Lee Bennett Hopkins today

BULLETIN: Tomorrow I’ll post a complete recap of speakers so far plus those who are coming up. Don’t miss it.

BULLETIN: Please note that to save space I’ve abbreviated Word of the Month Poems to W.O.M. Poems at the top of the blog page.

Yesterday you met Lee Bennett Hopkins by way of a bio. Today you meet the man and his philosophy. I hope you’ll feel free to comment and pose questions. Here’s Lee responding to questions. Lee, thanks again.

How did you get started writing poetry?

Having used poetry as an elementary school teacher for many years and seeing what it can
do to enhance the lives of all children, everywhere,the genre became a favorite of mine. I suppose I started by accident.

The first poem I penned, “Hydrants” written in the late l960’s was a result of my city-living. The first person who heard it was May Swenson, the great American Poet, who further encouraged me. At her home in Long Island I read it to her (cautiously) before dinner. After dinner she asked me if I would read it again! After her comments all I did was want to write.

The more I read the more I wanted to write. I absorbed the best at the time: David McCord, Myra Cohn Livingston, Lilian Moore, Eve Merriam, Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher etc., all of whom later became personal friends of mine.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?

I still marvel at my creating BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Boyds
Mills Press) published over fourteen years ago…so long I almost forget writing it.
The book received great national attention including being an SCBWI Golden Kite
Honor Book and winning the Christopher Medal which was presented to me by James
Earl Jones! But – I couldn’t attend the affair in NYC due to a prior commitment to a friend
who had asked me a long time prior to speak at a dinner meeting in South Carolina!
As I was eating spaghetti all I could think of was Mr. Jones. My agent, the great-late
Marilyn E. Marlow accepted the award for me…and never let me forget the moment!

…YESTERDAYS continues to be read and read and used in all kinds of programs
from youth groups to Al-Anon groups. The small book has touched so many; I never
knew the power of the words could have gone on so long.

And of course, my latest, CITY I LOVE (Abrams), starred in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, compiles many poems I wrote about city life and living. To capture sights and sounds of urban life and put them into poems was a great challenge. Ah: “In the city/I live in–/city I love—“: Ironically I now live in a suburb of Florida but often yearn for my city digs.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?

Come Spring, 2010, I have two collections that will appear. One is SHARING THE SEASONS (McElderry Books) illustrated by David Diaz. David and I wanted to work together even before he won the Caldecott Medal for SMOKY NIGHT, by Eve Bunting (Harcourt). His work on SHARING THE SEASONS is truly spectacular. And each poem resonates with new looks at each season of the year…many written exclusively for this collection by some of our top children’s poets – Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Joan Bransfield Graham, Marilyn Singer.

The second is AMAZING FACES (Lee & Low), illustrated by the multi-talented Chris
Soentipiet. …FACES shows the diversity of multi-ethnicity among a wide array of
people.

Why Poetry?

I have been asked this question so many countless times that years ago I decided to write a
poem to answer it:

WHY POETRY?
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

(Reprinted by permission of Curtis-Brown, Ltd.)

Why poetry?
Why?
Why sunsets?
Why trees?
Why birds?
Why seas?
Why you?
Why me?
Why friends?
Why families?
Why laugh?
Why cry?
Why hello?
Why good-bye?
Why poetry?

That’s why!

In closing:

Poetry should be used every day throughout the curriculum for nothing –
no thing – can ring and rage through hearts and minds as does this genre of literature.

I’ve written it, I’ve shouted it, I’ve said it, I’ll say it over and over and over again – PASS THE POETRY, PLEASE!
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Thanks to Lee for sharing his passion about poetry and its place in our lives no matter what our age. Comments?

David