Friday, January 30, 2015
Meet Kenn Nesbitt, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate introduced by Andrea Perry
In the spring of 2016 I will be one of a number of featured children's authors in a collection of poems entitled, ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME. This project was the brainchild of Kenn Nesbitt, the current U.S. Children's Poet Laureate. Until I was contacted last year to submit work for his collection, I had no idea such a position existed. Recently I was able to pose a series of questions to Kenn about his title and duties which I would like to share.
How did the Children's Poet Laureate position come to be, and what organization nominates or selects candidates? Do you have any input regarding future candidates? May I ask if you receive any salary for the time that you serve?
The Children's Poet Laureate award is given every two years by the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization dedicated to promoting poetry in our culture. They established the award in 2006, with the first award going to Jack Prelutsky. Subsequent award winners were Mary Ann Hoberman and J. Patrick Lewis.
I don't actually know how the selection process works. My term will end in June, 2015 when the next Children's Poet Laureate is named at the annual Pegasus Awards ceremony at the Poetry Foundation headquarters in Chicago. They have not asked me for my thoughts on future poets laureate, but it's possible that they might. In any case, I'm sure that I won't be part of the actual selection committee.
I don't receive a salary for my time as CPL, but the award did come with a one-time cash prize of $25,000.
I believe the position is held for two years, but are there specific duties that come with it? I know that you continue to make school visits and are editing a bedtime poetry anthology-what else have you been up to?
Every year, in June, the Poetry Foundation has an award ceremony called the Pegasus Awards. Each year they give the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to honor a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Every other year, they appoint a new Children's Poet Laureate.
The duties of the Children's Poet Laureate are to perform two public readings, one during each year of the term, and to select and review a book of children's poetry to highlight on the Poetry Foundation's website. My school visits and books are not part of my duties as Laureate, but are simply how I make my living. Last year, I also created a new website called PoetryMinute.com, as a sort of elementary school equivalent of Poetry 180 (which is aimed at high school students). PoetryMinute has 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, all by contemporary children's poets.
Does anything special happen during National Poetry Month in April because of your position?
No, not really. National Poetry Month was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org). The Poetry Foundation is one of the many sponsors of National Poetry Month, but there are not any specific programs involving the Children's Poet Laureate.
What is so special about poetry?
Poetry is a literary art form that can be enjoyed by people of any age. What makes it different from other literary genres is it's ability to evoke emotions in a very short space. Good poetry, in my opinion, should always make you feel something, and it does so in a matter of a few lines, stanzas, or pages. Poetry can entertain, educate, and inspire readers, even with an economy of words. Other literary arts -- short stories, plays, novels, etc. -- can do the same, but in a much longer form.
I could go on and on about the differences but, to me, what I find most compelling about poetry is the way in which it inspires young people to want to read. When a child discovers a book by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky, they find themselves engaged and enthralled on every single page, which encourages them to continue reading and to seek out more poetry.
Is there anything I've not covered but you'd like to add?
It was the biggest honor of my life to be selected as the Children's Poet Laureate. I had no inkling that this would ever happen, and I was pretty astonished when I got the call from the Poetry Foundation. There is a long list of incredible writers I would have put ahead of myself on the list of candidates, so I'm not just pleased, but genuinely humbled by the recognition. I can't wait to see who they select as my successor this June.