Saturday, November 21, 2009
In the picture above: Walter Dean Myers, Ralph Fletcher, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Georgia Heard, Sylvia Vartell, Janet Wong.
I'm blogging from the NCTE Annual Conference in Philadelphia where for me, things have begun with a bang, a poetry bang. I have become connected to that genre late in life, thanks mainly to my teaching (see April 2009 blogpost), consequently, I feel I have much to catch up on. But back to the poetry bang. I was undecided as to what session to attend with when a "Poetry Party" listed as an early Friday morning session caught my eye. If anyone reading this went to that party and is wondering who I am: well, I was the lady in the burnt orange coat rolling in the aisle. What is it about poets? They are witty. They are pithy. They are droll. They make words come alive. They are irreverent. They are, dare I say, eccentric... and this poetry shindig was proof. The Poetry Party was celebrating poet Lee Bennett Hopkins about whom, I am ashamed to admit, I knew far too little (incredible but true). He was to receive the 2009 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Bobbi Katz I know, Georgia Heard, ditto. Jane Yolen, Dean Walter Myers, Douglas Florian, Mary Ann Hoberman, Paul Janeczko, all these folks and their poetry have become familiar to me. How, o how, could Lee Bennett Hopkins have been such a stranger? Fortunately, that gap has now been filled: he is forevermore before me. (Jane Yolen read an hilarious riff on "The Raven" that she had composed for the occasion.) I heard delightful stories about Lee: "Have you heard?" is how he starts his telephone calls and conversations with his dearest associates, for here is a man who loves to gossip. To all those lucky friends of his, he begins his letters and emails with "Dear One." Several of the poets and collaborators speaking there to celebrate his accomplishments admitted that they thought "Dear One" was reserved just for them. But this man has many dear ones. Yes, he was lovingly ribbed and playfully teased by his colleagues and friends who obviously adore him. I learned that he's infamous for his red pen and editing slashing, that he banishes the ands, buts, and any superfluous words from poems he edits. At this, his 40th NCTE convention, some wondered why he was receiving this award so late. Sylvia Vartell (whose blog Poetry for Children is a must for all poetry lovers) compiled a book with poems by friends (all poets) of Lee called "Dear One" and all the party attendees received a copy. We also heard the poets read their own poems celebrating, teasing, loving Lee. Was I glad I choose to attend! I walked out of the session happy, feeling light-hearted, young, encouraged, delighted. Happiness comes in wonderful little packages. This package contained a gift: that of revival, envigoration, balm, hope, encouragement, humor.