Today’s foremost nature poet for children, Joyce Sidman published her first lyrical, observant, and scrupulously annotated nature study in 2005, with Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems, illustrated by Beckie Prange. But Joyce is at home with all manner of subjects, with Before Morning, out this fall, about the intersection of hope, family, and weather.
1. In your forthcoming book Before Morning, illustrated by Beth Krommes, the pictures tell a whole story that the poem does not. Did you know this was going to happen?
JS: I knew that Beth would interpret my words, of course, but I did not know how; this poem could be illustrated in many ways. The particular story she chose was a complete surprise, with all sorts of elements I would not have predicted — yet her story completely captures the tone of the poem. I can’t wait to see how readers react to it.
2. Many years ago, the Horn Book’s then-editor had some very strong words to say about what she saw as the sin of illustrating lyric poetry, her outrage spawned by a picture book edition of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” What’s your opinion?
JS: I feel illustrations help invite the young reader into a poem, provided those illustrations are themselves excellent and also well-suited to the poem’s tone. Yes, poems work well on their own when read aloud to children. But if illustrations help broaden the audience for a particular poem in a meaningful way, why not?
3. What poetry would you give to people who declare that they hate poetry?
JS: Oh, gosh. Give me an hour with them and I’ll have them writing their own poems. But given that I can’t workshop with every poetry-hater, I’d recommend Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices, selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Who isn’t going to love a poem called “The Vacuum Cleaner’s Revenge” or “Prayer of a Snowflake”?
4. Who is the poet who has taught you the most? (Whether about writing poetry, living life, or both.)
JS: Mary Oliver, hands down. She taught me about death and its endless recycling of energy, and about the inexplicable joy the world offers if you are willing to accept it. She also taught me the value of speaking directly to the reader.
5. How do you celebrate National Poetry Month?
JS: Every month is poetry month for me! I celebrate with chocolate. And poetry, of course — as much as I can get my hands on.
From the April 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes Good Poetry?”