Once a year reading teachers from all over gather at the International Reading Association meeting — this year in an attempt to fulfill its name, the conference was moved across the border to Toronto — a town with great theater, efficient public transportation and terrific restaurants that just happens to be in Canada. I wish more people would have come, the number of attendees was way down. Was it the passport requirement? The fact that it was later in the year? The fear of the unknown?
Who knows. But I do know that those 200 or so who attended the 11th annual, newly revamped, IRA Poetry Olio were treated to a funny and poignant reading by two leading children’s poets, Jane Yolen and Lee Bennett Hopkins. Only two people who have known one another for years could have pulled off the perfectly timed but totally unrehearsed, thoroughly delightful show. Surrounding them were other poets, but it was Jane’s and Lee’s performances that stole the show.
And I don’t think that either one of them would classify themselves as performance poets, thereby confirming what we all know — or should know — anytime a poet gets in front of an audience with a poem in hand or in heart and recites it aloud, it is indeed a performance. No news to these two pros who have done more to entice kids into reading than anyone can measure with some 500 books between them.
Allan Wolf and I hosted the event while Micheal stage managed and Ginger West lent muscle and a calming influence. Joining us was Jim Blasingame in cowboy persona, always good for a hoot ‘n holler. Them cowboy poets always know how to stir-rup the emotions and then rein them in at just the right time.
Lots of free books and door prizes. It was a grand night for all. See y’all next year in Atlanta where the featured poets will be (hopefully and if the creek don’t rise) Ashley Bryant and Naomi Shihab Nye.