“Poetry and I fit together. I can’t imagine being without it. It is food and drink; it is all seasons; it is the stuff of all existence.” -LBH
Today is #DearOneLBH, the day that the Poetry Friday community is remembering Lee Bennett Hopkins with tributes and poems.
But this is not a sad post. This is a post about a man who lived his very best life, and about how grateful I am to have shared a tiny part of it.
It is my memory box. It is my little collection of Important Lee Things. It is meandering and tangential and may not make a lot of sense, which is pretty much how most of our conversations went. But it is full of Lee, with a little bit of me, and a little bit of you, too, I’ll bet.
Lee had a lot of things. Here are just a couple of them.
Whenever Lee and I had our recording sessions, I always heard him before I saw him. From the dark square on my screen came fumblings and mumblings and “Why can’t I see her?” and finally a mildly chiding voice: “You have to turn the camera on, Lee!”
Then he would spring onto my screen with Charles by his side, both giggling before Charles said his cheerful hellos and goodbyes and discreetly closed the door behind him. Then Lee would roll his eyes at himself and sigh, “I don’t know what I would do without him.” And of course you could tell by the profundity of that sigh and the loving look in his eyes that he wasn’t just talking about turning his camera on. Lee was a very lucky man.
He also had the love of his countless friends and colleagues, who I think must have been one and the same as he never seemed to have made any distinction between them. Lee often went off on tangents, telling story after story of all the people he’d known and worked with, his eyes shining with memory and affection. I’m pretty sure they returned it tenfold.
And of course he had mine.
For his work, for “his” poets, for his Dear Ones, for Poetry with a capital P. Passion for gossip, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrated, never mean-spirited, always mischievous. Passion for theater and music and dance and art and antiques — in short, passion for beauty in all its forms. He both created it and consumed it.
His friend Madeleine Kuderick captured some of those passions in her tribute poem, which she has kindly allowed me to share here.
Anyone who has ever spoken to Lee or heard him speak was no doubt treated to his marvelously silly sense of humor and infectious laugh. We seemed to share an appreciation of the absurdities of life and we giggled a lot. Lee was genuine, he was joy, he was forever young at heart.
A READY EAR AND A BIG HEART
And boy, could this man listen! I’m going to take a wild guess that I’m not the first hopeful poet to fill his ear with dreams (and complaints), but he listened intently to all of it, from the early days of our too-short friendship in 2013 up to our last video call this year. Lee was wise and he was generous.
I remember so clearly in April 2015, when I was laid up with a broken knee and feeling pretty down about it, he said he had a gift for me. He was going to wait and make it a surprise, but he thought it might cheer me up if he gave it to me early, and that’s when he told me he’d dedicated Amazing Places to me.
I was still recording at the time, and I still have that clip somewhere, the stunned silence and my blinking, unbelieving eyes. And then his laugh at my surprise! I could say that this was the highest honor he could bestow upon me, but that would be wrong.
The highest honor was his friendship, because Lee was above all my mentor and friend.
Back in 2013, I interviewed Lee for the first time.
During this interview, I asked if Lee’s latest collection, All the World’s a Stage, could be adapted to performance, to which he replied, “Absolutely it could be adapted. I don’t think there’s been an anthology for performance…why don’t you get on that, Renée?”
And I eventually did. My manuscript for Limelight: Theater Poems to Perform would not exist without Lee. I also still have a clip of our discussion of this book, in which he was frustrated with me for not getting it done. He was relentless in his feedback, in pushing me forward. I laugh now when I think how the penultimate poem in the book nearly did me in. He just kept sending it back, saying “NOT YET! TRY AGAIN!” Ha. Lee was tough and truthful.
And all that time I was muttering at him under my breath, he was making me a better writer. He was such a champion of this book, always asking for news of it after it sold.
In Lee’s NCTE Spotlight post, I wrote: “I’ve come to look upon Lee as my own personal Willy Wonka of children’s poetry, a delightful, eccentric, wacky man who has led me into a world of pure imagination — and encouraged me to become a part of it.” It was only later I learned that he’d been called the Pied Piper of Poetry …
— but I still prefer him as Wonka with the purple hat. Wonka was tough! He demanded goodness and honesty and hard work, and by gods, he was going to get it out of you by hook or by crook. There were no free rides, and there’s no crying in poetry! Poetry is tough; do the work; do it again. That was Lee to me. We totally jived in that respect. 🙂
What Lee did not know, because I was saving it for a surprise, is that the book will be dedicated to him. I wish I’d told him. Perhaps he already knew.
Lee was a mentor and cheerleader to so many people, even to those who didn’t know him personally. It was enough to hear of him, to read about his thoughts on Poetry with a capital P, and you instantly felt you needed to be a better writer.
One such person is Robyn Campbell, a long-time member of the kidlit/poetry community and friend to Lee. In response to Amy LV’s invitation to write tribute poems inspired by and that use a line from one of Lee’s own poems, Robyn chose to model hers after Lee’s “Why Poetry?” (read here).
And Lee wanted to give back, always, to the whole world. Two of his pet projects were our NCTE Spotlight on Poets series and our most recent endeavor, The History of American Children’s Poetry.
For those following the history series, Lee and I had already completed two more episodes, which I will post in the near future. While I am sorry Lee and I were unable to finish the series, I am grateful that Sylvia Vardell has kindly agreed to help me bring the last two episodes to fruition. This series was a longtime dream of Lee’s and it was important to him to finish; I know he would be pleased that Sylvia is taking up those reins in his stead, to complete his gift. Lee was giving and kind.
My hope is that I — that we all — have learned something from all that Lee has left us and that we will carry it forward ourselves: to be mentors, to befriend and champion others, to share our knowledge, to spread poetry far and wide.
Lee played many roles on many stages, and made an exit as grand as all his entrances. I will not forget him.
I give the last word to you, Lee, with my thanks and affection. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
“Curtain” © 2013 Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustration © 2013 Guy Billout.
“Let memories light our darkest hours” © 2019 Madeleine Kuderick.
“Why Poetry?” © 2019 Robyn Campbell, after Lee Bennett Hopkins’s poem “Why Poetry?”
Little purple flowers: photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels
Purple petaled flower: photo by Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty from Pexels
All other post content © Renée M. LaTulippe.
A PERFECT tribute, Renee! (And I love your spotlight on Charles.) Your videos with Lee made him so happy—and are such a gift to the world of children’s poetry!!!
Thank you, Janet. Charles was always a presence in our sessions and such a sweetheart. I loved what you wrote on Amy’s post about Lee being FIERCE! The perfect way to describe him. 🙂
Oh, Renee – it was a daunting task to sum up all the fun and laughter and tears you two shared in recent years, and you did it in a magnificent, accessible post. Thanks so much for sharing, and for giving Lee the last (profoundly fitting) word. You two created a priceless treasury for generations to come. XO
Thank you, Robyn. I don’t know that I really wanted to sum it up because that sounds so final. I keep finding and remembering new treasures when I least expect it. Lee was sneaky like that. <3
Renee, First…wait…how could I chose a first? There’s so much to love here. I love the unabashed friendship between the two of you. I love the poetry interviews. I spent time in Lee’s interview with you to get my line for today’s tribute (write true poetry). I love that Lee listened to you and pushed you and that you got better as a poet for that. I love that you got to know Charles a bit too. Like Robyn said, to summarize? I just don’t see it as possible. But, what you shared from your friendship and working relationship with Lee has been a tremendous blessing to so many of us. Thank you.
Lee was always so happy to read comments from all of you on his NCTE and history videos! That they mean a lot to you would mean a lot to him. <3
My eyes are brimming over, R. Your interviews with Lee were a gift to us all…and he was thrilled by them. You keep his legacy alive. (If you are a “Hamilton” fan, I keep thinking that you are his “Eliza” in this way…and too, that he did “write like he was running out of time…”) Thank you for this beautiful post, the poems, the clips, this treasure trove of words and love and his own poem and signature. I am full. Many hugs across the pond. And yes, I do believe he knows that you dedicated your book to him. He knows everything now. xxxx
I don’t know anything about Hamilton, Amy, but I like the idea that there are a couple of characters out there in theater-land that might reflect me and Lee! 🙂 Your own tribute to Lee left me speechless. Hugs back to you, dear friend.
Your post is a treasure, Renee, as have all the previous interviews with Lee been, showing his knowledge and ‘self’ that otherwise we would not see. For someone to be fierce in his passion, kind in his loves of people and words makes a person not always known. I’m sorry for the loss of your “Dear One”, but glad that you have beautiful memories, too. Thanks very much for all you gave us today.
True words, Linda! Thank you! <3
Oh, Renee, this fills the heart and brings the tears. I love it all, but the ending the best. Exit stage right, dearest dear one. Right to Heaven with Poets and Poetry angels ready. Too many exits, sadly. Wish he could have been here always. Your contribution to preserving the wonder of Lee in your videos, musings, rememberings is treasure. Did you know I was a director? Kindred spirits, I think. Can’t wait for your book. We will love it for Lee! I agree with all you said! His life was a gift, his legacy gold, his faith and love for kids, his friends, his Charles, his poets, his work the finest treasure. What a life. Thank you for being part of his.
What a life indeed! He will always be an inspiration!
Thanks for sharing all this big-hearted, tough goodness, and for giving us a peek into your close relationship. And for recording so many treasures with Lee–an amazing gift to children’s poets and poetry lovers.
Lee sure did love his work, and he put so much time into research for those videos. A labor of love, indeed. xo
Renee, a very lovely tribute to Lee. I only knew him through your videos and FB but he always made me smile (as do you!) The two of you had such a great rapport and always seemed to be having such fun. You are in my thoughts as always. Sending lots of love.
David! I have been thinking of you! I love that you appeared here. You had mentioned in the past that Lee made you smile. I think you would have loved him — he was a hoot! Please email me! xoxo
I always read and watch your posts here at NWR. Email me your email so I can email you!
Renee, this post is filled with such memorable videos, thanks yous, and love. The image of Lee that you portrayed as the Willy Wonka of children’s poetry made me laugh but it is so true. He was a grand master Pied Piper that led us forward for many years (I met him as a newbie teacher in 1973) and will continue to do so in the future from his purple throne in the sky. I am glad that you captured his laughing spirit and even his laugh for all of us to remember. Many thanks, Renee..
A purple throne in the sky! What a wonderful image, Carol. Thank you for that and for the smile it brings! <3
What a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing about your friendship and collaboration.
Thank you for stopping by, Ruth!!
❤️❤️❤️ I am overwhelmed by this post Renee! I’m so glad I got to meet him & be mentored by him & share edits & giggles. I still feel him pushing me to do better. He will be that voice in my head forever & in that way, live on forever.
We are so lucky, aren’t we, Lee? <3
Renee, I cried all the way through this post. He did so much for me. Lee, you, Michelle, Janet. I am forever grateful that he stepped into my life at a time when I considered chucking it all. I reached out to him. We became forever friends. And the mark he left on me will never melt away. Your post is beautiful and heartfelt. I miss him. I can tell by your beautiful words that you do too. I wanted to get over here yesterday but found out some great news. I am on the board of the NC Poetry Society. Announcement September 14th. Thank you for always being there for me. xoxoxo
I was crying and forgot to thank you for adding my poem to your tribute. What an unbelievable honor. <3
Thank YOU for letting me share it here, Robyn. Hugs to you. <3
Robyn, what wonderful news! I’m sure Lee, from his purple throne, is SO proud of you! Great big hugs to you, dear friend! <3
This is a lovely tribute to Lee. He was truly one of a kind. Thank you for all the work you put into this and the wonderful videos the two of you made. xo
Thank you, Linda. Hugs back to you. <3
Reading this post is a Saturday pleasure. While I’ve loved Lee’s books for decades, it is your videos that have made me feel that I “know” Lee. I love thinking of him as the Willy Wonka of children’s poetry. I crowned him Poetry King in my 2017 alphabetical march during Poetry Month. May he reign long from Carol’s purple throne.
Thank you, Ramona — how nice to know the videos can bring people closer to Lee! Willy Wonka, Poetry King, Pied Piper … as I said, many roles, all played to the hilt. 🙂
Thank you for this, Renee. I didn’t know Lee personally, but I know his work. So I feel like I know him in the way that any reader knows an author. And now with your words, I feel like I know him better. It’s a fitting and loving way to honor Lee and ensure his legacy.
Thank you, Jilanne. I feel like he was everybody’s friend whether he knew them or not! <3
Thank you for sharing this moving tribute, Renée. And for making LBH’s wit and wisdom more accessible to us all through your projects with him. Hugs! -Ed
Grazie, Ed. His stories are a treasure — I’m so glad we captured so many of them!
So many “Important Lee Things” to cherish and put into practice in our lives and our work. Thank you, Renee, for your tribute. You’ve helped many people cope a little bit better from the loss of Lee.
You have been writing this tribute to Lee ever since you started the video series. Thank you for keeping his voice and messages in this world with us (while he’s on his purple throne in his purple castle!).
I said this several times, but you said it better: “…we all — have learned something from all that Lee has left us and that we will carry it forward ourselves: to be mentors, to befriend and champion others, to share our knowledge, to spread poetry far and wide.” Yes, yes, yes.
This is gorgeous, and heartfelt, and such a comfort to read, Renée. I have no doubt it wasn’t an easy task, but maybe (hopefully) it makes you feel a bit lighter for having done so. Although Lee had many Dear Ones, the fact that he chose YOU to speak through, to be the vehicle to pass on his legacy is very special indeed. And as for LIMELIGHT, I have no doubt whatsoever that he knew you intended to dedicate it to him… even if it wasn’t on on paper yet, it was already written in his heart. Sending love, my friend.
for Lee’sOne&OnlyDearOne Renee –
Appreciations for this purple-gold glow, a pop in our purple haze days of individual rememberings of Lee & our still-happening links to him & Charles through books, memories & your nourishing recordings.
Here in Florida It is a special joy to see the happy flower-bedecked Cape Coral Floridians’ photo you share, with their flower-topped cake, plus –
all the purple accents you’ve woven into this article –
links to the forever living moving/speaking/laughing/singing images in video,
words from Robyn Campbell, especially
“Is it boomy?” RC
words from Madeleine Kuderick especially
“pages singing” MK
your loving words
+ anticipating the future for LIMELIGHT:Theater Poems to Perform.
An especially uplifting part is your sharing the words of “relentless feedback” which messages caring for the poem maker & caring for the eventual child readers, such as your own children. I giggled about his “NOT YET! TRY AGAIN!” because that tough meanness, which arrives after so many honest tries, isn’t necessarily welcome in the instance by the struggling writer, but so appreciated after the good result.
He cared so so much for each child & so so much the writers he chose to work with, his serious sense of responsibility to nothing less than the best for children shines through here & I thank you.
It is impossible for anyone but perhaps your husband & Charles to comfort you fully in your loss, far deeper than most. The promise of Sylvia Vardell’s assist to you with the remaining history pieces, is a gift to us. I imagine ahead, years of finding future projects that Lee had a hand in, when they eventually come forward.
Of today’s words, I have borrowed your private editorial moments & copied out, front & center.
LBH: “NOT YET! TRY AGAIN!” Thank you for sharing from your loving purple heart.
What a gorgeous, sparkling treasure of a post. Thank you for gathering so many of your memories (and all those videos) to share so generously.
Thanks, Renee, for sharing your memories, reflections, and videos of Lee. It makes me feel like I knew him. What a gift he is to the world and especially the children and poets!
Lovely and loving tribute to a wonderful man…the “Willy Wonka of Children’s Poetry” is so apt a description! Best wishes with your collection, Renee.
Renee, I thought of you immediately when I heard of Lee’s passing, because I’d recently spent many happy coffee breaks watching your History of American Children’s Poetry series. The content of the series is wonderful, and your rapport with Lee made it even better. Through all of your episodes together, I felt as if I was having a warm conversation with friends, rather than sitting at my desk alone. I know you must miss Lee deeply. Glad the series will continue with Sylvia Vardell, as I can imagine Lee would’ve wanted it that way.