Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy birthday, poet Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee (born on August 31 in Toronto) is widely regarded as Canada’s best-loved children’s poet and his work has garnered many awards including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians Best Book Medals, Hans Christian Andersen Honour List citation, Canadian Library Association Award, and Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children nomination.

During his career, Lee has worked as a lecturer in English, as an editorial consultant, poetry editor, as the co-founder and editor of the House of Anansi Press in Toronto, and as a lyricist for the TV series “Fraggle Rock.” He also contributed to the scripts for the films, “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” Dennis Lee holds an honorary doctorate from Trent University and his manuscripts and papers are in a permanent collection at the Fisher Rare Book Room at the University of Toronto.

The writing of Canadian poet Dennis Lee is often compared to that of Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky because of his use of zany humor, strong rhythm, and child-friendly topics. Although he may not be as familiar to audiences in the United States, his work still holds wide appeal. In addition, he incorporates many uniquely Canadian references in his verses, easily understandable in context, but offering an added layer of richness to the poems—much like the use of Spanish words in the poems of Gary Soto or Pat Mora.

For an example of Lee’s work, look for The Ice Cream Store (HarperCollins, 1999), full of inventive, energetic and off-the-wall humor. From the title poem on, he celebrates the diversity of children comparing them to ice cream flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and maple. His rhythmical poems invite children to read or sing along. Take his poem, "A Home Like a Hiccup," for example, that asks children to speculate about what they would be like if they had been born in a different place, and then provides a litany of place names that are fun to pronounce, “Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!” In the end, however, there’s no place like home, and children can provide the name of their individual hometowns when the last line is read aloud, “So the name of MY place is _____________.” Invite the children to locate the poem places on a map or mark the places that they were born or have lived.

A Home Like a Hiccup
by Dennis Lee

If I'd been born in a different place,
With a different body, a different face,
And different parents and kids to chase--
I might have a home like a hiccup:

Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!
Like Orsk or Kansk! like Kirsk or Murmansk!
Or Lutsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Zadonsk,
Or even Pskov or Moskva!

But then again, on a different day
I might have been born a world away,
With brand new friends and games to play--
And a home like a waterfall whisper:

Like Asti, Firenze, Ferrara, Ravenna,
Like Timini, Pisa, Carrara, Siena,
Like Napoli, Como, San Marco, San Pietro,
Or Torre Maggiore, or Roma.

Now, those are places of great renown.
But after I'd studied them up and down,
I'd choose to be born in my own home town--
So the name of MY place is _____________ .

For more info about Dennis Lee, look for Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

Picture credit:


John Mutford said...

He's a national treasure for sure. By the way, he also writes adult poems which are quite good.

david elzey said...

Somewhere, a long time ago, someone recommended Dennis Lee to me and I lost track. Thanks for the brain tickler, I'm on the hunt for some more!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by. Glad to see Dennis Lee getting this attention-- for ANY and all of his poetry!

Treasures By Brenda said...

Interesting information. I didn't know that Dennis Lee had been involved in those other projects. I do know that his work continues to be very popular.

Do you happen to know if Dennis Lee wrote a poem called When I Was Four and, if so, which book it was in?

In case anyone is searching for a one, I have Dennis Lee's Jelly Belly and The Ice Cream Store books listed for sale in my eBay store, Treasures By Brenda.