Despite my best intentions this week, I neither visited Miss Rumphius to pick up a Poetry Stretch on Monday, nor managed yesterday morning to post live from the NCTE Conference live from Philadelphia, where I had just the best time at the Poetry Party organized in honor of the NCTE Poetry Award (finally) Winner Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Many who contributed poems to a beautifully produced tribute volume joined the panel in saying a few words and reading their poems, but I believe I was the only one having the pleasure of meeting Lee for the first time. I have never felt so physically middle-aged than I do this fall (and let's face it, 45 is very probably halfway along my lifeline), but something about being in a room with him, with Bobbi Katz and Jane Yolen and the gentle spirits of Myra Cohn Livingston and Eve Merriam, makes me feel like my 4th grade self again, the one who wanted nothing more desperately than to have a poem published in the brand-new Cricket Magazine. When John Ciardi visited my school (thank you, Mrs. Jane Toler, school librarian), I was starstruck and have saved the autograph he gave me in my musical jewelry-box forever: it stood for poems, and what is a poem but a musical jewel? (I'll tell the story about the three cigarettes that once spent a few guilty days in that same jewelry-box another time.)
In the years since, I've been living and working on the outskirts of Poetry Town--knowing just enough news and just enough people to feel like a part of the community, but rarely setting foot in the Town Hall. So getting up and reading "Stanza Means Room" among that crowd of luminaries was was was--DIZZYING, knowing that my poems are built out of their poems, that the internal recording of my experiences as a kid was in a language they taught. I'm not the same now as when I went in, a guest in their poetry house.