Spotlight on NCTE Poets: Valerie Worth, with Lee Bennett Hopkins

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“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.

NCTE Medal - designed by Karla Kuskin

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.

Valerie Worth

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

 

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And finally there are the many wonderful, insightful animal poems, some of which have been re-collected in these books illustrated by Steve Jenkins:

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I am partial to “cat,” which contains one of my favorite lines of verse (click to enlarge)

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“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.

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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.

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May Valerie’s “small poems” continue to create big worlds for readers of all ages.

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In Her Own Words: Valerie Worth on

Writing Poetry

“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)

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“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

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“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

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More about Valerie Worth

QUICK FACTS

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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.

 

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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

 

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

NEXT IN THE SERIES: BARBARA JUSTER ESBENSEN

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The beautiful Irene Latham has the roundup at Live Your Poem.

AW, SHUCKS!
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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.

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43 Comments

  1. What to say about Valerie Worth?? I love the surprises in her poetry. She’s great at the “unexpected inevitable,” that perfect analogy or image. I love Lee’s words and your selections here… that safety pin one is brilliant, isn’t it? Thank you, Renee! xo

  2. Oh, my – I’ve been waiting for this one. Thank you, Renée and Lee, for this treasured celebration of a poet few of us knew but all of us admire so greatly. Loved hearing about how 100 (100!) revisions of 20 words led to one of her flawless poems – the craft behind those “effortless” sounding verses!

    And might I add that both of you look fabulous? Thank you again for this post and this series.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Renee, and for taking inside the life and work of one my favourite poets. I was going to say that you’ve shared some of my favourite Worth poems, but then I remembered that they all seem like favourites because as you read one you have that tingly moment of perfection. She was a genius.

  4. I am truly embarrassed to say that I’ve not heard of her but just from the samples you’ve given us, I know I may have found my new favorite poet. Her poems are absolutely brilliant – keen observations, like you said, Renee.

    Reading everything of hers I can find is going on my to-do list. 🙂

  5. Renee & Lee – Appreciations for the unpubbed Valerie Worth book poem on the book mark, for quoting her ideas, for collecting these great covers in one place, for sharing so many poem jewels with Natalie Babbit’s spot-on art, for Lee’s irreplaceable recollections.
    I’ve come across the perfect flamingo leg poem more than once (I’m in North FL) & I squeaked when I saw it! I wonder if there are bookstore owners who have recollections of her visiting their shops for signings?
    Thank you.

  6. What a wonderful resource to teach students more about her! The timing is perfect here, since we have spent the week studying Valerie Worth poems connected to our Love that Dog-based poetry unit. Every year I have students who connect to her most strongly of all our poets!

  7. Valerie Worth is a national treasure! I always have to read her poems twice (or thrice!) — she springs delightful surprises on the reader. “Sun” is one of my fave children’s poems ever! Thanks for putting this post together, Renee! I didn’t know about her “small” poems. I’ll have to look for those!

  8. Such a gift. Valerie Worth. Lee Bennett Hopkins. You. This post. Thank you! I, too, am often struck by things in my life, finding myself thinking, “Oh, it’s just like in that Valerie Worth poem!” Sun quilts, fancy front doors, all of it, all of it… xo, a

  9. LOVE this series of interviews, Renee. I’ve already fallen in love with so many of the poems and collections that you feature, and now I get to fall in love again with the poets. Thank you!

  10. What a rich taste of a brilliant writer’s life and work–entwined, the vines of keen sense, carefully crafted verse, and generous giving. I have none of these books, but soon I will.

  11. I don’t know of any children’s poet who doesn’t love Valerie Worth! Granted, we all have our personal favorites, but how can you not appreciate the insight, emotional impact, and command of the language her poems display? Thank you both, Renee & Lee, for this post!

  12. Thank you Renee and Lee for sharing these wonderful poems and thoughts. Oh to write like Valerie Worth! Such simplicity and sharpness…

  13. Hi Renee, what a marvelous post & interview. I spent time a year ago with a primary teacher where we introduced a poem each day to her 5 & 6 year olds. Many were emerging readers, but the teacher had them copy the poems into their journals, & they talked through the poems. We felt that the small poems were just right for these early learners, & they were! After weeks went by, the students began to say things like “I think I’ll write a poem about that” in response to whatever they were studying. Thanks as always for these posts, such a treasure!

  14. Thank you, Renee and Lee, for this closer look at a poet whose work looked closely at everyday things. I’m so enjoying this entire series! I loved “Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry.”

  15. Thanks for this series, Renee and Lee. It was wonderful learning more about Valerie Worth. I love safety pin! I cannot even believe she wrote something that interesting about a safety pin! Amazing! And I love the 100 revisions! A woman I can relate to 🙂

  16. I’ve been so looking forward to this installment of your series, Renée! Such a shame to find out there’s so little to unearth about this amazing poet–it makes her work all the more precious, doesn’t it? It also made your interview with Lee all the more enjoyable. I feel like it’s my birthday and I’ve just unwrapped a favorite present… especially with those bonus unpublished poems. Thank you! Thanks Lee!

  17. Renee and Lee- thank you for another heartfelt video on an amazing poet. I’ve shared her small poems with students for many years. After experiencing her poetry, one will never look at the world the same way again.

    I treasure every one of your video spotlights. Please keep them coming! : )

  18. Renee, Lee, how can I thank you for all this children’s poetry glory. The richness of her poems runs side by side with how sad I feel that I’ve never had a chance to meet her and hug her for all she’s done in writing.
    What a titan. This series ROCKS! And so do the both of you.

  19. Renee, this is an amazing post about a poet who expresses life in such beautifully simple but deep ways. The safety pin poem is so precise and explosive as an image for me. I appreciate your interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins whose words leave me reflecting on the process of writing poetry. Many thanks for giving me a new perspective today.

  20. Thank you, Renee and Lee, for this tribute to my mother, Valerie Worth. I just came across this interview and blog post, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing the interview as well as reading everyone’s kind comments. As her child, I can attest that the 100 revisions were not limited to one poem; she labored over her poems daily, for many hours, until she deemed each one perfect. Each one is a gem, and I am so grateful that she opened my eyes — and the eyes of her child readers for generations to come — to the poetry that is around us every day.

    1. Ditto from Valerie Worth’s son, Conrad Bahlke. So nice to see/hear that her work lives through the joy that you all were finding in her poems.

    2. Dear Meg and Conrad,

      I am just now seeing your comments and am delighted that you both found this post about your mother. She continues to be such an inspiration to both established and emerging poets with her singular view on the world and all the “small poems” she found within it.

      I will pass your comments on to Lee Bennett Hopkins, who I know will be just as pleased to see them.

      Best,
      Renée

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