Sunday, April 05, 2009

TLA poet Hope Anita Smith: Mother

Our fifth and final poet at the TLA Poetry Round Up was Hope Anita Smith and what a treat it was to meet her! She burst onto the poetry scene in 2003 with her first book for young people, The Way a Door Closes which won The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award, a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor distinction, and recognition as a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Last year’s book, Keeping the Night Watch was a powerful follow up focusing on the teenage protagonist and his responses to his father’s return after abandoning the family.

Her newest book, Mother; Poems, takes us in a slightly different direction, sharing (autobiographical) moments between a 12-year-old girl and her beloved mother who dies suddenly. In many ways, it parallels her two previous books with her trademark voice of the young teen/tween, the delicate thread connecting poem-to-poem, with rhyming and rhythmic poems, as well as long free verse poems, all evoking a natural rise and fall of emotions, with a palpable sense of loss and longing. The same pleasing 6 x 9 size of the book is also consistent across all three volumes, creating a kind of trilogy of family poetry.

One brand new element is the art created by the poet herself! These are 20 exquisite torn paper collages that are rich in texture and deep colors, giving heft to the story that emerges, but allowing readers to project our own feelings into the faces-without-features. A photo of Hope Anita and her mother bookends the beginning and ending of the book (hunt for it at the end). It’s a tender, loving package. And it was a privilege to hear her read from this collection and sense the layers of life experience behind each poem—remembering her own mother and her own stories.

Here’s a sampling that somehow makes me feel both daughter AND mother feelings, and one that I think could lead to lovely conversations between kids and their parents.

Q and A
by Hope Anita Smith

I never thought to ask my mother
what I was like when I was a baby.
Did I laugh a lot?
Was I fussy?
Did I have a favorite toy?
What was my first word?
When did I roll over? Crawl? Walk?
Did I ever like carrots?
Mothers give us our stories,
at least the beginning.
My mother left before she got a chance to
give me mine,
and I forgot to ask.
God should have made me smarter.
I am remembering less and less about my mother
and wanting to know more and more about me.

Smith, Hope Anita. 2009. Mother; Poems. New York: Henry Holt, p. 53.

This collection reminded me very much of Nikki Grimes’ poignant poetry book, What is Goodbye? (Hyperion, 2004) told from the point of view of a brother and sister reflecting upon the death of a much loved brother. Three other poetry collections about love and loss are:

Grimes, Nikki. 1999. Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Heard, Georgia. 2002. This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Nye, Naomi Shihab, comp. 1999. What Have You Lost? New York: Greenwillow.

And for more poetry about mothers, look for:

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1995. Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
Micklos, John Jr. 2001. Mommy Poems. Honesdale, PA : Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
Mora, Pat. 2001. Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1998. Angel to Angel: a Mother’s Gift of Love. New York: HarperCollins.
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 2001. A Mother’s Love: Poems for us to Share. New York: J. Colter Books.
Wong, Janet. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.
Yolen, Jane and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. 2001. Dear Mother, Dear Daughter: Poems for Young People. Honesdale, Pa. : Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and sharing this book and the memories it may evoke in loving relationships could be a very special treat. Thank you, Hope Anita, for coming to Texas and sharing yourself and your work. Next time, I hope you will SING for us, too! ☺



Marinela Reka said...

The book seems interesting!
Thank you so much for the article!

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Thank you so much for your showcasing all the wonderful poetry for kids out there.

I apologize for a non sequitur comment. I'm a children’s book writer and illustrator. I’m on a mission to save vintage children's books, and I'm trying to alert all the people who might care about them. Under a new U.S. law that went into effect in February (the CPSIA or toy lead law), it is now illegal to sell or give away any children's books printed in 1984 or earlier, with an exception for a small number of adult-only collectibles. (Technically it's also probably illegal to distribute them from a library, though ALA is taking a wait and see attitude.)The problem is that prior to 1985, there was sometimes a small amount of lead in the inks used to print books - but most books are lead-free and those that aren't are only dangerous to people who eat them. Nonetheless, there is no way to tell if a book is lead-free without using digestive testing, which is both expensive and destroys the book, so they aren't supposed to be sold.

You can learn more about this law and how it affects children's books at,,,, and my blog,, as well as from articles in Publisher's Weekly (here's the link to the most recent article about it - you can get to their others from it:

Sorry for such a long, intrusive post. But if more people don't join the fight, old books are just going to fade away. Poetry is likely to be particularly hard hit as many of the lovely old collections are not still in print in any form. Congress so far is not interested in making any changes to the law.


maryecronin said...

Thanks for telling us about this upcoming book and posting the beautiful and sad poem. I love Hope Anita Smith's poetry and can't wait to see the book!
--Mary Cronin

Jeannine Atkins said...

I loved Hope's other books and look forward to reading this one.

Laura Salas sent me over here with a link. Sylvia, I really enjoy your articles in Book Links so am delighted to discover this blog!

Jeannine Atkins

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by, fellow poetry lovers. I definitely agree that Hope Anita Smith is a poet to watch...

laurasalas said...

This book is heartbreaking and wonderful, isn't it? Hope Anita is a powerful poet.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Yes, each one of her books is a complete gem. I can't wait to see what she'll do next!