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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Amy Lowell's THE CONGRESSIONAL LIBRARY in light of Parkland, and SCHOOL PEOPLE Book Winner


Thursday morning while sipping coffee and semi-watching the news, I came across a poem by Amy Lowell in What’s O’Clock (Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1925), winner of the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The words imprinted themselves in my mind and heart as I turned my attention to an interview with an articulate, grief-stricken father. Fred Guttenburg’s beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was shot in the back with an assault rifle in a hall in her Parkland, Florida high school on Valentine’s Day. Her spinal cord was severed, and 16 other beautiful lives were gone in an instant.

“We start each day at the cemetery,” Mr. Guttenburg said. “That’s what we do now.”

Amy Lowell’s “The Congressional Library” was not written about a school shooting. But its images spoke to me in the midst of our collective sadness and outrage – and the ability/mandate to respond lies in the halls of Congress. Here is an excerpt.


From THE CONGRESSIONAL LIBRARY

by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)


This is America,
This vast, confused beauty,
This staring, restless speed of loveliness,
Mighty, overwhelming, crude, of all forms,
Making grandeur out of profusion,
Afraid of no incongruities,
Sublime in its audacity,
Bizarre breaker of moulds,
Laughing with strength,
Charging down on the past,
Glorious and conquering,
Destroyer, builder,
Invincible pith and marrow of the world,
An old world remaking,
Whirling into the no-world of all-coloured light.

But behind the vari-coloured hall?
The entrails, the belly,
The blood-run veins, the heart and viscera,
What of these?
Only at night do they speak,
Only at night do the voices rouse themselves and speak.
There are words in the veins of this creature,
There are still notes singing in its breast:
Silent voices, whispering what it shall speak,
Frozen music beating upon its pulses.
These are the voices of the furious dead who never die,
Furious with love and life, unquenchable,
dictating their creeds across the vapours of time.
This is the music of the Trumpeters of the Almighty
Weeping for a lost estate,
Sounding to a new birth which is to-morrow.
Hark! This hurricane of music has no end,
The speech of these voices has neither end nor beginning;
They are inter-riven as the colours of the sky
Over the graveyards of ten thousand generations. …



For notes about this poem, click here. For a copy of the entire poem, click here, and for more on Amy Lowell at poets.org, click here.

Thanks to all who came by week before last to celebrate the release of SCHOOL PEOPLE (Wordsong) and enjoy an interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins. I’m delighted to announce that the giveaway winner is…

***Catherine Flynn***

The past 10 days have reminded us that many School People are selfless servants– heroes to us, though they likely wouldn’t describe themselves, or wouldn’t have described themselves, in such terms. “Greater love has no one than this…” (John 15:13)

And I am so proud of those young people turning shock and sorrow into activism – they are amazing. Congress, quite simply, has failed them. Yet they are willing to face professional politicians with unblinking resolve and in the harshest glare of the public arena (and the sometimes-slime of social media). God bless their voices. Many will be voting this fall.

The thoughtful, talented, and active Elizabeth Steinglass has our Poetry Friday Roundup this week. Thanks, Liz.  Read More 
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Poetry Friday - Lee Bennett Hopkins and SCHOOL PEOPLE Giveaway!





Is your monitor shaking, or your phone screen, maybe? I’m so excited about this week’s post, I might be jumping up and down a little….


Lee Bennett Hopkins is here!

If you’re a Poetry Friday regular, you know that Lee Bennett Hopkins is a singular force in the world of children’s poetry, holding the Guiness World Record for number of poetry anthologies for children published.

He has received countless awards for his own writing and his collections, including the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Florida Libraries’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the Christopher Award, and the distinction last year of being inducted into the Florida Arts Hall of Fame, among others. (Read more about Lee here.)

Today he shares a behind-the-scenes look at his newest anthology, SCHOOL PEOPLE, to be released Feb. 13 from Wordsong, the poetry imprint of Boyds Mills Press (so you know it’s first-class).

From the publisher’s description:


…this collection of poems paired with imaginative artwork introduces readers to the important grown-ups they’ll meet at school. From the school’s own story, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, to J. Patrick Lewis’s “Principal,” to Alma Flor Ada’s "Spanish Teacher," each poem features the women and men who inspire, encourage, and help children in their own unique ways.


The small format of photos allowed on my blog don’t do justice to the vibrant illustrations by Ellen Shi, but you can get an idea. The publisher kindly shared a couple of interior spreads – “Librarian” by Lee himself, and my own poem, “Lunch Lady.”





LIBRARIAN

He opened the door.
As we walked in
he said,
“Look!
It’s all about books.
And books are you!

Books will lead you
anywhere
everywhere –
to magical places
to meet new faces.”

He opened
one single door
yet he
led us down
pathways
we never
could ever
have traveled
before.


©Lee Bennett Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.



LUNCH LADY

Long before lunchtime
Ms. Bailey keeps busy
stacking towers of trays,
filling the salad bar,
sliding steaming pans
into place.

We swarm the cafeteria.
“Here you go, Honey,” she says,
handing each of us a full plate.

Long after lunchtime,
Ms. Bailey scrubs everything clean,
hangs the last heavy pan.

She rubs her neck,
wipes her forehead,
and changes the menu sign –
for us,
for tomorrow.


©Robyn Hood Black. All Rights Reserved.


How did this collection come to be? Lee generously agreed to share his thoughts.

--How did the idea for SCHOOL PEOPLE come about? (And how long has it been in the making?)

I began my career as a sixth-grade teacher in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, in 1960 at the age of 22, fresh out of college. I taught sixth grade for three years before becoming a Resource Teacher in the same school working with grades K-6.

So – after almost six decades later the idea of a SCHOOL and its PEOPLE pops up. One never knows what memory will uncover. Such an obvious topic.


--Each of your anthologies has a distinct personality – some magic you make out of many different contributing voices. How would you describe SCHOOL PEOPLE?

Yes, each anthology does have a distinct personality. When creating an anthology my mind completely focuses on the topic whether it is a collection as difficult as the recent TRAVELNG THE BLUE ROAD: POEMS OF THE SEA (Seagrass Dreams/Quarto) for Young Adults, or SCHOOL PEOPLE for younger readers. I assign topics to various poets who work with me – a wondrous group of dedicated writers. My role is to put the entire collection into focus before it reaches an editor’s desk. The process of producing an anthology can take years.

--This book should lend itself to all kinds of interactions. How do you envision teachers might use it in the classroom or media center?

There are so many ways to use this book in schools. I envision an assembly program where various school people are invited to sit on stage, introduced as each child reads or performs a poem about them…from the principal to the custodian. Or as a weekly, monthly tribute to each of the people represented.

It can also be used to show appreciation of the work each person does to make a school a whole.
I would encourage young writers to choose one or more of their favorite school people to write about.

SCHOOL PEOPLE is also a nice gift to give to various school personnel. How often does a Custodian or a Crossing Guard get acknowledged?


--How do you hope students will respond to the collection?

Hopefully children might see the diversity of people within a school building - for example, a female coach, a male librarian. Also I hope they will experience empathy for individuals – the Bus Driver with ‘that smiling face’ to bring a child home again, the Lunch Lady who works hard and long hours, the Custodian who is “caring, helpful, smart, and kind,” the Nurse who is there “like the heart in my body/like the moon in the sky.”

--The 15 poems come to life in Ellen Shi’s colorful digital illustrations. Any thoughts about how the text and art work together here?

Shi captures so many different moments via her art depicting emotions that are part of every person involved with children. That caring Principal who could ‘teach a bully/how to be humble”, the Librarian who “opened one single door/yet he/led us down/pathways/we never/could ever/have traveled before.” Each double-page spread has a lot of offer, to linger with.

--Do you have a special memory you’d like to share about a teacher or staff member from your own school days?

It was my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Ethel Kite McLaughlin, who saw something in the mixed-up child I was due to growing up in a dysfunctional family. She was the one who turned my life around. Being with her in a self-contained classroom environment for a year convinced me that I, too, would become a teacher…like her. And I did! Without her guidance I don’t know where life would have taken me. One teacher. One voice. As Joan Bransfield Graham writes in “Teacher” – “You stretch my world much wider…I feel I, too, can fly.” Mrs. McLaughlin did indeed stretch my world. Oh, how she helped me to fly!

--I think most would agree you absolutely SOAR. Thank you so much for joining us today!

Thank you, Robyn, for your forever poetry enthusiasm! Hugs.


Other familiar Poetry Friday faces with work in this collection include Matt Forrest Essenwine, Michele Krueger, , Irene Latham, Charles Ghigna, Renée LaTulippe, and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. And other familiar POETRY faces include Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Ann Whitford Paul, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Alma Flor Ada, and Darren Sardelli. (So honored to share book pages with these fine poet-folk!)

But wait – there’s MORE. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press will send a copy of SCHOOL PEOPLE to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment below by Wed., Feb. 21, and you’ll be entered in the drawing. (Be sure the hidden email associated with your comment is a good way to contact you later for a snail mail address, just in case today’s your lucky day.) I’ll be out of pocket next Friday, but back to announce the randomly-selected winner on Friday, Feb. 23.

Sally Murphy has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week – hop, skip, or jump on over (under?) to beautiful Australia for more poetry surprises.
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