Poetry Friday: Remembering Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins, 1938 – 2019

Whenever someone passes away, people always say they are shocked and saddened to hear the news. In the case of the passing of children’s poet/anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, “shocked” and “saddened” are only the beginning for me. I would not be where I am, were it not for Lee’s kindness, encouragement, and guidance.

Lee was not just a writer or poetry anthologist (although he did end up in the Guinness Book for the number of children’s poetry anthologies he created); he was a friend, a mentor, and a supporter. When I attended my first SCBWI conference back in 2010, SCBWI founder Lin Oliver told me I should get in touch with Lee, since she knew I wrote poetry.

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One thing led to another, and we eventually connected online. He loved my writing and offered to assist me in my quest to develop a career in children’s literature, specifically, poetry. He published my first paid children’s poem, “First Tooth,” from Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams, 2015), and requested poems for five other anthologies, three of which have not even been released yet. Sad, that he won’t get to see the fruits of his labors – or the praise his next anthology is already receiving.

He also introduced me to my Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017) editor, Rebecca Davis, who initially passed on two poetry manuscripts I sent but immediately snatched up Flashlight.  As soon as my author copies arrived, I signed one to Lee and mailed it to him; he was touched and said he was proud to own a copy, which made my month!

But the really special, wonderful thing about Lee was…my story isn’t really all that unusual! Over the decades, he helped dozens and dozens of folks in much the same way. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charles Waters, and a host of others – authors and editors alike – can all share similar stories about Lee’s grace, encouragement, and his desire for perfection in one’s writing.

2017 Florida Artists Hall of Fame, L-R: Don Felder, Billy Dean, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Jim Stafford

I’ll always remember a poem I was trying to write for an upcoming poetry anthology that had a math focus. Lee asked me to write a poem about fractions, which I did…but he didn’t like it. So I rewrote it and he still disliked it. I tried a third, same reaction. So I wrote a fourth poem, and this time he didn’t dislike it – he hated it! (sigh…)

Finally, after several weeks, I sent him a fifth poem – very different from the others – and he loved it. I ended up speaking to him on the phone a few months later about the project and joked that the next time he decides to create a math-based anthology, I’ll have to write a poem about the poetry anthologist who only liked one-fifth of my poems! He howled, and got a kick out of that.

I’ll always be grateful to Lee for his constant support and guidance. I was fortunate to publish one of his last interviews here at my blog just a month and a half ago, in celebration of the release of his new anthology, I Am Someone Else (Charlesbridge, 2019).

I do regret that he will not see the anthology I was working on myself, which he was helping me with, and which we had just discussed a couple of months prior to his death. It’s my sincere hope that this anthology will eventually see the light of day, because he loved the concept and subject matter. Fingers crossed I can do Lee justice.

Since it IS Poetry Friday, a number of Lee’s friends and fellow writers wanted to remember him in the most appropriate way we could:  by writing poems inspired by Lee or including a line from one of his poems.

In my case, I spent some time looking through several of his anthologies and came across one line in particular from his poem “Titanic,” from his Travelling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea (Seagrass Press, 2018) anthology. The phrase, “You will forever remember me” kept speaking to me, as if it was Lee writing about himself rather than the fated ocean liner.

So with that line as a starting point, I crafted a short reverso poem (a poetic form our mutual friend, poet Marilyn Singer, has perfected) in Lee’s voice:

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We will, indeed, forever remember you, my friend.

For those who don’t know, Lee’s friends always referred to him as “the Dear One,” because that was how he would address us in correspondence…and anyone who knew him knew he was, without question, a dear one. We’ll always miss you, Lee.

If you’d like to see what others in the kidlitosphere are doing to remember Lee, please head over to The Poem Farm, where Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup. And if you’d care to learn more about the man and the legacy he leaves behind, I encourage you to read this beautiful obituary from Publisher’s Weekly.

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


  

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?)

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Thank you to everyone for your support!

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40 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Remembering Lee Bennett Hopkins

  1. Indeed. We will forever remember him. I love the way a reverso allows us to read the same words twice, but somehow so differently the second time around. What a generous, generous soul. And how very lucky we all have been. Happy Poetry Friday, Matt. xx

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    1. He was one-of-a-kind, absolutely. And the news of his passing struck me in a very unusual way – I’ll have to share it with you sometime either in an email or Messenger.

      I hadn’t planned on this form, but that line kept coming back to me, and I felt it needed to be at the beginning and end…and he is definitely unforgettable.

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  2. Lee Wardlaw

    What a Dear One he was. When I won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU, he called me to wish me his warmest congratulations – – and we joked about having absolute BEST first names. He was kind, caring, forthright, talented, and very, very dear. I’ll never forget him.

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  3. haitiruth

    It’s so wonderful to read people’s stories about how Lee encouraged and mentored them. I know you’ll pass that on to younger writers, too.
    Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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      1. Vicki Wilke

        Your beautiful poem brought tears to me, Matt. Your connection with Lee was such a blessing professionally and personally. Though I never met him in person, he was a hero to me and all in the children’s poetry world. I corresponded with him a few times, and I will always cherish his kind responses to me. Thank you for these tender words about him.

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      2. Thank you very much, Vicki. The story surrounding our initial email correspondence is actually rather humorous, but I’ll share that some other time. For now, I’m just grateful for his guidance and friendship.

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  4. lindabaie

    Traveling The Blue Road is such a favorite anthology of Lee’s to me, Matt, and that you used this line perfectly for Lee is very special. Sometimes I see reverso’s second verse as a ‘shout’, like ‘listen to me, this is important’. Yours seems like that today. I’m glad you shared your story, too, a special one that showed Lee’s generosity never stopped all the years! Thank you!

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  5. Kathy Halsey

    What a touching poem for Lee, Matt. I can’t imagine shelving library books in the 800s (Dewey Decimal system) w/out a whole shelf of Lee’s work there to give to my kiddos. I only knew him though the page and FB. Now, I know him through you and other writes he touched. We remember. His work goes on through those he mentored. BTW, I picked up I AM SOMEONE ELSE at the public libra yesterday. Your poem brought tears. TY.

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  6. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    A masterful reverso, Matt. I also enjoyed hearing the story about your math poem and the anthologist who only liked one fifth of your poems—I can hear his laugh in my mind so clearly!

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  7. Linda KulpTrout

    I love your reverso, Matt. I know Lee would too. It is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful human being. I have faith that your anthology WILL see the light of day!

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  8. Janet F.

    So we are enroute to our beloved Maine spot. I wrote this morning after I read this beautiful and important blog entry and your poem. I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat and wanted to just tell you right then. How moving your story and your poem and how grateful to hear about your close connection to Lee and all he did for you. He was masterful, devoted. Devoted to kids and poetry, poets, the idea of making a difference in this world in every way one could…..I find the loss pretty tough because I felt our relationship was in the budding stage. I was getting less shy and just so proud to have a poem in his latest anthology. There is a story about the one before that, “World Make Way”. He offered me the painting that became the cover, the one of the cat looking at the spider/beetle. But then the publisher nixed me. Said I was not “famous” enough to fit their “vision.” I know Lee tried. After a couple of weeks of working on my poem, he told me that he would offer me something else once he returned from his cruise and he did, mermaid. Julie Fogliano wrote the brilliant poem for the cat painting. When I saw the book, I KNEW instantly how she had nailed it and also that I had a story to tell students. About how I was not ready when opportunity knocked. I would have loved being in that volume, but now I am more than thrilled with “I AM SOMEONE ELSE” because kids love the book and I can more easily promote it to elementary students. Things work for a reason, they say. A funny aside: at first I thought he had made a mistake and sent the invitation for Janet W. to me. I asked Amy LV what she thought and she said, no, he didn’t make those mistakes. I was thrilled, humbled, nervous, eager and ready to write (eventually) mermaid. Lee liked a lot of the poem from the beginning. Sure I had to edit some of it, but it was a pleasure. He told me he would ask me again because he liked working with me. I hold on to that, but more, I hold onto the fact that he knew what a poetry advocate I am and he was thrilled with the way I brought poetry and books into classrooms. That means so much to me. He was a gem, a rare person in the world today. I am committed to carrying on working on my writing, working on sharing more in classrooms, working on adding more of my voice to the many incredible poets out there today. Your poem is perfect, Matt. He would love it.

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Janet – and yes, I know how supportive he was to you, so I’m glad you finally made it into one of his books! I will tell you that, although it was rare, he did occasionally make a mistake…like when I got an email from him while at the Highlights poetry workshop last fall, asking if the poem was close to completion, and whether I needed more time. My reaction was, “Ummm…huh??” So I emailed him immediately and asked if he meant the message for someone else because I had no idea what he was talking about! He apologized and said he’d thought he’d emailed me a MONTH AGO about this new math-themed poetry anthology – but he hadn’t! Hence, my quest to write a math poem began, and as I mentioned in my my post, it took 5 tries before I got it right!

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  9. Linda Mitchell

    Bravo! What a rich, sad, wonderful remembrance. You are a fortunate person and poet to have had this experience and know Lee. Thank you for sharing your memories and your beautiful reverso. I love that you didn’t plan it…but it kept coming to you.

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  10. Your line, Seek out love and humanity, seems to epitomize Lee and this whole community he nurtured. I likened Lee to a ‘mother tree’ in my poem for him today. As you work on your anthology, I can’t help but imagine you as emerging into a new kind of ‘mother tree” yourself.

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  11. maryleehahn

    This is all kinds of perfection! I missed the chance to tell my story of how Lee launched my poetry career, but he left behind so many other stars in the constellation, that I feel confident that I will be a second generation LBH success story!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Kay Mcgriff

    Your reverso is a beautiful tribute to such a generous poet and teacher. I enjoyed hearing your stories (and others as well) of Lee. I wish I could have known him personally, but am grateful for the impact he’s had on so many and the words he leaves behind.

    Like

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