Friday, October 08, 2010

Joyce Sidman at the Kerlan

I’ve been honored to spend a week at my alma mater (I earned my PhD at the University of Minnesota in 1983) studying at the Kerlan Collection funded by a Marilyn Hollinshead Fellowship. What a treat! (And what gorgeous fall foliage this year!) The Kerlan is one of the world's great children's literature research collections and includes books, original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, correspondence, and color proofs for more than 12,000 children’s books. I have been studying the work of poet Joyce Sidman, who also happens to live in the Twin Cities area. So, not only did I get a private peek into the process of creating several of her wonderful poetry books, but I had a chance to visit with her and chat with her about her work. (Thank you so much, Joyce!)

Eventually, I hope to share more of my research—I’m focusing on the poetry + science connection, in particular—but I’m not ready yet. However, as I reviewed my blog content, I realized that I have mentioned Joyce and her work (and her MANY awards) many times, but I haven’t featured her exclusively before. So here’s a little mini-unit on Joyce Sidman and her poetry. (And you can get more tips in my book, Poetry People, FYI.)

Joyce Sidman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the middle sister of three, and spent her summers at a camp in Maine. From an early age, she felt motivated to write, and started writing as far back as elementary school. She discovered poetry in high school, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in German from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and a teaching certificate at Macalester College in Minnesota. Joyce lives near the edge of a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota, with her husband (and has two grown sons). When she isn't writing, she enjoys teaching via week-long poetry-writing residences in the Minnesota schools.

Joyce Sidman's poetry has already garnered many awards including Horn Book Fanfare book, Voice of Youth Advocates Poetry Pick, Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, Cybils Award for poetry, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, Caldecott honors, and more. Much of her poetry centers around the subject of the natural world and is marked by poetic innovation and an elegance of expression. She often weaves together scientific information alongside poetic descriptions (my focus area for my research project). Since 2000, her 10 books have changed the face of poetry for young people—and I don’t think that’s an overstatement! Let’s review:
  1. Sidman, Joyce. 2000. Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads. Ill. by Susan Swan. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  2. Sidman, Joyce. 2002. Eureka! Poems about Inventors. Ill. by K. Bennett Chavez. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  3. Sidman, Joyce. 2003. The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices. Ill. by Doug Mindell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  4. Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  6. Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry. Ill. by Michelle Berg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  7. Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  8. Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  9. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Ill. by Becky Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  10. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Her web site is a rich resource of helpful information including readers’ guides for all her books, audio clips of her readings, digital trailers she created, a downloadable bookmark, many excellent links (including wonderful interviews on several other lovely blogs!) and much more. Be sure to check it out.

I had the opportunity to examine the files of notes, research, typescripts, dummies, and correspondence for several of her books and found it fascinating. Here are just a few nuggets of what I learned (from those materials and my interview):

*Joyce’s “overnight success” was over 10 years in the making and began with plenty of experimentation (stories, folktales, novels, picture books) and plenty of rejections (11 initial manuscripts were rejected by her current editor!)
*She spends a lot of her time in prewriting, making very few notes and jottings, moving almost immediately to writing and revising on a computer
*She revises poems even up to the very end in the proof pages*She pays close attention to placement of art/poem and to movement of the art and poetry across the book and to details of illustrations vis a vis the poem (and vice versa)
*Poem titles (and some book titles) get tweaked a long time (I counted 23 possible titles for her book, Butterfly Eyes!)
*Her poetry books reveal a close collaboration between poet and editor and often with the illustrator
*Her first book accepted for publication was Eureka
*Her next book (Fall 2011) is Swirl by Swirl (about spirals in nature) and is a gorgeous poetic picture book (not poetry collection) illustrated by Beth Krommes

I’m obviously a big fan! And I’m clearly not alone. As the awards pile up, it now seems obvious that Joyce’s unique vision and voice is powerful and appealing. Her just-right-wording, succinct phrasing, subtle rhythms, and visual shaping of each poem all work together to craft poetry that is both descriptive and evocative. You can picture the subject vividly both visually and emotionally. I look forward to the next 10 books—and more!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Joyce Sidman, UofM Kerlan Collection


Greg Pincus said...

Color me jealous, Sylvia, but I look forward to reading about what you learned at the right time. Joyce Sidman's poetry is fabulous, though, research or not!

Elaine Magliaro said...

I agree with everything Gregory said. I love Joyce's poetry! Joyce is one of my poetry idols. At the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet this year, my friend Grace Lin dragged Joyce over so she could introduce us. I just wish that I had had an opportunity to talk with her about poetry.

See you in Orlando!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Greg and Elaine,
Thanks for stopping by. I completely agree-- Joyce's poetry is smart and lyrical. Plus she's so kind, funny, and generous. We had a wonderful time together and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity! This children's poetry community is a complete delight, isn't it?

Sara Furlong said...

I was so glad to see your poetweet! I've been meaning to write a blog on Joyce Sidman. She is so phenomenal! In my opinion, she's one of the most sophisticated children's poets out there. Loved this blog. Thanks! :)

डा0 हेमंत कुमार ♠ Dr Hemant Kumar said...

Respected Mam,
Very informative and readable post about Joyce Sidman---i appriciate this.
Best Wishes.

laurasalas said...

Joyce is one of my favorite poets in the world. Her work is just amazing! Glad you had a great week in Minneapolis, Sylvia.

Ruth Gadbois said...

Great post. Joyce, I noticed you were born in Hartford, CT. I live in Salem, CT. Encouraging children to read is very dear to my heart. It opens up a whole world to them!