This time last week, I was attending the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in New York City. What fun-- I love that city! One of the highlights of the conference was soaking up the words of the dozen poets who read from their work at the NCTE Poetry Blast hosted by Marilyn Singer and Michael Santangelo. This event debuted as the ALSC Poetry Blast at the ALA convention four years ago (was that in Orlando?) and has also premiered at the International Reading Association convention and now at NCTE. The concept is simple: enjoy a “concert” of poets reading from their own poetry. There’s nothing quite like hearing poems read by their creators—it’s like seeing the actual Mona Lisa, instead of just a picture of the painting in a book. Intimate, visceral, moving. At the New York Blast, we enjoyed the artistry of Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, Marilyn Nelson, Lisa Ann Sandell, Curtis Crisler, Joyce Sidman, Alan Katz, John Grandits, Nikki Grimes, Helen Frost, Charles R. Smith, Jr., and Marilyn Singer. What a line up! Here are a few of the highlights:
*Lee Bennett Hopkins read from his own poetry as well as moving selections from his new anthology, America at War by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich who were in the audience
*Janet Wong offered her poems with her usual wry commentary and even had an audience member demonstrate a yoga pose to accompany a poem from Twist
*Marilyn Nelson shared selections from her latest work, moving poems from the voices of Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Misses of Color
*Lisa Ann Sandell read from her lyrical verse novel, Song of the Sparrow, a feminist revisioning of the tale of “The Lady of Shallot"
*Curtis Crisler wowed with his powerful words from Tough Boy Sonatas
*Joyce Sidman moved us with two emotional “dog” poems as well as the fresh perspectives in This is Just to Say
*Alan Kratz made us laugh with his self-deprecating humor and verses from Oops and Uh Oh!
*John Grandits provided visuals to help us engage in the clever and witty concrete poetry of Blue Lipstick
*Nikki Grimes introduced us to her cat, Gorilla, featured in her new collection, When Gorilla Goes Walking
*Helen Frost debuted selections from her new novel in verse, Diamond Willow, another layered, lovely work
*Charles Smith pumped us up with words from his poetic biography of Muhammad Ali in Twelve Rounds to Glory
*Marilyn Singer took us around the world with the “timely” words of Nine O’Clock Lullaby
The hours flew by as we took in their voices, poems from their recent works, and got a sneak peak on new and future releases. What a terrific event to include in a conference devoted to teaching and literature.
I love the idea of a poetry “recital” so much that I have imitated the Blast by bringing the concept to the Texas Library Association conference each spring. Next year, I’ll be hosting the fourth annual Poetry Round Up at the conference in Dallas. Save the date: Thursday, April 17, 2008 (10am-12pm). You’re all welcome. Come experience the poetry of John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park (as a poet!), Adam Rex, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer up close and personal. And take this idea and plan your own poetry reading event! Ideally, bring the poets to your venue, but even children can have a blast with poetry by standing up and reading their own poetry or favorite poems by poets they love. Celebrate the spoken word, the kids, and the poetry—all at once!
Picture credit: While in New York, I stayed at my best friend Susan’s home near Gramercy Park. She just moved to New York (from Texas) last spring and I am living vicariously through her Big Apple adventures. The photo is the view from her guest room—AMAZING!