Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 25, 2016

Poetry Panels at NCTE

My day at the NCTE convention, bracketed by an evening and early morning hours, was bright with hopeful words and some happy hugs. On Saturday morning, I entered a room overflowing with people who wanted to hear ideas from some wise poets and teachers about Writing to Change the World. Irene Latham spoke about writing from the heart, which for her sometimes means, like the quilt-makers she admires, starting with images instead of words. I was deeply touched by her conversation about the courage we need to make mistakes bound to happen as we foster connections across divides. Sometimes fumbling is better than silence, she reminded us.


Amy Ludwig Van Derwater, who loves handing out poems, said, “When we write poems or read poems we connect and change,” and gently guided us through the process. Laura Shovan spoke about the need to trust oneself and others, and generously shared ways to make that happen by deepening conversations and writing. Tara Smith spoke of the value of poetry for becoming citizens of the world. She gave beautiful examples of the ways her students “unpack poems and lyrics” and “pull big ideas from small texts.” Margaret Simon spoke of her students as generally having been protected, and said that poetry, which can speak on different levels, can show some dangers, so they’ll have choices about how to act when their world becomes bigger and less safe.

All put an emphasis on hope, with Irene speaking about the deep history of racial clashing in her home of Alabama, but how that state also has a history of overcoming violence and misunderstanding, too. Margarita Engle said, “When two cultures meet they clash or they get married.” She mentioned that a deep bond might not be possible, but that we must at least try to seek ways to get along. “For every tyrant, we can find a nonviolent freedom leader.”


In another panel organized by Sylvia Vardell, Margarita Engle, Janet Wong, Patricia Hruby Powell, and I talked about verse novels and performing poetry. Since I’m more of a face-to-page person than performer, I thanked Sylvia for pushing me out of my comfort zone. It’s a small zone. Then I quoted Octavio Paz: “The poem is an original and unique creation, but it is also reading and recitation, participation. The poet creates it; the people, by recitation, re-create it.” Patricia Hruby Powell gave some background about the real people behind her verse novel, Loving Vs. Virginia. Margarita Engle also offered a look behind the people of her newest book, Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words. Sylvia Vardell arranged our works to be read in different voices by volunteers, and she and Janet Wong introduced us to the diverse group of young people in You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book. Sylvia and Janet make us laugh, think, and be glad we’re part of the warm world of poets for young people they do so much to nourish.


For a panel on the Magic and Wonders of Poetry, Leslie Bullion spoke about poetry and (juicy) science, with slides showing some fascinating creatures in gorgeous habitats. I spoke about ways that poetry and biography work happily together, boiling down research that takes a few years to a six minute summary. Nikki Grimes described the “Golden Shovel” method she used for the poems in her forthcoming One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. Like Nikki, Marilyn Singer recited poems with verve, and explained the genesis of the reverso technique she used in Mirror Mirror and Echo Echo, but I’m still in awe of those poems that gives different stories depending on where the reader begins.  r

Every writer and teacher inspired me in some way, during talks or in corridors or at tables. It was great to meet people from Simon and Schuster, who were so kind to support me to attend and so lovely in person. And let’s not forget the strangers, or, should we call them the people I’d not yet met. A few said some words to me that felt so generous and sustaining, and that I mean to hold close when times get tough.

Poetry reminds us that we may never know who our spoken or written words touch, but that every one matters. Poetry means connecting, and I’m grateful for the chance to do that in some interviews about researching and writing Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. Sylvia Vardell asked great questions and offers suggestions for ways to use the book in classes in the current Book Links.



In Finding Wonder in the Process, Doraine Bennett interviewed me about writing and research.

And Jules Danielson, lover of poetry and picture books (and other good things) asked more questions about how I select subjects and use metaphors for Kirkus Reviews.

Wishing you all a weekend with pie, books, dogs, family, memories, and all kinds of joy. For more Poetry Friday, please visit Carol’s Corner.



  1. Look at all that talent in those photos! Thanks for the lovely recap. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jama. If only all the world was even a little more like the people in those rooms … and you.

  2. I was so thrilled to see you at NCTE! Wish I could have come to a session where you spoke!

    • Likewise! It was fun to see you smiling and soaking so much in. Most days I’m content to be one person in one place, but at NCTE, I wished I could have been in about 5 places at a time!

  3. What a treasure-trove of knowledge and inspiration in these photos! Thank you for sharing your NCTE experience!

    • Thanks, Catherine. I now understand why people are so enthusiastic about this gathering!

  4. A feast! How wonderful for you, Jeannine, and for those who interacted with you on panels and in audiences.

    • Yes, very Thanksgiving-y. Lovely to meet dedicated educators and bask in a bit of southern warmth in the hotel.

  5. Seeing you i person was the highlight of the convention for me, Jeannine – now, to make time to spend more time together.

    • Yes, yes, yes — let me know when you have a bit of free time. I would love to spend some time!

  6. I just finished Irene’s words, and now reading yours greedily, loving all that happened in your day. Wow! I think this was one NCTE to celebrate with all that light shining on poetry. Thank you, Jeannine.

    • Irene’s talk was so brave and rich. And yes, hearing poems, being introduced to new poetry books and ways to use them made us feel we were walking on clouds (if you’ll pardon the cliche!)

  7. Jeannine, It was a gift to see you at the conference. Your panel was a treasure, and I wrote down so many of your wise and beautiful words. Feeling thankful for our community today. xxoo

    • So lovely to hear you talk, then to see you with your warm almonds and gifts, writing away. I am so thankful, too.

  8. Had to laugh when I read your description of your comfort zone. Sounds like you had a wonderful time outside it 🙂

    • I’m so glad you laughed. I mentioned that at my talk and heard Janet Wong laugh and felt like my day was made — she so often makes me smile or laugh. Yes, I had fun, and now am tucked back typing across from a friend in a coffee shop (Bread Euphoria!) who I just spent a few minutes trying to push her out of another kind of comfort zone to get her book out into the world. We need our blankets, and sometimes friends to tear them off.

  9. I wish I could have been there to hear you. You’ve given me such a wonderful picture of the proceedings, however, that I almost feel as if I were. Thank you dear Jeannine.

    • Thanks, Pat. I’m always inspired by your outlook on poetry. Hope your novel is coming close to an end.

  10. […] Jeannine Atkinson summarized the learning at several poetry panels. […]

  11. Lovely post, Jeannine. I can see why people are over the moon about this conference. You book looks fabulous!

  12. I am so glad we were able to meet face to face. Thanks for all your great comments here. I was spread out so thin I couldn’t make it to all the sessions that I wanted to. A wonderful group of friends and favorite poets!

    • Yes, I was so happy to meet you! I don’t imagine anyone can go to all the sessions they’d like to, but it was still such a feast!

  13. Dear Jeannine, thank you for this post, which I want to live in — poetry and hope and laughter and getting outside our comfort zones — this is the world we can create together. I heard several folks buzzing about your books and wisdom… I was like, YES, that’s Jeannine. So happy to know you! xo

    • Thanks for the kind words, my erring-on-the-side-of-love friend. I’m so happy to know you, too!

  14. What a wonderful experience. Thanks so much for sharing details of the day with us, love the idea of combining poetry and hope. Congratulations on the BookLinks interview, too. I’ll be checking it out!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! Much appreciated!

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