Poetry Friday: Spotlight on NCTE Poets – Aileen Fisher, with Lee Bennett Hopkins
“What it amounts to is…
I never grew up.“
Hello, there! Welcome to the second episode of SPOTLIGHT ON NCTE POETS! The videos in this new series that I’ve cooked up with the help of Lee Bennett Hopkins are brief and personal looks at all the recipients of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
And we have good news! Thanks to the advocacy of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, the SPOTLIGHT videos will be featured and permanently accessible on the NCTE website. We don’t have all the details yet, but there is a page in the works to highlight the videos and blog posts, which I’ll announce when it goes live. We thank the generous folks at NCTE for their enthusiastic recognition of the series and their efforts to help us preserve and distribute it!
This series isn’t about analyzing the poets and their work, but rather about preserving Lee’s personal recollections, insights, and memories of each of these (so far) seventeen amazing people, and, as Lee says in his David McCord video, appreciating the poets and their work by “reading it and loving it from the heart.”
For the second installment, Lee takes us into the world of the woman and the poet who was the second winner of the NCTE award,
Aileen Lucia Fisher
Aileen Fisher wrote over 100 books for children, which included not only poetry but also biography, natural history, and plays. Her first book, The Coffee-Pot Face, was published in 1933.
As Lee mentions in the video, Aileen gave us a lot of poetry about nature, and one of the very few (the only?) of her books that is currently in print is the vibrant yet poignant picture book The Story Goes On, which deals with the cycle of life.
The friendly collage illustrations by Mique Moriuchi belie the rather frank discussion of prey and predator, as described in this review by Publisher’s Weekly. But that doesn’t stop me from adoring the enthusiastic “Ho!” of the bug. This is what I love about Fisher’s work — simple words and tiny details that create gigantic worlds of wonder.
Aileen Fisher grew up in and loved the country, which clearly informed her writing. Having also grown up in the country where I eschewed shoes whenever possible, I was particularly taken by this enchanting collection of poems.
Here is just one of the delightful poems I found, this one asking a perfectly reasonable question.
Trees just stand around all day
and sun themselves and rest.
They never walk or run away
and surely that is best.
For otherwise how would a
squirrel or robin find its nest?
Lee’s stories about Aileen reveal the charm and independent spirit of this wonderful poet, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of who Aileen Fisher was and how she interacted — or didn’t! — with the world of children’s poetry that she helped create. We hope you enjoy our second episode of the series!
LEE BENNETT HOPKINS on AILEEN FISHER
Here is the sigh-worthy poem “Until We Built a Cabin” that Lee mentions at the end of the video (click to enlarge). Lee also tells me that “the poem first appeared in That’s Why (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1946). Since the book was out of print for eons, I got permission from Aileen to reprint it in my book My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000), in the section “The Mountain States,” which includes Colorado, where she lived. She was so happy about this because the poem might have been lost.”
In Her Own Words: Aileen Fisher on
Writing and Growing Up
“I never try out my ideas on children, except on the child that I used to know, and that was—me! Fortunately, I remember pretty well what I used to like to read, think about, and do. I find, even today, that if I write something I like, children are apt to like it too. I guess what it amounts to is I never grew up. Over the years I have discovered that you really don’t have to grow up. The outside world can keep changing for better or for worse, but you can still go on. You can go barefoot in the grass, or lie on a pile of autumn leaves, or get up at 5:30 in the morning and go walking with your dog.”
“Poetry is a rhythmical piece of writing that leaves the reader feeling that life is a little richer than before, a little more full of wonder, beauty, or just plain delight.”
“My favorite possessions are books, and interesting pieces of Colorado wood from the timberline, which have been enhanced by wood-rasp, chisel, and some sandpaper. My pleasures in life are found through animals (especially dogs), mountain climbing, hiking, working with wood, unorthodox gardening, a few people in small doses, and reading. I like centrality in my life and peace and quiet, which means that I avoid commercialized excitement, cities, traffic, polluted air, noise, confusion, travel, crowds, and airports. For me, early morning on a mountain trail is the height of bliss.” From an NCTE profile by Lee Bennett Hopkins (1978)
And so we end with the beginning: Aileen Fisher’s first published poem, “Otherwise,” which appeared in Child Life magazine in 1927, and which perfectly illustrates the poet’s talent for capturing a child’s wonder and curiosity.
More about Aileen Fisher
Dates: b. 1906 in Iron River, Michigan; d. 2002 in Boulder, Colorado
Education: University of Chicago and University of Missouri: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (1927)
Occupation: Poet, writer; placement bureau for women journalists; director of the Women’s National Journalistic Register
Recognition: NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children (1978)
Known for: Nature poetry “suffused with curiosity and love for the workings of the natural world” (Poetry Foundation)
First poem published: “Otherwise” in Child Life magazine, 1927
First book published: The Coffee-Pot Face (McBride Company, 1933), a Junior Literary Guild selection
WINNERS of the NCTE AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN POETRY FOR CHILDREN
(links go to NCTE articles and interviews about each winner)
(Criteria for award)
2013 – Joyce Sidman
2011 – J. Patrick Lewis
2009 – Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006 – Nikki Grimes
2003 – Mary Ann Hoberman
2000 – X.J. Kennedy
1997 – Eloise Greenfield
1994 – Barbara Juster Esbensen
1991 – Valerie Worth
1988 – Arnold Adoff
1985 – Lilian Moore
1982 – John Ciardi
1981 – Eve Merriam
1980 – Myra Cohn Livingston
1979 – Karla Kuskin
1978 – Aileen Fisher
1977 – David McCord | See David’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
NEXT IN THE SERIES: KARLA KUSKIN
Doraine Bennett has the roundup over at Dori Reads. Get over there, where there must be magic!
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See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems © Aileen Fisher. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved.
Video and post content © Renee M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.