’t hurt them to know that rhyme and meter exist. What do those elements have to offer young readers and writers today? Well, for one thing, pleasure, and for another thing, memorability. Consider this well-known poem, of anonymous child authorship—

Jingle bells!
Batman smells!
Robin laid an egg!
The Batmobile
Lost a wheel
And the joker broke a leg!

Crude as that example is, it’s memorable and it gives instant delight. Now imagine those lines rewritten as free verse, and the satisfactions of its rhyme scheme and driving rhythm will be lost. For me, reading most poetry in free verse is somewhat like watching black-and-white TV. There’s a valuable element missing from the viewing experience.

How do you feel about encouraging children (as well as teens and adults) to memorize and recite poems aloud? Are we missing out on much of poetry’s power by simply reading silently or hearing another person’s voice?

Right on. I’m a great believer in learning poems by heart, so that if you’re waiting for a bus and don’t have any reading matter, you can always regale yourself by tapping your memory. In my experience, many teens and college students hate to be asked to memorize. They complain that it’s grand-schoolish. But in teaching poetry, I’d always ask them to find a certain number of lines to learn, from poems of their own choice. Just to get the poems down out of their brainpans and into their bloodstreams. In the end, most of them were glad. And if a poem is any good, it usually gets better from being heard.

How did the poems in your newest book, City Kids: Street & skyscraper rhymes, come together as a book? Did you start with a theme and write poems to match it, or did the theme emerge after you’d written many individual poems? Did you arrange the poems in a specific sequence?

The theme emerged from a handful of poems I’d done. But when I had gathered together more than a dozen of them, they started to look like a book, and I invoked the Muse to give me more items along the same lines. Invoked, not threatened or forced—which is why City Kids took years to complete. The sequence of poems in a collection hasn’t ever interested me. All I care is whether the book has any good stuff in it, wherever it happens to fall. In assembling a book of my own, I’ve generally tried to put a really strong poem first, to encourage readers to keep reading, and to put a good one last, so they’ll feel they got their money’s worth. The rest of the contents get flung in any old place. The story is told of the critic Austin Warren, who when teaching a class at Michigan once delivered a lecture praising the structured arrangement of W.H. Auden’s Collected Poems. He was crestfallen when a student in the back of the room raised a timid hand and asked, “But Professor, aren’t the poems arranged by their titles, in alphabetical order?”

If you would, please pick a poem from City Kids and talk a little about how the poem works from a craft standpoint? How is the poem constructed or formed? What are some of its salient features in sound or image?

OK, here’s “Tires”:

When Poppa comes to Momma’s place
To visit me, he hires
A boy to keep watch on his car
So no one takes the tires
Because last time he came he lost
All four, but Poppa say,
“Why, girl, it’s worth a heap of tires
To see you, any day.”

This brief story-poem began when I read a newspaper story about a New York neighborhood so tough that taxi drivers refused to take fares into it. It evolved into a story about a couple of separated parents, one who lives in such a neighborhood, and the other who’d visit a kid there and have to leave his car parked for an hour or two. I found myself wanting to tell their story from the kid’s point of view. It came out in these two rhymed quatrains, which (for once) didn’t need much rewriting. Probably unconsciously, I seem to pick words that alliterate—takes/tires, last/lost. This wasn’t contrived; the words just came out that way. There’s not any imagery to speak of—just the “heap of tires” in Poppa’s figure of speech. If the poem works at all, maybe it’s because the feelings of Poppa and daughter are hinted at, rather than discussed.

Are you generally optimistic about the future of poetry for young people from both a quality and a popularity standpoint? Will we see a resurgence of poems for kids in the years and decades to come, do you think?

Yes and yes, I think so, but maybe I’m optimistic by nature. Hell, I’m 83, but I usually renew a magazine subscription for two or three years.