July 3rd, 2010

Arm yourselves with books

ALA 2010, part four

Monday, Monday . . . so good to me!

Monday proved to be yet another eventful, happy day at ALA. During the morning hours, I got a copy of Sea signed by Heidi Kling, who had a line. Yeah - see all those people wrapped around there? They were waiting for signings. Before I left the line, John Green joined the line, and Heidi had palpitations. I say that because she essentially told me so, but really, it was kinda visible.

After a quick snack with Tanita Davis, along with her mother and her husband, D, Pam (aka MotherReader), Charlotte (blogging at --), Laura Salas and I headed to the Smithsonian American History Museum, where we saw exactly what we wanted to see and nothing more. I so love going to museums with like-minded individuals. We even queued up to see the pop culture items, which included the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the original Kermit and Archie Bunker's chair, checked out the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner and Julia Childs's kitchen, and examined the dresses and other items that belonged to the First Ladies.

Laura and I intended to go elsewhere in search of a 3 p.m. lunch, but Mother Nature conspired against us, sending a sudden, violent downpour our way. Instead, we headed to the cafeteria in the basement for some home-made macaroni & cheese. "Real butter, real heavy cream and five kinds of cheese," said the woman behind the counter. Laura and I were both sold, and it really was terrific. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, by the time we were finished eating, the storm had passed. We snagged a cab and headed back to our hotel to shower and change for the Poetry Blast, then grabbed a shuttle to the Convention Center, arriving just before the Poetry Blast started, and in time to meet Andi, the last of the seven Poetry Princesses to make her way to D.C.

The Poetry Blast Oh, the Poetry Blast. Worth the trip to D.C. all on its very own! The Poetry Blast is organized by Barbara Genco and Marilyn Singer. Eleven poets, read, starting with Debbie Levy, who used techniques from her school visits to read from her new collection, Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight, a collection of bedtime-themed poems. George Ella Lyon followed with a quieter, more measured reading of her work, beginning with the poem, "Invocation", demonstrating that despite being quiet, words can pack a real punch. Wonderful. The third reader was Tony Medina, who read from several of his published books and an unpublished manuscript entitled The President Looks Like Me. Tony reads loud and proud, and if you get a chance to hear him, take it.

Next up was Arnold Adoff, who writes for kids because he "wanted to effect change in our society." He read from a new work, Roots and Blues, urging us not to assess the work based on his reading, because he firmly believes that poetry should be read on the page (and in a certain way). Adoff's opinion is in direct opposition to the many poets who believe poetry is best read aloud. I haven't read the work on the page yet, since it's not yet out, but I can assure you that what I heard from Roots & Blues was superlative - and it kinda blew my mind. After Arnold came Lee Bennett Hopkins, whom I first met at the LA SCBWI conference about three years ago. Lee read from Sharing the Season and Amazing Faces, reading not only his own work, but that of two other poets. Such a generous, enthusiastic ambassador for poetry!

Lois Ehlert is hilarious. She writes and illustrates her own work, beginning, she explained, with the collage, then adding text "until they dance together." She showed us illustrations from her newest work, Lots of Spots, while reading the poems in the flattest manner possible. It was flat-out funny, and got funnier as she read more and more of her short poems. She was followed by Heidi Mordhorst, who tries "to be both extravagant and economical with [her] words." Heidi's delivery style was terrific, as she read from Pumpkin Butterfly and other work. Next came one of my poetic heroes, Carole Boston Weatherford, who stepped up to the mic and sang part of "Strange Fruit" as a segue into her reading from Becoming Billie Holiday. Carole's reading was marvelous, and made me want to revisit the entire work, a copy of which is on my "I wish I'd written that" shelf.

As if to pick up on the jazz mood invoked by the mere mention of Billie Holiday, Calef Brown stepped up and began his seven-minutes, commenting "People say I'm strange . . . ", which turned out to the be opening of a poem. Calef performed most of his work from memory, riffing from one poem straight into the next. It was completely mind-blowing, if I'm being honest. And then he favored us with a few poems from Hallowilloween, his new book that comes out in September. Can't wait for that one. He closed with two contemporary political poems that cracked me up - I was nearly in tears of laughter.

The two Marilyns came last: another of my icons, Marilyn Nelson, read from Sweethearts of Rhythm (which reminds me - I need to get my hands on that book!) and from Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, stirring an emotional response in the audience. She was followed by Marilyn Singer, who read from her latest picture book, Mirror, Mirror, which, as you know, I adore. Marilyn has an excellent "evil" voice, and she really made the poems come off the page even without the astonishing artwork in the book.

After the Poetry Blast concluded and people had had a few minutes to mix, we headed off to Zaytinya for dinner, where Marilyn's husband, Steve, had secured the upstairs room for our use. What followed was a gastronomic delight, and I confess to having enjoyed one of the best meals ever - bettered only by the company I was in, which included quite a number of the poets already mentioned, plus Nikki Grimes and my fellow CYBILS awards panelist, Sylvia Vardell.

That's me with Sylvia Vardell and Marilyn Singer in the upstairs room at Zaytinya

Marilyn's husband, Steve Aronson, with Tony Medina, one of my new poetry crushes

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