Spotlight on NCTE Poets: Valerie Worth, with Lee Bennett Hopkins
“When I turned to writing, I tried to create what I wanted when I was a child–
poetry that would reach more deeply into the world I saw around me.“
Welcome to the ninth episode of SPOTLIGHT ON NCTE POETS! The videos in this series with Lee Bennett Hopkins are brief and personal looks at all the recipients of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
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 amazing people. Through these short interviews, we hope to foster an appreciation of the poets and their work by “reading it and loving it from the heart,” as Lee says.
This installment features a poet who makes us look at everyday objects with new eyes and new insights.
In 1991 Valerie Worth became the ninth recipient of the NCTE award. A widely anthologized writer, Worth left us with only some 130+ published poems, which, during her lifetime, were collected into various short volumes of “small poems.”
Sadly, Worth died of cancer at the age of 60; since then, many of those same small poems have been published posthumously in themed collections. Here are her complete works:
- Small Poems (1972)
- More Small Poems. (1976)
- Still More Small Poems (1978)
- Curlicues: The Fortunes of Two Pug Dogs (1980)
- Gypsy Gold (1983)
- Fox Hill (1986)
- Small Poems Again (1986)
- All the Small Poems (1987)
- The Crone’s Book of Wisdom (1988)
- At Christmastime (1992)
- All the Small Poems and Fourteen More (1994)
- Posthumously published books:
- Peacock and Other Poems (2002)
- Animal Poems (2007)
- Pug (2013)
Because there is so little information on Valerie Worth, I am dedicating this post to the simple enjoyment of some of this gifted poet’s observations. As Lee Bennett Hopkins notes in his NCTE profile on Worth, “her poems are sharp, solid, eloquent evocations of ordinary objects; in them she brings new, dramatic life to the unexpected. Her crystal vision causes us to see the everyday world in fresh, insightful, larger-than-life ways.”
What I absolutely love about Worth’s poems is that they always give me those little “aha” moments when I think, Yes, that’s exactly what that thing is like! It suddenly becomes so clear, and I wonder why I’d never thought of it before. Or conversely, the poem describes exactly what I’d always thought about an object, so the moment becomes Oh, so it’s not just me. Either way, these are poems you respond to.
One of my favorites is “sun” for just this reason. That last image never fails to knock my socks off.
Gah! How often have I curled up on that sunshine quilt and never seen the quilt!
Then there are the poems that truly surprise me with their keen observations and imagery, like “safety pin.”
And finally there are the many wonderful, insightful animal poems, some of which have been re-collected in these books illustrated by Steve Jenkins:
I am partial to “cat,” which contains one of my favorite lines of verse (click to enlarge)…
“Printing every / Shimmer, every / Shadow, with / Her presence.”
The shadow may “haunt the place,” but this example of pure poetry is what haunts me.
Lee’s reflections on Valerie Worth reveal a deep-thinking poet with a deep respect and passion for every thing that inhabited her world. How lucky we are that she chose to share the pleasure of small things with all of us.
LEE BENNETT HOPKINS on VALERIE WORTH
During our interviews, Lee often rustles through his files on the poet of the day, pulling out postcards and letters and mementos to show me. The first treasure he shared from Valerie’s file was this rare bookmark from The Children’s Book Council, which contains an unpublished poem.
Unable to attend the NCTE award ceremony, Valerie asked Lee Bennett Hopkins to read her acceptance speech. In addition, Lee also read six poems that were unpublished at the time, two of which he shares in the video.
May Valerie’s “small poems” continue to create big worlds for readers of all ages.
In Her Own Words: Valerie Worth on
“I’m trying to catch hold of things and put them into poems; poems that would somehow express the essential qualities of an object or an experience, so that somebody else could read what I’d written and think, ‘Yes, that’s right. I’ve seen that myself.’ So many poets have done this for me. I’ve tried to do the same for others, especially children, who are encountering so much for the first time and are responding to what they see so directly and intensely.” From an essay in Children’s Books and Their Creators, ed. Anita Silvey (Houghton Mifflin 1995)
“It has always seemed to me that any tree or flower, any living creature, even any old board or brick or bottle possesses a mysterious poetry of its own, a poetry still wordless, formless, inaudible, but asking to be translated into words and images and sounds—to be expressed as a poem. Perhaps it could be said that written poetry is simply a way of revealing and celebrating the essentially poetic nature of the world itself.” From the NCTE Profile by Lee Bennett Hopkins
“I would say write poetry for the fun of it, for the joy of it, for the love of it. And especially for the love of the things you write about, whatever they may be—whether beautiful or ugly, grand or humble, birds of paradise or mosquitoes, stars or mud puddles: All are worthy of being written about if you feel a deep affection for them—or, indeed, if you feel strongly about them in any way at all. But never forget that the subject is as important as your feeling: The mud puddle itself is as important as your pleasure in looking at it or splashing through it. Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry—because, in many ways. the mud puddle is the poetry.” From the NCTE profile by Lee Bennett Hopkins
More about Valerie Worth
Dates: b. 1933 in Philadelphia, PA; d. 1994 in Clinton, NY
Education: Swarthmore College, B.A. in English
Occupation: Poet; Yale University Press promotions department
Recognition: NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, 1991
Known for: “…sharp, solid, eloquent evocations of ordinary objects; crystal vision…” (Lee Bennett Hopkins)
First book published: Small Poems (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1972)
Profile of Valerie Worth for NCTE, by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Literary Legends: Celebrating Valerie Worth (Book Links. 16, (4), 45-47). Sylvia Vardell shares snippets of her article as well as teaching strategies for using Worth’s poems in the classroom.
WINNERS of the NCTE AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN POETRY FOR CHILDREN
(First links go to NCTE articles about each winner; second links go to NWR video posts)
(Criteria for award)
2015 – Marilyn Singer
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 | See Arnold’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1985 – Lilian Moore | See Lilian’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1982 – John Ciardi | See John’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1981 – Eve Merriam | See Eve’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1980 – Myra Cohn Livingston | See Myra’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT on NWR
1979 – Karla Kuskin | See Karla’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1978 – Aileen Fisher | See Aileen’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
1977 – David McCord | See David’s NCTE SPOTLIGHT post on NWR
NEXT IN THE SERIES: BARBARA JUSTER ESBENSEN
The beautiful Irene Latham has the roundup at Live Your Poem.
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See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems © Valerie Worth. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved.
Video and post content © Renee M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.