Poetry Friday: Spotlight on NCTE Poets – David McCord, with Lee Bennett Hopkins

Spotlight on NCTE Poets - David McCord

“A handful of sand…

is an anthology of the universe.

NCTE Medal - designed by Karla Kuskin

Hello, again! Welcome to the first episode of SPOTLIGHT ON NCTE POETS! I’m glad to be back from hiatus and kicking off the year with a new series that I’ve cooked up with the help of Lee Bennett Hopkins. The SPOTLIGHT series is just that: brief and personal looks at all the recipients of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, starting with the very first recipient in 1977, when the award was established:

David McCord

David McCord

This series isn’t about pertinent facts or analyzing the poets and their work so much as it is about preserving Lee’s personal recollections, insights, and memories of each of these (so far) seventeen amazing people, and, as Lee says in the video, appreciating the poets and their work by “reading it and loving it from the heart.”


David McCord wrote and edited over fifty books of poetry for children, and I’d like to start the “reading and loving” with this gorgeous piece of work from his book Every Time I Climb a Tree.


This is my rock,
And here I run
To steal the secret of the sun;

This is my rock,
And here come I
Before the night has swept the sky;

This is my rock,
This is the place
I meet the evening face to face.

And the title poem of that same book (click to enlarge).


“Life is the garment we continually alter, but which never seems to fit.”

Listening to Lee’s stories and recollections about these poets has been an honor and a delight, and I hope you think so too. Without further ado, here is the first in our new video series.


Here is some of that marvelous wordplay Lee was talking about (click to enlarge).


In His Own Words: David McCord on


“Poetry is so many things besides the shiver down the spine. It is a new day lying on a new doorstep. It is what will stir the weariest mind to write. It is the inevitable said so casually that the reader or listener thinks he said it himself. It is the fall of syllables that run as easily as water flowing over a dam. It is fireflies in May, apples in October, the wood fire burning when one looks up from an open book. It is the best dream from which one ever waked too soon. It is Peer Gynt and Moby Dick in a single line. It is the best translation of words that do not exist. It is hot coffee dripping from an icicle. It is the accident involving sudden life. It is the calculus of the imagination. It is the finishing touch to what one could not finish. It is a hundred things as unexplainable as all our foolish explanations.”


“We have to learn that just to live is to acknowledge a kinship with poetry. There are many words for poetry, but the one important word for it is rhythm. The wind in the grass and the leaves of the trees and the flame that rises and falls — or the waves on the shore, a bird’s call, a thunder shower, or anything you care about in nature is full of rhythm. Even an earthquake, for that matter. That’s all part of poetry.”

Writing for Children

”Whatever may be said about this small but graceful art, three things should be remembered: good poems for children are never trivial; they are never written without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work; they must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child.” (In The New York Times, 1964)


From an interview in the NCTE publication Perspectives (a highly recommended read!): 

Should poetry for children have any special characteristics?
Yes, I think it should have one: It must be written, first of all, just for yourself. There’s always a question of how much didacticism you can put into a poem for children. You never write down to children. You can never look at children individually or in a group and say, “I know what you’re thinking because I was your age once.” You were their age once; but you haven’t the faintest idea of how you then thought or the way you phrased what you thought. So you must write for yourself and, if you don’t please yourself as a writer, you won’t please children or grownups or anybody. Perhaps the first thing any artist has to learn is to please himself within the framework of whatever medium he’s working in. So poems for children should be simple and should please the poet as he writes them. The teacher part of it should stay out of the way as much as possible. You are talking to children about something a child is familiar with, but also (perhaps) an aspect of it which the child has overlooked; or at least one which the child has viewed in a way quite different from the poet.


And now I can’t resist ending with the beautiful poem “Books Fall Open,” with a poster designed by Mary Englebreit.


More about David McCord



Dates: b. 1897 in New York City; raised in Oregon; d. 1997 in Boston
Education: Harvard: Bachelor of Arts (1921); Master’s in Chemistry (1922)
Occupation: Poet, essayist; Executive Director of the Harvard College Fund
Recognition: Guggenheim Fellow (1954); NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children (1977); 22 honorary doctorates
Known for: Wordplay; inventing a five-line form called “symmetics”; capturing the child’s world 



(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


NCTE Medal - designed by Karla Kuskin
NCTE Medal – designed by Karla Kuskin

“One of my teachers told me: ‘Never let a day go by without looking at three beautiful things.’ I try to do that and find it isn’t difficult. The sky, in all its weathers is, for me, the first of these three things.”  -David McCord



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See more poems in my poetry video library.

All poems © David McCord. All illustrations © by respective illustrators. All rights reserved. 

Video and post content © Renee M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.