Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Poetry Makers - Anna Grossnickle Hines

Teaching about shapes, patterns and symmetry is one of my favorite topics in geometry. It's a time when I teach kids and teachers about quilts and we actually construct them, from both paper and cloth. It was my love for geometry, quilts and poetry that led me to Anna Grossnickle Hines.

When I found the book Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts, I was drawn immediately by the cover--an actual quilt. (Click on the book cover for a better view.) In fact, all of the illustrations are quilts, each one made by Anna. The flap copy about Anna reads:
Anna did not do any serious quilting until she decided to use quilts to illustrate the poems in this book. Inspired by her mother, who has been making prizewinning quilts since her retirement, Anna made her first quilt for the book in 1996. Working between other projects she pieced four more over the next two years, and from April through November 1999 made the fourteen remaining quilts.
I was in awe! Before even reading the poems I read "The Story Behind the Quilts", a two page illustrated description of the process. I was surprised to learn that each of the finished quilts was only 12 x 18 inches! Given the detail in the quilts, this must have been painstaking work.

Before we look at Anna's poetry and learn more about her quilts, let's learn a bit more about her.

How did you get started writing poetry? What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Anna: When my first baby was born I read aloud to her a lot because it seemed to sooth her. At first I read whatever I happened to be reading at the time, beginning with a book on Iroquois culture, as I recall. But soon I found that reading poetry was more fun. I read e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, and A. A. Milne. Then I got a big anthology, Helen Ferris’s Favorite Poems Old and New, and Marguerite de Angeli’s Big Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes. I loved reading poetry to Bethany and it continued to be a comfort to her, helping through teething and illnesses. When she was three, she had a high fever and I put her in the tub to sponge her off. “Read me a poem,” she said, so there I was, sponging her off with one hand and holding the poetry book in the other. I like the simplicity and directness of poetry written for children, and the fun of the language play. Once I was reading poetry, writing it just came naturally.

I’ve taken several poetry workshops now, which I find inspiring and enjoy for the time spent connecting with other writers.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Anna: Just doing it.

Who/what made you want to write?
Anna: For me it started with drawing. I loved making pictures and at the age of seven realized that somebody must have the job of making the pictures in my books. I wanted that job. As a young adult, working with children and sharing books with them, I realized that I wanted to write them as well. Most of my early writing was poetry, though the first works to be published were stories.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Anna: When I began writing I had only taken the required literature and composition classes required of all liberal arts majors, and one class in children’s literature. I learned to write by reading and by sharing books and poetry with children, noting what touched me and them.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Anna: It is mostly a matter of giving ideas room to grow in my head. That can happen while I’m doing other things that don’t take full concentration; gardening, housework, walking. Sometimes a short piece seems to pop in almost fully formed, but usually there is some playing around with the ideas until they find the right shape. In those times I don’t usually have the goal of writing a poem…the poems just find the opening and come in. Other times, like with many of the poems in Winter Lights, I know I want to write a poem about a particular subject. It might rattle around in my head a bit, but it doesn’t really happen until I sit down, usually at my computer, and begin brainstorming, playing with words, letting one idea lead to another, until the poem happens. Sometimes I get most of done in one sitting, other times I may have to come back again and again. With my upcoming book, I decided I wanted to try to write a poem every morning and chose to use peace as a theme. Some of those poems began with an idea or an image, but some days I would select a particular form to try. I got the forms from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. That was a fun challenge. Some of the poems don’t fit well in the collection for one reason or another, and some just aren’t good enough, but twenty-nine of them will be published as Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Anna: Maybe it’s one I haven’t done yet.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Anna: I’ve recently finished the last quilt for the book mentioned above, Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace, which will be published by Henry Holt & Company in early 2011.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Anna: A.A. Milne (at least at this moment, perhaps because I was just remembering reading his poem to my children.)

Your favorite place to write?
Anna: Anyplace that is quiet.

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Anna: “You can learn to love tinkering with the drafts of poems till a warm hand from somewhere above you reaches down, unscrews the top pf your head, and drops in a solution that blows your ears off.” --Ted Kooser

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Anna: Too many choices and I, unfortunately, don’t read enough of them.

Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts, isn't just a gorgeously illustrated book, but a beautifully written one. In fact, Pieces was awarded the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 2002. This annual award goes to the best book of children's poetry published in the United States in the preceding year. Here are two of my favorite poems from the book.
Good Heavens

Our lawn is astronomical
with dandelion blooms.
A green sky filled
with a thousand suns
and then
a thousand moons
that with a puff
of wind become
a hundred thousand stars.



The trees are wearing
scarlet gowns
and golden crowns
and bits of them
are falling down.
You can learn more about how Pieces was created at Anna's web site.

Anna followed Pieces with the book Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts. Here's what she says about the quilts in the book's endnotes.
The quilts for this book turned out to be much more complicated than I expected, particularly those done with the tiny twisted triangles. The finished quilts, including the borders, are 31 by 19 inches--about twice as big as this book--so the pieces are very small. It took almost two and a half years and eleven and a half miles of thread to complete all fifteen quilts. This time, even I think I'm crazy . . . but I'm not sorry. (Click on the book cover for a better view.)
Winter Lights celebrates a variety of winter holidays and traditions, including Yuletide, Santa Lucia, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. The quilts that illustrate the poems move from light to dark and back again, each one a perfect backdrop for its poem. Here are two of my favorite poems.
Star Catcher

an icicle grew,
catching the stars
above my window.
in the sunlight



Oh, no!
Not fair!
How can this be?
The sun tires out
so long before me.
You can learn more about how Winter Lights was created at Anna's web site. Teachers will also find a helpful Activity guide for use with Winter Lights, as well as a terrific set of general quilting resources and lesson ideas on Anna's Quilts in the Classroom page.

If this post has made you want to learn more Anna, do take some time to check out her web site. There are many wonderful resources and lots of interesting things to explore. It's also where you can see photos of her gorgeous quilts up close.

Many thanks to Anna for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Anna Grossnickle Hines. All rights reserved.


  1. I so adore the idea of a universe below our feet. Many, many lawns are have very own Milkweed Way.

    There's a particular alchemy in the poetry of bits and pieces, put together in a harmonious whole. Really like these.

  2. Tricia, thanks so much for featuring Anna Grossnickle Hines in your Poetry Makers Series 2010. I've read both Winter Lights and Pieces. The poems and the quilts were great. Looking forward to Peaceful Pieces in 2011.

  3. I just adore these poetry quilt books. Two of my great loves together!! Bravo Anna! Thanks for this post Trisha!

  4. Love her work! Can't wait to see PEACEFUL PIECES...