I’m pleased to announce that the Poetry Foundation has selected the second Children’s Poet Laureate: Mary Ann Hoberman. At a lovely dinner last night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago, I was honored to be in attendance when she was presented with her medal and made a beautiful acceptance speech. Her husband and four grown children (from Paris, New York, and LA) were there to support her, even joining in on reading a poem at the end of her talk, “The Witch and the Broomstick” from one of her You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You collections.
With 45 poetry books published, a National Book Award, and the NCTE Poetry Award for her body of work, Hoberman spoke about her life as a young writer, a child in a family that moved a lot, enabling her to place her memories geographically—ideal training for a poet, in her opinion. She loved fairy tales in particular and still owns her three favorite collections and planned to be a reporter when she grew up—even dashing about in a snazzy red MG thinking of herself as “Mary Ann Hoberman, Girl Reporter.”
However, as life took another turn, she found herself married and writing and proofreading on the side. She made up songs and verses for her babies (her oldest daughter confirmed this memory!), and while pushing the kids in a stroller, a phrase popped into her head: “all my shoes come in twos,” the nugget of which would become her first book, to be illustrated by her husband, Norman. She read a poem from this collection for the audience and talked about her emergence as a poet, rather than reporter or fiction writer, claiming that “the house of children’s poetry has truly provided a house for me.”
With a nod to other smart, humorous poets that she believes have led us “from didacticism into sunlight” in children’s poetry (Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, and A. A. Milne, “bookended by Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss”), she proceeded to delight us all with readings of several of her poems, including her “absolute favorite,” “Brother,” which she read a second time so fast it became a tongue twister, a favorite approach among child audiences, she grinned.
We joined in on “Snow,” and she observed that many of her poems are chant or song-like. She followed with “Yellow Butter,” hamming it up with a mouth-full-of-peanut-butter-style reading of the finale. On a somewhat more serious note, she acknowledged that some of her poems are inspired by the work of others, particularly by their rhythms. She cited Rudyard Kipling’s poems that accompany his Just-So Stories as one example and read “Anthropoids,” her tribute to Darwin.
I was blown away when she read a poem in my honor that I had mentioned was one of my all-time favorites by ANY poet, “Mayfly,” which she felt was also one of her personal best. Most of these poems came from The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems (which was generously provided for each guest), but her final poem was an original composition for the occasion—a “Villanelle for Children’s Poets” with the repeated lines, “the craft of children’s poetry is its art” and “nonsense at its heart,” among other gems. It was perfect and moved us all.
Once again, thank you to the Poetry Foundation, and particularly Penny Barr, for making children's poetry such a priority. The Children's Poet Laureate receives a check for $25,000 and a lovely medallion featuring the cartoon Pegasus characterized by James Thurber encircled with the words "Children's Poet Laureate" on one side and a line of an Emily Dickinson poem on the other side, "Permit a child to join." The Children's Poet Laureate will serve as a consultant to the Foundation for a two-year period and will give at least two public readings during his/her tenure. Mary Ann says she has “about 50 ideas” of possible poetry projects, so stay tuned for more updates.
[Note: I wrote about the FIRST Children’s Poet Laureate on Sept. 29, 2006: Prelutsky is Poet Laureate. Jack (and his wife Carolyn) were also in the audience tonight as he passed the poetry torch and became “Poet Laureate Emeritus”-- in his words.]
Poetry Foundation head John Barr called poetry the “last source of magic” in our world today and we definitely felt the magic of poetry this evening!
For more poetry in general, join Poetry Friday, in progress, at Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day.
Picture credits: nationalbook.org;www.poetryfoundation.org;