Friday, August 07, 2009

Livingston, I presume

I love book sales, particularly library book sales, and last week I hit a gold mine at the annual Plano (TX) Public Library used book sale. Of course, I’m always digging for poetry, but I rarely run across any volumes that I do not already have. But this time… bingo!... I found nearly 30 fabulous out-of-print titles. This is a bittersweet moment, because I’m sad that they’re no longer on the library shelves and I wonder how often (or whether they’ve been) checked out and shared. But I’m tickled to give these orphans a home and will pore over them to enjoy poems that are new to me, even if the books are old.

In particular, I bought several collections written and/or edited by the Grande Dame of poetry for children, Myra Cohn Livingston, including:

No Way of Knowing; Dallas Poems (1980)
--can you guess why I love this collection and was so excited to get my own copy? Myra lived in my city for 12 years (1952-1964), and the poetry here is a tribute to a local woman and the African American community here

Poems of Christmas (1984)
I Like You, If You Like Me; Poems of Friendship (1987)
--although Myra published plenty of her own poetry, she was also a gifted anthologist who assembled beautiful collections with amazing range, like these two

Worlds I Know (1985)
--a child’s point of view on spending time with family, especially grandparents

Higgledy-Piggledy (1986)
--Peter Sis illustrates every page with tiny sketches of the perfect boy, Higgledy-Piggledy, lampooned by a contemptuous peer

Sea Songs (1986)
--if I remember correctly, these “song” collections (also Earth Songs, Sky Songs, Space Songs) were some of the first anthologies to appear in picture book form with double-page spread art (expressive paintings by Leonard Everett Fisher). Very visual, with only one poem on each double-page. [UPDATE: I am wrong about that. I have since learned that there were indeed illustrated picture book poem collections in the 1970's-- such as Do Bears Have Mothers, Too? by Aileen Fisher and illustrated by none other than Eric Carle (1973).

There Was a Place (1988)
--such poignant poems from the child’s point of view about living with divorced parents or in “broken homes” and coping with separation

If I had to pick only ONE of these to reissue, I think I’d go with this one. The short, rhyming poems are so true, so direct, and sadly timeless. Kids worry so much when their families hit a rough spot—sometimes we forget how much they observe and feel. Here’s the first poem from the book, just as a sample:

Lost Dog
by Myra Cohn Livingston

When I came home
and you weren’t there
I wondered,
worried—tell me where

you went
and why you

I’ve called and called.

Why are you gone?
Why did you leave?
Where did you roam?

When will you sniff your long way home?

from: Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1988. There Was a Place and Other Poems. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, p.1

Why are these wonderful books all out of print? Why is nearly impossible to find nearly any of Myra’s books in print? It’s just crazy! So many of today’s poets learned at her feet. And so much of her poetry (and her collections) feels so timeless.

Her birthday is coming up soon (August 17), and although she is no longer with us, please dig around for her work on the library shelves and in anthologies. (Check out my Aug. 17 posting in 2007 for a more thorough tribute to Myra.) By the way, the Children's Literature Council of Southern California presents a Myra Cohn Livingston award for outstanding poetry each year. Lovely legacy!

It's not too late to check out the Poetry Friday gathering at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:


Elaine Magliaro said...


Myra was truly one of the "greats" of children's poetry. I learned so much from her writings--especially her book POEM-MAKING: WAYS TO BEGIN WRITING POETRY. It's a shame that the book is now out of print.

I got some of her older collections when they were discarded from our school library.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by. Great to connect over Myra and her work!

laurasalas said...

Wow, you did hit the jackpot! I have Myra's Poem-Making, but not her actual poetry collections. I've read many of them but don't own them.

Hmmm...time to start a Christmas wish list!

Susan Thomsen said...

Sylvia, I never knew Myra Cohn Livingston lived in Dallas. That's interesting. I will look for the Dallas collection.

Emma said...

Nice blog!

Mrs.Crystal said...

Hello i am lookING for the peom MY BOX by myra cohn livingston please help.... i remember being in k-4 or 1st grade in 1984 or 85 and SAINY this poem i am now 32 and all i can remember is MY BOX NO ONE KNOWS WHATS THERE BUT ME, WHERE I KEEP MY SPECIAL KEY MY WINED UP CAR THAT DOESN'T RUN....THATS ALL I REMEBER i am now a head start teacher with 2 kids of my own and would love to share