Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry News from Europe

I have the very good fortune to be in Germany this week, as a Fellow at the International Youth Library for a week-long study and as a presenter at their special 60th anniversary celebration and two-day Symposium focused on—what else?—POETRY! I promise to post more about this amazing opportunity afterward, but for the mean time, I thought it would be fun to share a few nuggets of European poetry news that have come my way.

***The “shortlist” of books for the 2009 British CLPE Poetry Award (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in London) has been announced. It includes:

John Agard, The Young Inferno

Allan Ahlberg, Collected Poems

Sharon Creech, Hate That Cat

Sophie Hannah and John Hegley (eds), The Ropes

JonArno Lawson (ed), Inside Out

This year’s Poetry Award winner will be in conversation with Jackie Kay on Tues., July 7 (5-7pm) in London. For more info, go here.

***I read in a recent Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf newsletter (June 11, 2009), that a new Ted Hughes poem for children has been discovered by Hughes’ second wife, Carol, and is being is being published this fall by Thames & Hudson. Apparently, he wrote it in the mid-1950s and it was lost for decades.

According to PW, it is entitled “Timmy the Tug,” and “was inspired by Hughes' former flat-mate Jim Downer, who had written and illustrated his own version to impress his future wife, and convince her that ‘he would not only be a suitable husband, but a good father too.’ After reading the poem, Hughes told Downer he would create his own version, and took the original to add his verses.”

***IN THE OOPS, "CHECK YOUR FACTS" CATEGORY-- J. Pat Lewis has been kind enough to offer a correction on the following news item-- see his "comment" below. Either way, it's a juicy poetry-related story. (Thanks, Pat!) And for even MORE backstory, see Julie Larios's additions in the "comments" below. (Thank you, Julie). And finally, J. Pat Lewis shared this nugget with me from The New York Times. Ruth Padel, has been elected the new Oxford professor of poetry and will be the first woman to hold the post since it was established in 1708, According to Steven McElroy at the Guardian, Ms. Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was chosen following a controversial contest for the position. Ms. Padel’s selection follows closely on the heels of Carol Ann Duffy’s appointment as Britain’s poet laureate; a post held by male writers for 341 years.

***To celebrate European poetry for kids, I’m digging into the holdings of the IYL to see what I can find. I’m also looking forward to hearing several poets at the Symposium, including Andrew Fusek Peters from Great Britain. Here’s a nugget from his Web site to whet your appetite:

Short Poem

by Andrew Fusek Peters

I am a very tiny verse,
Noticed by no-one at all,

My ending is unhappy,

Because I am so small

Published in Shorts, Edited by Paul Cookson, Macmillan
Available here.

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

Image; (Photos courtesy of Kimberly McFall Benfield)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Touching the Poem

I’ve written about poet Janet Wong and her work many times in the past, but she alerted me to a wonderful tidbit recently. Another reader took her “poetry suitcase” idea and tried it out with her own children—who are only 2 and 3 years old. Their responses were AMAZING! She reports that they were able “to listen to me read poetry for 90 minutes!” [Note that they also asked to read the poem again… and again… and again. I don’t think we repeat and reread poetry nearly often enough, IMO.] Here's the link to Minerva Canto’s blog posting at Mama Without Borders.

The secret? She made poetry physical, touchable, kinesthetic. She had the actual objects that were named or described in the poems, tied with twine to a copy of the poem itself. Poem + object x tied together = I get it! This concrete approach is just what young children need since they learn so much by touching. What a great display this could also make for a desktop or library. And I think it would be wonderful to get kids involved in choosing their favorite poems and selecting or even creating the corresponding objects. I even like the idea of a physical suitcase to hold it all. Minerva writes about a beautiful container that she creates herself covered in her children's art work—which is terrific—but I am also a fan of scavenging for old suitcases at thrift stores and garage sales. In any case, this use of poetry props is something worth revisiting—even with older kids who might be intrigued by finding objects for more abstract “grown up” poems. For example, what object would you tie to “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”? A bell to jingle? A toy horse? A paper snowflake? And why?

For Poetry Friday, I’d like to mine a gem from Janet’s book, A Suitcase of Seaweed (Simon & Schuster, 1996). This is one of my favorite books, with poems organized in three categories reflecting the three cultural strands of her background: Korean, Chinese, and American. She manages to express her own cultural conflict/celebration while channeling emotions and experiences that anyone with dual or multiple heritage can relate to (like me with my German and American identity). Grab a fork and a pair of chopsticks and tie them together with this poem:

Albert J. Bell
by Janet Wong

Forty years of friendship

with my grandfather,
and still Uncle Al cannot eat

with chopsticks.

Forty years of friendship

with Uncle Al,

and still my grandfather forgets
to offer him a fork.

p. 17

[Link this poem with the picture book How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman and illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1984).]

For more physical, hands on poetry+object connections, look for these poetry books, in particular (although MANY books lend themselves to hands-on connections, of course!):

Adoff, Arnold. 2000. Touch the Poem. New York: Blue Sky Press.
Frank, John. 2008. Keepers: Treasure-Hunt Poems. New York: Roaring Brook.
George, Kristine O’Connell. 2005. Fold Me a Poem. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1996. School Supplies: A Book of Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Schertle, Alice. 1996. Keepers. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Worth, Valerie. 1994. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday round up at Carol's Corner. See you there!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

A poem moment

I went to a funeral this week. A good friend’s elderly mother passed away, at age 89, peacefully in her sleep on Sunday morning, surrounded by her family. At her funeral, her oldest son (my good friend) spoke briefly about her life and ended his eulogy with a poem. I’ve written before about how lovely and significant I think it is that we turn to poetry at such times, so it was special to see this occur. But I was even more touched and surprised when he prefaced his reading with a note that his mom had chosen this poetry when she was in sixth grade (in 1932), memorized it, and performed it so successfully, that her teacher took her around the school to show off. That stuck with her throughout her life and she recited the poem (and many other things from memory) even in her 80’s. Her son apologized in advance for any stumbling over the words, and then read this classic poem by Eugene Field out loud (it was also printed on the back of the small funeral “program.”)

The Fate of the Flimflam
by Eugene Field

A flimflam flopped from a fillamaloo,
Where the pollywog pinkled so pale,
And the pipkin piped a petulant "pooh"
To the garrulous gawp of the gale.
"Oh,woe to the swap of the sweeping swipe
That booms on the bobbling bay!"
Snickered the snark to the snoozing snipe
That lurked where the lamprey lay.

The gluglug glinked in the glimmering gloam,
Where the buzbuz bumbled his bee-
When the flimflam flitted, all flecked with foam,
From the sozzling and succulent sea.
"Oh, swither the swipe, with its sweltering sweep!"
She swore as she swayed in a swoon,
And a doleful dank dumped over the deep,
To the lay of the limpid loon!

[Also available here.]

I was familiar with Field and his most famous poem, "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” but I had never encountered “The Fate of the Flimflam.” Fun! (So Jabberwocky-ish! I wonder which one came first? Must check that!) And the whole crowd was tickled at this moment in an otherwise serious service.

I'm not a big fan of forced memorization, but love it when it happens naturally-- when a child chooses a poem to treasure, or simple repetition just engraves a poem on your memory. And I absolutely love that a poem from childhood has been a source of lifelong joy and comfort for nearly 90 years for Leona Lawson-- and for so many. I wish that for every child. That's what keeps me and my blog going.

For more poetry serendipity, join the Poetry Friday group at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp.

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

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Fresh starts for summer

For those of us who live and breathe by the school year, June marks the end of the academic year—and the beginning of summer school—for me. It’s a time to clear the decks, perhaps slow down a bit, and reflect. One of my favorite people, poet April Halprin Wayland, has written a new (not-poetry) picture book that encourages just such reflection. It’s about the upcoming Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashanah, focused on the cleansing ritual of “Tashlich.” It has the wonderful title of New Year at the Pier, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch and published just this month by Dial. [Note: Rosh Hashanah will start on Saturday, the 19th of September and will continue for 2 days until Sunday, the 20th of September.] In the most lyrical language, she shares the worries of young Izzy who is struggling with his “I’m sorry” list of things he needs to apologize for.

I was reminded of the difficulties my own son had owning up to his mistakes and apologizing for them when he was little—such a tough lesson for all of us (and some people never learn it!). April's story moves quickly and conversationally through the process of this Tashlich ritual in language and examples that are so real and relevant (offending a sister, divulging a friend's secret) for readers of all ages.

I love books that reveal cultural and religious traditions to children in wonderful details that are relevant to their young lives. April’s New Year at the Pier reminds me of another gem (that is not-poetry by one of my favorite poets) by Janet Wong, This Next New Year, illustrated by Yangsook Choi (Frances Foster Books, 2000). Her book focuses on the lunar new year, but includes the same kinds of cleaning, cleansing, and preparatory activities—and gets kids involved.

I am also reminded of an old Girl Scout tradition at summer camp to write down something that is bothering or worrying you and then burn that slip of paper in the campfire at the end of camp, letting it go, and beginning again. Not a bad idea, any time of the year.

April’s Web site is also newly refurbished and full of wonderful links—including her new Teaching Authors collaboration with 5 other writers, which is such an excellent resource. You’ll also find some “extras” for New Year at the Pier here, including photos of April and friends celebrating Tashlich in California!

And for a poetry connection, I’d like to share one of April’s wonderful poems that is almost an ANTHEM for me and my blog—since I consider myself an evangelist for reading poetry OUT LOUD with kids. Enjoy!

by April Halprin Wayland

To begin,

tell the poet’s name

and the title

to your friend.

Savor every word—



read it one more time.

Now, take a breath—

and sigh.

Then think about the poet,

at her desk,

late at night,
picking up her pen to write—

and why.

And if you’ve never read April’s graphic novel-in-verse, Girl Coming in For a Landing (Knopf, 2002), be sure to put it on your summer reading list. (It even has a poem about underwear—a theme from last week!)

Sara Lewis Holmes has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Read Write Believe.

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