Poetry Friday: Holding Hands with Lee Bennett Hopkins and Rebecca Kai Dotlich


Did you see the lovely essay in the new SCBWI Bulletin by Diane L. Burns about shaking hands with someone who shook the hand of…It reminded me of this wonderful experience I just had of the chain of encouragement and joy poets build.

When I saw poet Tracie Vaughn Zimmer in May, she related the story to me of how nervous she was at her first ALA Poetry Blast, and how Lee Bennett Hopkins sat next to her, holding her hand until it was her turn to read.

I was so jealous.

This past Monday, the day of the ALA Poetry Blast, which I was so looking forward to and yet also nervous about, I met Rebecca Kai Dotlich to hang out and talk for a couple of hours. Rebecca is one of my poetry heroes, and she’s close friends with Lee, who’s a poetry hero of pretty much every children’s poet around.

I was telling her that when I posted something here about hoping I wouldn’t faint on stage at the Blast, I got the sweetest email from Lee, saying he wished he were going to be participating in the Blast this year. He would have held my hand and calmed me down. I knew he meant it, since Tracie had told me he did exactly that for her.

Rebecca promised that she would hold my hand that night and try to pass along the reassurance and joy that Lee would pass on if he were there. And she did. That night, as we all gathered in the Chicago Hilton, Rebecca came up and stood with me, holding my hand, offering calmness. I did feel the love of poetry and of poets that filled the whole room–poets and librarians and teachers alike.

Of course, I was still nervous! But it helped. The feeling in the room. The long-distance encouragement of Lee Bennett Hopkins. The close-at-hand reassurance of Rebecca, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, and the other poets who knew I was slightly terrified. The calm support of my editor smiling in the middle of the room. The excitement of author/librarian Wendie Old (who extended her trip a day just to attend the Blast!) and everyone else in the audience. It all helped.

Now I’ll share a poem from each Lee and Rebecca. Thanks, you guys!

   From Lee’s most recent collection, City I Love (Abrams, 2009), here’s a poem I love.


New kite


young bird

in new morning’s

–Lee Bennett Hopkins, all rights reserved


The feeling I get from “Kite” is like the joy and energy in that room full of poetry lovers! (Sorry the alignment isn’t quite right!)

Lemonade Sun is an older collection from Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Wordsong, 2001), but it’s lovely and still in print. Rebecca read one of my favorite poems from it at the Blast:

Backyard Bubbles

One bubble
from the wand
to waltz around
the backyard lawn.
One fragile globe
of soapy skin–
a glimmering
of breath within
a perfect pearl,
I blow again!
One more bubble
squeezes through,
one blushing bead
of water-blue;
and then
rinsed in pink
with pastel ink)
dances on
a summer sigh,
with shades of sky,
s‑l-o-w-l‑y slides
right out of sight;
backyard bubbles
taking flight.

–Rebecca Kai Dotlich, all rights reserved

What a treat to hear that read by Rebecca, after all the times I’ve read it aloud myself and savored the lovely words and images.

I felt so lucky to have so much support as I participated in my first Poetry Blast. Thank you!

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews has the wonderful Poetry Friday roundup today. Enjoy!

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