“Eyes on the Prize”

Posted April 1st, 2011

1st prizeChildren’s poetry is the bastard child of American Literature.

Bet that got your attention.

“That’s strong language,” you say.  Actually, the term is quite appropriate.  Let me explain.

You can win a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award for poetry, provided you write poetry for adults. As a poet for adults, the Guggenheim is available to you, and the Pushcart Prize, and the NEA grant, among others. National Poetry Month has dedicated seven days of its reign for the celebration of children’s poetry but, then, they don’t give out any awards. There is an NCTE Award for Children’s Poetry, which I myself was pleased to win a few years ago, but that is for a body of work, not an individual book. And that’s my point. There is no major, national award given for a single work of poetry for children. Why is that?

Mind you, I am aware of, and grateful for, the awards created by Lee Bennett Hopkins and, more recently, by SCBWI, but I am talking about an award coming from the American Library Association. Where is that award?

At the moment, when it comes to children’s book awards, all genres are lumped together: fiction, humor, nonfiction, mystery, fantasy—you name it. It is important to note that individual prizes do exist for humor and nonfiction. They exist, one would assume, in recognition of the fact that each of these genres incorporate a specific set of skills not evident (or usual) in other genres. That can certainly be said of poetry, yes? So why isn’t there a major, annual award offered in this particular genre?

On second thought, forget the question. I’ll jump right to the point, obvious though it may be: the time is past due for a standing, annual poetry award within the realm of children’s and young adult literature. Period.

I’m thrilled that poetry has its own month, and that it does include a special week recognizing and celebrating poetry for children and young adults. That’s wonderful. Now, let’s take another big step. Let’s create an annual children’s poetry award, with a special category for verse novels, may I add. Poetry for young readers deserves that recognition. ‘Nough said.

At Jerusalem's GateAs much as I love National Poetry Month, there’s something about this time of year that excites me even more: Easter. A few years ago, I wrote a book called At Jerusalem’s Gate, a poet’s take on the Easter story, seen from the multiple points-of-view of the characters who were part of the original story 2000 years ago. And so, in this month of Easter, I close out with two poems from this collection.

“An Act of Kindness” focuses on the Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea. The second, “To Be Continued,” is from the point-of-view of a soldier.

An Act of Kindness

Christ crucified lay limp
as any son undone
by beating, cross, and spear,
a Pharisee the one
to bear him to a place
of rough rock and rest.
Perhaps—this God knows best—
he swabbed away Christ’s blood
with tears, the only bath
the Sabbath would allow.
Perhaps he chose instead
to kiss the Master’s brow
and whisper his goodbye.
Perhaps he merely wept,
while tired muscles strained
to roll the stone in place
and soldiers sealed it tight
to inch by inch lock out
the air, hope, light.

To Be Continued

Don’t tell me he is God.
I pierced his human side,
used my daily-sharpened spear.
In time, I’m certain
someone will explain
how he can be here
preaching still
and rising
on the wings
of the wind.

2 Responses to ““Eyes on the Prize””

  1. Sara Furlong says:

    I couldn’t agree more. A prize for poetry is way overdue. Glad to find your blog! 🙂

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