Academic journal article Language Arts

Quiet Echoes from the Heart: Joyce Sidman and Her Poetry

Academic journal article Language Arts

Quiet Echoes from the Heart: Joyce Sidman and Her Poetry

Article excerpt

This feature article highlights the poetry of Joyce Sidman, recipient of the 2013 NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award.

Joyce Sidman's poetry (Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, 2010) envisions the maj- esty of often-overlooked creatures such as an owl, whose sweeping lordly pres- ence forces the other inhabitants of the woods to bow down in fear and awe. Other poetic lines (Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, 2005) share the tender surprises she discovers as a frozen pond thaws and life burgeons forth. In still other musings about nature (Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, 2006), she urges readers to pay attention to the life hidden in a meadow. Then, showing her versatility and a keen sense of humor and knowledge of human nature (This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, 2007), she sends forth notes of apology, some quickly accepted, oth- ers not. In her latest book (What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings, 2013) she offers word talismans to guard against life's challenges, such as approaching darkness or the loss of a friend.

Few would argue about the uniqueness of the poetry written by Joyce Sidman, the seventeenth poet to be honored with the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award since 1977. She expertly pens lines that evoke a sense of place and the natural world. Even the titles of her poetry collections often summon sensory impressions for readers and listen- ers: Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads (Mill- brook Press, 2000); Eureka! Poems about Inventors (Millbrook Press, 2002); The World according to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin, 2003); Meow Ruff: A Story in Con- crete Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009); Ubiquitous: Cele- brating Nature's Survivors (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010); and Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

Sidman, who now lives in Way- zata, Minnesota, is convinced that the places we are born and where we grow up "add a layer of resonance to our lives and our writing." Since most of her own initial experiences of joy, sorrow, fear, mystery, and friendship occurred in places where she spent her formative years, such as her native Connecticut, and Maine and Pennsyl- vania where she spent summer vacations, "those landscapes hover in the back" of Sidman's mind and heart. They provide this poet with "image and metaphor-mysterious pine trees, waves against a rocky shore, meadows full of blueberry bushes and tumbledown stone walls," she explains. "Our child- hood experience of the world is a deep well that we keep turning to again and again in writing."

Although Sidman acknowledges the inspira- tion she draws from nature-"the natural world, animals, color, the senses, dogs . . . all these things inspire me"-she has become certain that there is more to this poetic inspiration than what is found on its surface. "I think underneath it is a quest to discover joy and beauty-even if it means wading through darkness and fear-and then write about it as exactly as I can," she claims.

Her ideas for poems have many different ori- gins and necessitate being observant. "Poets have to be watchers, seeing the tiny details of their surroundings so they can build poems with them," she says. "So I look everywhere: examining this, considering that." She is mindful of illustrator Ed Young's assertion that although "ideas float around in the air, you can only 'catch' them if you are look- ing." Often, Sidman's writing ideas "marinate" for various amounts of time, she says, "until another idea collides with it, or until a phrase drops into my head-and I finally imagine a way forward into writing." Then, once she has that spark of an idea, Sidman says she can "sit down and do the other work of writing: the pounding out, the endless revi- sion, making sure every word, every line break, and every punctuation mark is just perfect. …

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