Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fifth Annual Poetry Blast at ALA in Anaheim

I’m still on the road, driving home from the recent American Library Association convention held in Anaheim last weekend. It was a terrific conference, an opportunity to learn a lot, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and participate in meaningful ALA work. Much of time was spent in meetings of the Sibert committee (more on that later) which was fascinating. And the Caldecott, Newbery, and Geisel acceptance speeches were AMAZING and you’ve probably read about them elsewhere. By turns hilarious and moving, and extremely innovative in delivery—we’ll be talking about them for years.

But one of the highlights for me, of course, was the fifth annual ALSC Poetry Blast held on Monday evening. Here, 13 poets read from their works and kept us mesmerized for over two hours. Here are my “cliff notes” from the evening. Make plans now to join us for next year’s Blast. (This is the event that inspired me to launch the Poetry “Round Up,” a parallel event held at the TEXAS Library Association conference every spring.)

*First up: Joan Bransfield Graham read from her works, Splish Splash and Flicker Flash, as well as selected poems from various anthologies. She invited us to participate using echoing and sign language, as well as her magical ocean sound and thunder cloud instruments. (Scoop: watch for a future food poem collection and one illustrated by Joan herself with innovative photographs.)

*Next, Jane Medina read from her books, My Name is Jorge and The Dream on Blanca’s Wall. She described herself as “Latina at heart” and shared moving poems about hope and identity from the voices of child characters, but capturing universal longings.

*I had heard Charles R. Smith, Jr. share a “round” from Twelve Rounds to Glory at last November’s NCTE Poetry Blast and loved it, so it was a treat to hear him perform ANOTHER round. Plus, he followed with an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Black Jack, about the first black heavyweight chamption, Jack Johnson.

*You may remember that Linda Sue Park came to my TLA Poetry Round Up in Dallas in April, so it was terrific to see her again and hear her share more of her intriguing sijo poems from Tap Dancing on the Roof. I also learned that her first published work was a haiku poem that earned her $1 at age 9!

*I had never heard Monica Gunning read before, but I am a big fan of her work, particularly America, My New Home (which I so identify with). With her lilting Jamaican accent and grandmotherly gravitas, she shared poems that reflected her growing up years on the island and her observations of her new homeland.

*The work of Francisco X. Alarcón has been among my favorites for years now, so I was a bit ga ga to meet him! He began by chanting a brief thanks to the ancestors in the four directions and then shared poems from previous works, as well as from his new book, Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú which he said was based on his travels to a rainforest in South America where he “interviewed” the animals. Don’t miss the “Jaguar” poem!

*Next up was Ann Whitford Paul who read from her girlpower collection, All by Herself, as well as from other moving and evocative works. Her poem “Word Builder” from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology, Wonderful Words will appear as a beautiful poem picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (himself a poet and illustrator and previous TLA Poetry Round Up participant).

*It was a treat to hear Ruth Forman who is new to children’s poetry with her book Young Cornrows Callin’ Out the Moon, but is well established in the world of poetry for adults. She shared both (all from memory) and blew us away. “Poetry Should Ride the Bus” was a particular favorite!

*Pura Belpré Award recipient Margarita Engle is also new to the children’s poetry world and has made an indelible impression first with The Poet Slave of Cuba and now with this year’s The Surrender Tree, from which she read. We also learned that she helps her husband train search and rescue dogs by “pretending” to be lost in the woods (and reading and writing poetry), but admitted she was often not pretending!

*Julie Larios was a hoot, starting off with her grown up poem created as an exercise built on using paintchip names to create a poem. She also read from her Yellow Elephant and the newly published Imaginary Menagerie—beautiful, lyrical poems.

*You know what a huge Nikki Grimes fan I am, so it was terrific to see and hear her again. She read from several upcoming works which I am eager to get: Oh, Brother, about step-siblings, First Kiss, a YA collection, and Barack Obama, Son of Promise/Child of Hope, a prose-poem picture book due out in September.

*What can I say about the ever-amazing J. Patrick Lewis? He had us groaning with laughter and quiet with sadness by sharing some of The World’s Greatest poems (don’t you love that pun?) and selections from The Brother’s War and a Horn Book featured poem. I have to admit I especially love his deadpan ironic epitaph poems!

*As always, co-host Marilyn Singer finished the evening reading from two works that are new this year: Shoe Bop! and First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems in the voices of kids (don’t miss that LAST poem about the LAST day of school). I also learned that one of my favorite poetry books EVER, Turtle in July, was her FIRST work of poetry and is now sadly out of print. FIND IT. It is a beautiful mesh of her lyrical and rhythmic poems and gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. Also perfect for July!

Congratulations, Marilyn (Singer) and Barbara Genco for assembling a delicious smorgasbord of poet voices—such variety, humor, power, and wisdom. We were all moved, fed, and inspired. Look for the SIXTH annual Poetry Blast at next summer’s ALA convention. It’s always held on Monday evening and is one of the best things at the convention, IMO.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Celebrate with a poem by one of these terrific writers!

Picture credit:


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sylvia, for this wonderful roundup! I'm so jealous. It sounds terrific!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Laura. It was a fantastic event!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

That sounds stupendous! Thanks for the recap.

skanny17 said...

Hi Sylvia,
I met you at NCTE and through Steve at PACYA. I will be at IRA and hope to see you and Janet again. Is the Poetry Olio there similar to this wonderful event at ALA? I missed it last year in Orlando. I am sharing again at IRA this year. Finally getting into the blogosphere;so much richness here. Thanks for your ever wonderful sharing and congratulations on your new book.
Janet Fagal Poetry On Parade