Poetry Friday: Goodbye, Paul Janeczko

PBJ at PDS (1).jpgThis past Wednesday, the world of children’s literature lost a wonderful poet, teacher, cheerleader, ambassador…friend.

Paul B. Janeczko, author and anthologist of nearly 40 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, passed away due to a terrible illness, and those of us who knew him are shocked and saddened. He wrote, he visited students in school, he traveled cross-country to educate educators on writing and teaching poetry – and shared his love of the poetic word with everyone with whom he came in contact.

A genuinely nice fellow, he also went out of his way to encourage newcomers like me to the field of children’s poetry. About 6 or 7 years ago, when I was first starting to learn my way around the business, Paul noticed a Facebook post I’d written about a poetry collection getting rejected. Out of the blue, he messaged me and asked if I’d share a few of my poems with him because he’d love to take a look at them.

Of course, I was thrilled that he wanted to see what I was writing, so I sent him 3 or 4 poems; a few days later he wrote back and told me how pleasantly surprised he was at what I had sent him! He said that often newcomers to children’s poetry feel they need to try to be the next Silverstein or Seuss, but that my writing was quite strong, unique, and I had a good sense about what I was doing. That email made my month!

And even though I regret never having the pleasure of being in a Paul Janeczko anthology, I’ll treasure our friendship, his “happy birthday” emails, and our mutual affinity for the Boston Red Sox. (Oh, and his insistence that I keep my beard. He was quite disappointed last April, when I shaved it off!)


There have been many folks sharing poems they’ve written for Paul, but I just wanted to share one of my favorite PBJ poems here. I love it not only because I have several daughters and the poem is very touching simply because of its subject matter, but because Paul had such a delicate, loving, way of describing this little girl:

How to Hug Your Three-Year-Old Daughter
(for Emma)

Be prepared
to be quick.

The hug may come
when you expect it least:
you’re carrying a cup of hot coffee
…..answering her call sleepy eyed
……….lifting bread from the oven.

The hug may come
around your knees…

(you can read the poem in its entirety here)


Disappointing that Paul never had a chance to hold his final ‘baby’ in his arms before he passed…but I’m sure there will be plenty of children (and us grown-ups!) who will treasure it for years.

Thank you, Paul, for all you’ve given us. As poet/performer/novelist Allan Wolf said in his tribute poem for Paul, “Now stands a legacy / where a poet used to be.”

You can read Publisher’s Weekly’s obituary detailing his life here.

For today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup, be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge. Oh, and if you did not get a chance to check out my interview this past Tue. with Fred Koehler and Rebecca Kai Dotlich about their new collaboration (and enter the free giveaway!) I hope you’ll do so HERE !


Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!

  Coming July 2, 2019!

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


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30 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Goodbye, Paul Janeczko

  1. Thanks for this tribute to Paul B. Janeczko Matt, such an incredible poet and Anthologist–and a great loss. Two of my favorite books of his are “The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects,” and “A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems.” How special that you had that interaction with him too.


    1. Janet F.

      Oh, Matt. Such a post. So happy to learn of your friendship with Paul and his accurate assessment of your skills, voice, ability, promise. I love the hug poem so much, relating to it as I organize on my way for my next hug later today. Thank you, Matt. Can I say I love watching you blossom?


    2. Thanks, Michelle. His book titles like ‘Poke’ and ‘Kick’ were good examples of his sense of humor. I’ll always feel a little disappointment about “Death of the Hat” and “Hedgehog,” though, as he had asked me to contribute to both of those – but chose none of the poems I submitted. I never asked why, and he never told me…it was his prerogative, so I just let it be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. PBJ was one of those poets who appreciates beauty and strong, vivid images. I love so many of his selections in his anthologies… and REQUIEM was quite powerful. Very much looking forward to HEDGEHOG and grateful to have poems included and to have known him. He was quite generous to me as well, and I want to pay forward his many kindnesses. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jheitman22

    A fine tribute, Matt. How wonderful that you got to know him! I love all of his work, but my favorite favorite is –well, I was going to name 1, but then I got to looking at all of Paul’s books, and kept changing my mind. Sorry he’s gone, thankful for his legacy.


  4. Thanks for the lovely tribute to Paul, and for sharing about your friendship with him. How generous of him to offer to read some of your poems. That kind of encouragement means the world to writers. Of course I love the hug poem — his loving heart shows, as well as his gentleness and sensitivity. He will be sorely missed.


  5. So nice that you had a friendship with Paul. I only knew him through his books, which are a delight. When I was trying to teach myself different poetic forms, I read and re-read and re-read A Kick in the Head. The Place My Words Are Looking For was another guide for me when I started exploring kids’ poetry. Although I didn’t have a personal relationship like lucky you, I still owe Paul a lot!


  6. Matt, I only discovered news about Paul’s passing this morning (Australian Time) when I saw your Twitter posting. Your warm and heartfelt tribute to Paul’s life and work are most appropriate. In my personal library I hold several of Paul’s titles. He taught me much about poetry and his poems are a gift that keep on giving. The world of poetry has lost a champion. Thank you for providing even more insights into the man and his life’s work.


  7. lindabaie

    I do love hearing your story of the kindness from Paul to you, Matt. That is one special memory. The poem you shared is from another favorite anthology of his, and of Naomi Nye’s. Though it is about a young child, my students also used it one time as a mentor for all kinds of hug poems. It’s a great one to show how much we are all sending out hugs for Paul Janeczko. Thank you!


  8. Linda Mitchell

    Matt, a lovely tribute. I so enjoy the virtual calling hours…sitting shiva with friends for a poet. The memories of poems are equal to the memories of music at various times of the past. Thank you for sharing this very special poem and your memories.


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