Friday, December 05, 2008

Poetry at the NCTE conference

I’d like to post one last time about the recent NCTE conference in San Antonio. I was pleased and surprised how many sessions were focused on poetry. Here’s the scoop—

*As you know, the NCTE Poetry Award committee decided on the 15th recipient of the award: Lee Bennett Hopkins. That was the highlight of the weekend! That same committee also led a session discussing some of their favorite poetry books of 07 and 08. Their “poetry notables” list for 07 was published in Language Arts in July. The committee talked about why they selected the books they chose, read aloud favorite poems from each, and discussed ways to share the books with kids and even sample responses from young people.

Committee chair (and author) Ralph Fletcher reminded us that poetry should not be “immune from discussion” and cited the need for two kinds of poetry for kids: poetry that is fun, playful, and comforting (he shared examples from Good Sports by Jack Prelutsky, and poetry that will haunt and stretch kids (sharing examples from John Franks’ How to Catch a Fish). Committee member and poet Janet Wong read poems from two of her favorites: Linda Sue Park’s Tap Dancing on the Roof and this year’s America at War compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (with a generous nod to my review on my blog here).

Barbara Ward enjoyed the nonfiction connection and environmental theme of Polar Bear, Arctic Hare by Eileen Spinelli, the archival photos and powerful poems of The Brothers’ War by J. Patrick Lewis, and the concrete poem collection, Blue Lipstick by John Grandits, noting its particular appeal to middle school kids. Gail Wesson Spivey admitted her reluctant, but enthusiastic, conversion to appreciating Joanne Ryder’s Toad by the Road and the poems and paintings of Carmen Bernier-Grand’s Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!. She pointed to Nikki Giovanni’s Hip Hop Speaks to Kids as a favorite of the current 08 crop. Kathleen Armstrong shared Bugs by David Harrison with its science connection and appealing trim size. She also loved Joyce Sidman’s This is Just to Say (who didn’t?!) and shared response poems that kids—and their MOMS!-- had written. They were lovely!

Jonda McNair enjoyed the multiple functions of Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico! by Pat Mora—its poetry, its facts, its food theme. She also celebrated the facts-plus-humor of Douglas Florian’s comets, stars, the moon, and mars. Georgia Heard, herself a poet (with a new collection of list poems coming in 09, Falling Down the Page), talked about the three criteria she considers when selecting poetry: authenticity-- a true, real, point of view, language that is beautiful, skillful, playful and engaging, and coherence—does the collection hang together, like a house—is there a front door, rooms you can walk through, from room to room, and out the back. She cited two examples she felt were outstanding, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology full of mystery, information and many poets, Behind the Museum Door and Jane Yolen’s collection, Here’s a Little Poem, a gem for the very young child.

When pressed for their favorites of THIS year (2008), they cited:
Planet Pregnancy
On the Farm
Side by Side

Becoming Billie Holiday

The Freedom Business

Voices fro
m Afar
America at War

Hip Hop Speaks to Kids

Official list to come later next year…

I also chaired an “Author Strand” session featuring Jane Yolen, Brod Bagert, and John Grandits. Brod began with an energetic and rousing performance of many of his poems from several different collections, including his newest 2008 title, School Fever. He talked about his poetry beliefs including his notion of the “fundamental communication of beauty and truth” whether writing for children or adults. He also advocated for the importance of HEARING poetry aloud (a cause dear to my heart) and argued that children should hear 10,000 poems in their growing up years. Love that number!

John Grandits included the visuals of his concrete poems (from Technically, It’s Not My Fault and Blue Lipstick) as he dryly read them aloud. He endorsed the necessity for “shape and motion” in poetry—“not just the object of the poem, but the movement of the object.” What a fun and meaningful way to envision the chemistry of language, image, shape, and motion in synch with the words on the page.

Jane Yolen closed the session reading from some of her 70+ (!) poetry collections, endorsing the importance of range in poetry for young people, saying “children’s poetry is not only about children.” Good reminder! She mentioned some new upcoming collections she’s written or edited that we can look forward to soon:

Animal Epitaphs with J. Patrick Lewis
Switching on the Moon, a companion to Here’s a Little Poem
The Girl’s Bible, with poems about Old Testament women

Weren’t those two fantastic sessions? Each had a packed room and eager audience and I was pleased to be a part of them. There were also a few other sessions on poetry at the conference, but I had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t attend them all. If any of you did, please share the highlights! I love it when professional conferences include this important topic—and it seems to be popping up more and more.

For more Poetry Friday entries, go to Mommy's Favorite Children's Books.

Picture credit:


Kelly Polark said...

Thank you for the amazing list of poetry books. I am looking forward to Jane Yolen's upcoming titles as well.
10,000 poems - great number to aspire to!

Anonymous said...

Interesting shortlist. I'm trying not to pay much attention to it, as I'm a CYBILS panelist this year. But hard to argue with at least some of their picks.

jama said...

Thanks for this interesting blow-by-blow, Sylvia. Am anxious to check out all the titles mentioned.

laurasalas said...

Thanks for letting me be a fly on the wall, Sylvia. I would have loved to attend those sessions!