Friday, April 17, 2009

Poetry Makers - Arnold Adoff

Since 1969, Arnold Adoff has published more than 40 books. He has also won numerous awards, including the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. I pulled 10 books by Arnold Adoff off my shelf in preparation for this post, and found myself wondering how to choose which books and poems to highlight. I must start with the "introduction" to the first book of Arnold's I bought, a book entitled Chocolate Dreams.
Dear Reader:

We will be watching very lovingly to make sure that no on licks any of these pages, bites the binding, or chews the covers of this chocolate book.

Once you have finished some sweet pieces, get up and go to some room or store. Visit very full refrigerators. Get something c h o c o l a t e to stuff in your mouth. Then come back to this book and read some more. The best way to read this writing is by biting and chewing in unison (all together now) with these delicious words.

Please do not drip any chocolate juice from your mouth onto these pages. Please do not lick these pages, bite the binding, or chew the covers of this chocolate book. Just laugh and look and be hungry always for that chocolate love so sweet and pure.

Now taste these happy chocolate dreams.
Is there anyone who can resist an entire book of poems about chocolate?! I don't think so. In fact, I'm sure that's why I bought it! I reasoned this away as a good resource for science, since I taught students how chocolate was made in a lesson on chemical and physical changes. Here's one of the poems from the book.
Her She Bar


Before I talk more about Arnold's work, let's learn a bit more about him.

How did you get started writing poetry?
Arnold: I have been fueled by the dual energies of love and anger…poems could sing and say and spit in the faces of those with position and power: the short blade between the ribs could be deadly….

Who/what made you want to write?
Arnold: I received great encouragement from teachers and little from my parents: in the end I struggle with process and self and the seductive nature of seeming success….

What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Arnold: I realized early on that the only hope for real change was to infiltrate young heads and hearts….

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Arnold: I studied with Jose Garcia Villa the Philippine American poet and student of Edith Sitwell (at the New School in NYC) and was an early “groupie” in the jazz world of the 1950’s and became a friend and “manager” of Charles Mingus the genius bassist and composer….
Somewhere in the bowels of Columbia University faculty of political science basement is my unfinished PhD on Harry Hopkins and the beginning of the New Deal: 1932-33….

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Arnold: I agonize and overeat and always attempt to squeeze 5 beats into a four-beat measure….
I revise beyond reason and reason beyond revision: sometimes it is “process” which is the best result of the process….

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Arnold: If I can made a reader see something “ordinary” and “usual” in some new way…if I can make a new(ish) kind of music irritate the inner ear….if I can foster some thought: some synthesis…some balance of music and meaning: then I can take that reader beyond all preconceptions of prose and “free verse” and race and class and gender….

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Arnold: Slow Dance Heart Break Blues is a fine collection of pieces for young adults…the early anthologies carried the powerful tradition of African American poetry and prose into new generations…the out-of-print picture books are my dear dead babies gone too soon….

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Arnold: Fall of 2010 will see the publication of “roots and blues” a collection of “blues pieces” beginning with the drop of a single drop of a single drop of water from the pointed end of the leaf….(superb paintings by Greg Christie….) Clarion/Houghton….

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Arnold: Shakespeare.

Your favorite place to write?

Arnold: Kicking out the timbers and tangled webs…there is a clearing I can create where I can work for a while….

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Arnold: Dylan Thomas:…..”craft and s u l l e n art….”

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Arnold: Lucille Clifton....her pioneering significances

Now that I have you thinking food, here's a poem of Arnold's from the book Eats Poems.
The Apple

            is on the top
      of the tree
      or apple is
      the top branch
            of the tree

and i am
      me on the ground
In for Winter, Out for Spring is a book that celebrates family and the seasons. Here's one of my favorite poems.
Daddy    Is Tall    Has Shoulders     Strong Hands

But I Am The Mulberry Girl
Riding on His High Shoulders Under These
H a n g i n g
B r a n c h e s
H a n g i n g
Since I'm on a food kick (apparently), I'll share this poem from my son's favorite book, Love Letters. (Hey, I think it's a pretty great book too!)
Dear Gram:

your sugar cookies
and chocolate fudge.
B u t
I am
f u l l    o f    l o v e
when all your
j a r s
a r e    e m p t y.

Your Grandson: Big Belly.
I could go on with several more books and selections, but since Arnold mentioned that Slow Dance Heart Break Blues is his favorite, I'm going to end with one of my favorite selections from this book.

tell by your smile
and the way the sun
glints off your lower
b r a c e.


pulling me closer
with your eager
hands around my
w a i s t.


close so tight
at the perfect
moment of first
t a s t e.
No matter what he's writing about, Arnold's poems are vibrant and real. You can read the poem he wrote for the Peace Project, entitled "no justice, no peace", at Laura Purdie Salas' blog. If you haven't been reading his work, I hope you take some time to explore it.

To learn more about Arnold, be sure to visit his web site.

Many, many heartfelt thanks to Arnold for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Arnold Adoff. All rights reserved.


  1. MAN. Never has chocolate been so reverently and so ...intimately described. I laugh that so many of these are food related, but... heck, they're TASTY poetry. I love the one from the grandkid -- and the first kiss, and -- I guess ALL of them. I love shaped poetry and the tastes of the words as I read them. This is so cool.

  2. I read this last week, and came back to read it more closely. I've been thinking about: "I've been fueled by the duel energies of love and anger." Yes, that's well put. Lots to come back to here. Thank you Arnold, and thanks Tricia.