Poetry Friday: Remembering Tomie dePaola AND the 2020 Progressive Poem arrives

It’s been a happy week, a sad, somber week, and a bittersweet week.

Last Thursday, March 30, the inimitable Tomie dePaola passed away, following complications from surgery he underwent after taking a bad fall at his home in New London, NH. All who new him are still in shock at this sudden loss.

There will never be anyone quite like Tomie dePaola.

Although we lived just 20 minutes away from each other, we had never met until about 10 years ago at my first New England SCBWI Spring Conference. (Tomie is the reason the original SCBW, as it was called, changed its name to include illustrators) I had a chance to chat with him and the SCBWI’s Lin Oliver during lunch and it was during that conversation that Lee Bennett Hopkins’ name first came up; I eventually connected with Lee and my career as a children’s writer officially began to gain some momentum!

After lunch, I told Tomie about my occasional trepidation about writing, how I will sometimes write something I think is really good, and worry that that might be the best thing I’ll ever write! I wonder if I’ll ever be able to top it…if anything I ever write again will b as good as this particular piece. So I asked him if he ever felt that way, and if so, what advice he’d offer. His suggestion?

“The first thing I’d do is go have a drink!” he chuckled.

But he added, on a serious note, that we all have doubts about our abilities and question what we do sometimes, and the best thing to do is just keep moving forward, doing what you love and doing it to the best of your ability. And that’s what I do.

My wife and I will both miss him. He was always giving of his time and knowledge, helping to build his fellow humans up. Tomie loved cats and dogs, too, and although he didn’t have any at the time of his death, he enjoyed hearing some of my wife’s stories about our own menagerie of 5 dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several other critters.

This week is also bittersweet. My friend Lee Bennett Hopkins, whom Lin and Tomie suggested I reach out to way back at that first conference, passed away last August and never had a chance to hold his latest book in his hands. I’m very proud to have known Lee and to be a contributor to Construction People (Wordsong, 2020), one of his final poetry anthologies.

He had been able to see the F&Gs (folded and gathered copies), so he could see what the final product would look like, but it’s still not the same as holding the actual book in yours hands. Lee – whose birthday fittingly falls smack-dab in the middle of National Poetry Month, April 13 – has three more posthumous anthologies on the way, two of which I am also a contributor to, so I’m grateful for that. (One of them, Night Wishes (Eerdmans, 2020), is due out this September)

And it’s an exciting week, as well! In-between helping my two kids with their ‘remote-learning’ – which admittedly takes up the majority of my time these days – I’m in the process of working on a new poetry collection with a friend of mine who is one of the most respected folks in the industry, and we’re about halfway to completion. Meanwhile, Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2020), another collaboration with another highly-regarded fellow, Charles Ghigna, is just about ready to go to print! Charles and I had the opportunity to view the art-final ARC (Advance Review Copy) and it’s BEAUTIFUL! We can’t wait for everyone to see it when it comes out August 18. (And it’s available for pre-order at the link below!)

The 2020 Progressive Poem arrives here today!

The annual Progressive Poem is something that poet/author/blogger Irene Latham began several years ago as a way for the Poetry Friday family and other kidlit bloggers to join together and create a crowd-sourced poem for National Poetry Month. One person would write one line, and then it would travel from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a line, until we had a completed poem on April 30. Irene has been super-busy lately, so this year she handed off the organizational duties to Margaret Simon, who has pulled everyone together once again.

This year, Donna Smith started things off with a twist: she offered two lines for the following blogger to choose from; that happened to be Irene, who offered up two other lines from which the third blogger, Jone MacCulloch, could choose. So far, here’s what the poem looks like, with my two potential new lines added in bold:

Sweet violets shimmy, daffodils sway
along the wiregrass path to the lake.
I carry a rucksack of tasty cakes
and a banjo passed down from my gram.

I follow the tracks of deer and raccoon
and echo the call of a wandering loon.
A whispering breeze joins in our song.
and night melts into a rose gold dawn.

Deep into nature’s embrace, I fold.

Splinters of sunbeams pierce young sky
Promise of spring helps shake the cold

These took me quite awhile to nail down, I’ll admit; with the rhythm and assonance of the line endings, I kept feeling like the poem needed to rhyme, but with no discernible rhyme scheme I figured I’d just let it grow the way it felt best. So now I’ll let my friend Janet Fagal decide which of these she wants to seize upon! Have fun, Janet!

Like to follow along? Here’s where you can find all the contributors to this year’s Progressive Poem:
1 Donna Smith at Mainely Write
2 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem
3 Jone MacCulloch, at deo writer
4 Liz Steinglass at Elizabeth Steinglass
6 Kay McGriff at A Journey Through The Pages
7 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
8 Tara Smith at Going to Walden
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme
11 Janet Fagel hosted at Reflections on the Teche
12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
13 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
14 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
15 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
16 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
17 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
18 Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
20 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
21 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
22 Julieanne Harmatz at To Read, To Write, To Be
24 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering
25 Amy at The Poem Farm
26 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work That Matters
27 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
28 Jessica Big at TBD
29 Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces
30 Michelle Kogan at Michelle Kogan

It’s Poetry Friday, which means there’s plenty more links and poetic fun over at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s The Poem Farm – she’s handling the hostess duties today, so please visit and say hello!


If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll check out my “Wit & Wordplay” videos on my YouTube channel! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) and focus on how to write poetry, how to appreciate it, and offer tips on having fun with it. More are on the way, too, so be sure to subscribe or check back often! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website. If you think any of this information might be useful for someone you know, I hope you’ll share.

What is Talkabook? Details coming soon!


Pre-orders are available now!

In stores Aug. 18, 2020!

I’ve teamed up with several other children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year! And there are a LOT of them, too – including SEVEN in March!


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, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and SoundCloud!

41 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Remembering Tomie dePaola AND the 2020 Progressive Poem arrives

  1. Kay Mcgriff

    What a lovely tribute you give to Tomie–he will certainly be missed. Both of your possible lines for the progressive poem just sparkle! It’s exciting to see how the poem grows each day.


  2. Janet F.

    Oh, what a way to start my poetry Friday. I love the two lines you’ve offered and I am already at work with mine. I also am moved by your reflections on Tomie DePaola and Lee. I am also friends with Charles and am beyond delighted and excited to see your new book. I will definitely pre-order. Did he get to visit with your wife, too? How wonderful. I love your area as you know. IF we get up that way in the summer (Royalston, Mass.) maybe we can meet and you can actually sign my books in person. Flashlight Night will always be a favorite and a gift to young kids. It is so perfect for them. I am busy with too many things in my quarantine life so I think that is a sign that the creative life is definitely a way to live. Always busy. Hugs to you and yours, Matt. Stay well and keep on writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Janet! I am truly amazed at how far I’ve come – in both my career and my connections – in the past 10 years. You, Tomie, Lee, Charles, Nikki, Jane, David, and so many others…such a wonderful group of friends to have!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Great Meadows #ThoreaulyInspired #NPM #NaPoWriMo #NationalPoetryMonth #ProgressivePoem #PoetryFriday – Wondering and Wandering

  4. lindabaie

    So much to love and celebrate, then much to love and sorrow over, Matt. I love hearing about your times with Tomie & the support he gave you, then of course Lee and those books that are going to keep us celebrating him, and for his birthday, too! I am looking forward to yours and Charles’ book, know it will be a delight. AND – I love your ‘splintering sunbeams” but the “shaking of the cold” feels very good, too. We have warm weather now, but snow is coming on Easter! Bunnies will shiver! Enjoy the time with your family. I also love those pics of you all outdoors!


  5. David McMullin

    I only had one brief encounter with Tomie, but it was warm and encouraging. A very kind man. The progressive poem is fun and I look forward to seeing where it ends.


  6. Matt, your life is certainly busy with being a Teacher Dad, writer, poet, and blogger. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments and advice from Tomie. He was a beloved author whom we all admired and read his poems to children. I was so impressed seeing him at a presentation as I always was seeing Lee. We have had many amazing models to mentor us in our lives. As for the Progressive Poem, I love the way you continued the journey. Thanks for choosing my favorite line. I also had trouble trying to fit the pattern that was established and spent quite a bit of time thinking of lines that would move our child closer to the lake and deeper into the adventure. I think I know which line I would choose next but it is is a toss-up since both resonate with me. Stay safe!


  7. Linda Mitchell

    It is sad, to think of our world without Tomie DePola. He’s been a presence for all of us for our lives. You are fortunate to have known him in person and to have gotten advice from him. That is a treasure. Many congrats on your newest book! I wish you and it much success. I’ll be watching Janet carefully as I’m “up” after her.


  8. Lovely tribute to Tomie — though I never had a personal conversation with him, I did see him at a bookstore signing way back in the 80’s. The line was VERY long. He has such a distinctive art style and that twinkle in his eye . . .

    Looking forward to seeing Construction People, Night Wishes, and your book with Charles. You ARE a busy bee!


  9. Pingback: News From the Natural World: Clusters of Clover – Reading to the Core

  10. Thank you for sharing your memories of Tomie DePaola. I never met him, but my children loved Strega Nona, and I’ve been sharing Tomie’s books with my students for years. I’m looking forward to Lee’s last collections of poetry. Hooray to you for having a poem in so many of them. I love the line you chose and the two options you’ve given Janet. Can’t wait to see which one she picks!


    1. Thank you so much, Catherine. My wife has always held “Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs” close to her heart because it reflected her life as a young child, so she was thrilled when she eventually met Tomie and was able to get to know him better.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. We, too, are having a combination of snow and winter this week. I don’t think the earth know which it wishes to be right no. So much bitter, sweet, and bittersweet reflected in your post today, just as in the world. I wish you and your family peace and health. xx


  12. laurashovan222

    Thank you for this tribute to Tomie, Matt, whom I only knew through his books. They were favorites, as they are for so many families. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments.

    I love the nature walk theme of the progressive poem this year!


  13. Hugs from afar at such a bittersweet time. Your tribute to Tomie, your thoughts about Lee, and your good stuff happening too. I love watching the progressive poem, too. I can’t decide which of your lines I would choose!


  14. I enjoyed hearing about your connection with Tomie, and your tribute to him–he will be missed. So many poems coming out in various books, and how memorable to have poems in Lee’s books too, congrats on all Matt! …Wonder which way our Progressive poem will move, through “sunbeams” or moving along the “cold…”


  15. I too met Tomie at SCBWI NYC many years ago–my memory is of me bowing down to a towering deity, although I’m sure it was actually a friendly handshaking of mortal equals, because Tomie, as you capture so rightly, was a regular human saint. : ) Thank you for this remembrance. I like your piercing splinters–I always want a poem to have plenty of muscle to go along with its lyrical sweetness!


  16. A bittersweet week indeed. The loss of Tomie and Lee is quite a blow to children’s lit and the world as a whole. I’m glad you had the good fortune to know them both. I like the intriguing lines you contributed to the progressive poem – it will be interesting as it continues.


  17. Thank you for the heartfelt tribute, Matt – such a loss of a larger-than-life (but down-to-earth) soul and talent. Still hard to believe.
    I also wanted to thank you for the heads’ up re. the NEA Read Across America book for April! I hadn’t seen that. So I rolled that wonderful info right into my own video for Friday with my poem from the collection. [Glad to discover your new YouTube channel; I just subscribed. I’m adding a mini poem movie each weekday in April to my new channel, too. And Heidi is uploading poem movies this month, as well!]
    Wishing you and yours continued health and safety. And now I’m off to see if we have sunbeam splinters, or Spring promises…


  18. Playing catch-up this morning and pulling for the promise of spring!
    Love your reflection on Tomie dePaola. I met him at a reading in Houston almost three decades ago. So happy to have that dear memory of being with an author whose presence lived up to and surpassed all my expectations.
    I need to order Construction People for the grand boys. What could be better than a book that mixes construction and poetry?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.