Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reviewing the TLA Poetry Round Up

I’m still riding the high of my Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association conference this week! Five fabulous poets, John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park, and Adam Rex, worked their magic on an audience of nearly 200 participants. It was fantastic! John Frank read from How to Catch a Fish and his new collection, Keepers, in his deep and steady voice. Juanita shared excerpts from her new novel in verse, Grow, that brought several audience members to tears. Alan Katz had us in stitches laughing over poems from his new book, Oops, and his upcoming follow up, Uh-Oh. What fun to feature Linda Sue Park as a POET as she read her sijo poems from Tap Dancing on the Roof, plus a brand new sijo on explaining baseball to an alien. And Adam Rex wrapped it up for us with his deadpan delivery accompanied by slides from his hysterical collection, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, as well as the upcoming sequel, Frankenstein Bakes a Cake. (Thank you ALL for coming and sharing!) [Unfortunately, poet Tracie Vaughn Zimmer was not able to come due to an illness, but we hope she is well soon and will join us for the Round Up next year!]

What fun! What variety! The different voices, styles, and approaches helped the audience see the tremendous range of poetry available for young people today. PLUS, the experience of HEARING poetry was moving and exhilarating. People stopped me throughout the rest of the conference to tell me how much they had enjoyed the session. One woman said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I loved just soaking up the words of the poets, sitting back and taking it all in. But I also realized that I was getting ideas about how to share the poems with kids, how to connect the poems with various activities, and get kids involved.” EXACTLY! We spend so much time at conferences attending informational sessions, learning new strategies, networking, etc. But so little time just reveling in literature, hearing the lyrical language of literature, remembering what motivates us all to work as librarians and teachers—sharing our love of literature with kids and hoping they’ll love it too. And in my experience, nothing captures that quite so well as experiencing the literature firsthand through reading and listening—especially to literature read by the creator. It’s primal!

I’m proud to say we’ve brought 26 poets to Texas over the last four years including: John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park, Adam Rex, Jaime Adoff, Tony Crunk, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charise Mericle Harper, Heidi Zingerline Mordhorst, Eileen Spinelli, Marilyn Singer, Calef Brown, Felipe Herrera, Kathi Appelt, Nikki Grimes, Stephanie Hemphill, Carole Boston Weatherford, Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Sidman, Quincy Troupe, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, Kurt Cyrus, Pat Mora, Susan Pearson. What an embarrassment of riches! Each voice has been a delight. I encourage you all to seek out poets and poetry and share them OUT LOUD with kids you care about. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s like a rock concert experience, a night at the theater, or meeting the President (any president!).

Some of the most interesting literature for children today can be found in poetry-- from humorous rhymes to verse novels. How do we create a welcoming environment for poetry? Poet and teacher Georgia Heard put it this way, “Kids need to become friends with poetry…. They need to know that poems can comfort them, make them laugh, help them remember, nurture them to know and understand themselves more completely” (1999, p.20). This session helped participants become familiar with some of the best poets writing for young people today with a panel of acclaimed poets sharing favorites from their own work through reading aloud or performance. Modeled after the “Poetry Blast” session first sponsored by ALSC at the 2004 ALA convention, this session reminds us all of the pleasures to be found in the spoken word. Look for it again next year at TLA in Houston—and in Anaheim at the ALSC Poetry Blast on Monday, June 30. See you there!

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