Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poetry Blast Report (and Blogaversary)

For those of you who were not able to attend the ALA conference or the fantastic ALSC Poetry Blast held last night at the Chicago Hilton, here is a very brief recap of the amazing, diverse line up of poets hosted by Barbara Genco and (poet) Marilyn Singer.

A very brave (no need to be nervous!) Laura Purdie Salas opened up the evening by sharing some of the poems (and backstories) from her newest collection, Stampede; Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School (which I so enjoyed and reviewed on April 26). She followed up with selections from her next work, Bookspeak, poems about books (woo hoo! I LOVE that topic!) and had the audience enthralled with her compelling acrostic poem “Diary.”'

Next the ever-charming David Harrison (who was honored—and teased—for being the only poet with a school named after him) read poems from 5 different collections, including his latest, Pirates (which I reviewed last fall, Sept. 19), Somebody Catch My Homework (he shared “Monday,” a poem that I’ve been reading/singing since 1993 when that book first appeared—it’s hilarious!), Sounds of Rain (about an Amazon river trip), Connecting the Dots (which he called “memory-based poems”), and Bugs (clever, quippy insect poems).

The effervescent Carmen T. Bernier-Grand followed with a reading of selections from her new poem-biography of Diego Rivera. This is in the same vein as her previous wonderful César; ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We can! and Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life! all published by Marshall Cavendish. The poems pull no punches with the lives of each of her subjects and here Diego emerges warts and all as a figure who tried to “take from life all it gives you,” but sometimes fell short.

Joyce Carol Thomas then read some of the poems from her most recent Coretta Scott King honor book, The Blacker the Berry, sharing the illustrations by Floyd Cooper along the way. Her use of berry colors (blackberry, raspberry, cranberry) provided simple, palpable metaphors for treating issues of skin color and race. She shared that the book was dedicated to one of seven granddaughters, the girl with the darkest skin who was often teased by the others—but no more since this book!

Susan Marie Swanson was up next reading To Be Like the Sun, her sunflower poem picture book, then a few selections from Getting Used to the Dark (her first poetry anthology), and three poems from a work in progress in the voice of a girl named Robin (her ode to T-shirts was perfect!). She closed with a reading of The House in the Night, just honored with a Caldecott medal for the illustrations by Beth Krommes, and the audience was completely captivated to hear the words alone read by the poet who wrote them. So soothing and contemplative.

Next up was Jon Scieszka, always a hoot, especially when skewering his own poetic stature. He read from his brand new collection of Trucktown Nursery Rhymes which parody traditional Mother Goose verses infusing trucks of all kinds as the subjects acting “like four year olds.” He was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t read as mellifluously as Ashley Bryan had in his Wilder Award speech the night before and was egged on to give it a try. The “Jack Be Nimble” spoof was a hysterical train wreck!

Bobbi Katz held her own in following his crazy lead and read her “July” poem from Once Around the Sun to get us rolling, followed by her own hilarious, witty, slightly gruesome selections from her new book, The Monsterologist, which she called a “memoir in rhyme” and claimed to have “ghost-written.” The poem, “The Verbivore,” in particular, is priceless! I picked up a copy of this book in the exhibits and the LOOK of the book is absolutely gorgeous—well-matched to the creative, clever poetry.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich was up next and read her own summer-y poems from Lemonade Sun, followed by a selection from her collaboration with J. Patrick Lewis, Castles, admitting her own fascination with beheadings and grim history! What range! Her readings from Over in the Pink House nearly had us jumping to the rhythms of these jaunty jumprope rhymes. She closed with the beautiful ending passage of her new picture book, Bella and Bean, about poetry writing and friendship, with the face of the moon like a clock turned to “forever.”

The dynamic Hope Anita Smith (who came to my Texas Poetry Round Up in April) next performed three poems from her second book, Keeping the Night Watch, capturing the angst and anger of a teenage boy whose absent father has now returned. She ended with selections from her newest book, Mother: Poems, and her powerful delivery underscored the emotions and experiences she has captured in a loving and heart-wrenching mother-daughter relationship.

The inimitable Joyce Sidman provided a transition with two poignant paired “apology” poems from This is Just to Say. Next, she read a selection from her latest work, Red Sings From Treetops, a 21st century Hailstones and Halibut Bones. I was also excited to hear a poem from her next book, Ubiquitous, Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, another collection rooted in the natural world. Here, she focuses on the opposite of endangered species, on the hardiest forms of life beginning with bacteria and ending with humans—the most difficult poem she has ever written, she says.

The Blast ended with co-host Marilyn Singer sharing lively poems from her collection, First Food Fight this Fall, about the school year from the voices of children, as well as her new rhyming poem picture book, based on two inter-twining poems, I’m Your Bus. In Barbara Genco’s introduction of Marilyn, she mentioned her view that “poetry is the fountain of youth,” comparing the openness of young children to the qualities needed for writing poetry—expressed much more beautifully than I can manage here!

It was a wonderful evening, as always, with the time flying by as the audience sat absorbed in the words, sounds, and rhythms of each of these unique poets. It was also fun to see several other poets joining the audience including Arnold Adoff and April Halprin Wayland, and Peggy Archer and Jude Mandell. I can't wait to see who's there next year. Mark your calendars now for Monday evening at the ALA convention in D.C. in 2010.

As it happens, today is also the THIRD anniversary of my blog and I wanted to pause to thank YOU, readers, for tuning in. I set out to carve out a space where people could get help in “finding and sharing poetry with children” and I have learned so much along the way. Since starting off on this journey, I’ve done lots of additional writing myself (Poetry People, the Everyday Poetry column for Book Links) and had so many opportunities to connect with poets (and added Poet Links to the blog) and then to read, review, and celebrate their work. (Thank you, poets, for connecting with me. That’s the best perk ever!)

In these few years, Poetry Friday has become a fixture in the blog world and the Cybils award has taken root (and always includes poetry—yay!). What a treat to bond with other bloggers who appreciate poetry, too, especially during our Poetry Month extravaganzas. The Web 2.0 world keeps evolving and blogs may become passé before you know it, but in the mean time, I will keep my radar tuned to poetry, scanning the book world for news, notes, and anything poetry-related, with the goal of helping you help kids (and kid readers help themselves!) keep poetry alive in all our lives.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit: www.declarationsandexclusions.com;simfonik.com


Marinela said...

Happy third anniversary of your blog Sylvia :):):)

Douglas Florian said...

Happy anniversary!
Wish I was there!!!

Joyce said...


Thanks for your recap, and thanks for your loyalty to this wonderful, quirky genre that gives us all so much joy!

Unknown said...

Happy Blogiversary and thanks for the recap. So sorry I missed it this year.

April Halprin Wayland said...

You and your blog SOOO rock, Sylvia!

Happy, happy anniversary! Now, go get some sleep after that amazing conference!


Sylvia Vardell said...

See what I mean? How fabulous are these poet-friends?!!! Thank you all for stopping by and your kind wishes. You're the best!

Unknown said...

May the third fly to the thirty-third, milove. Your blog is the virtual house of children's poetry.

rebecca said...

Morning Sylvia.

Cheers! Congratulations!
It was so, so good to see you
at the Blast, and at dinner
(although far, far, too far down
the table.) Your daughter looks
so very much like you. So she
must be a clone to both!
Thank you from me, too, for your
recap and .... your smile, from
the audience, that I caught and
held onto more than once.

laurasalas said...

Thank you for this recap, Sylvia!

It was great to meet you in person, and the Blast was such a wonderful, joyous event. Even better than I hoped. The two hours flew by.

Congrats on your blogiversary. Your blog is a treasure.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Fun, fun, fun to see these lovely comments. Danke! You are all TOO kind. I'm here because of YOU!

Todd Stocke said...

Thanks for your report. The Blast was an absolute treat, not to be missed. Thanks to all the poets and to Marilyn and Barbara for making it happen!

Anonymous said...

Lee Bennett Hopkin joins in with praise. Not only your blog but
your fantastic books help to keep
poetry for children alive.

In a genre that still is a stepchild, we new voices like yours.

May you blog...forever on.


Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Todd and Lee, for your lovely comments and for all YOU both do for kids and their poetry!

Tabatha said...

Your blog is dangerous to my wallet! You make me want to buy new books every time I visit.

Congrats on reaching this wonderful milestone!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Tabatha-- and I consider buying poetry books a far superior vice to others one might consider! :-)