Friday, August 23, 2019

"Once More" by #DearOneLBH

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Amy at The Poem Farm for Roundup, where you will find a bevy of posts about and inspired by Lee Bennett Hopkins, whose recent death has sent a white-hot jolt through our community.

I have my own LBH favorites and memories, and I'm so grateful to have known Lee, at least a little. We shared a love for beautiful language and a trust that children can handle (and need!) poems of beauty, wonder, and emotion. Our last email correspondence dated May 31, 2019 was about a quote from Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling by Philip Pullman:

"There's fast-food language and there's caviar language; one of the things we adults need to do for children is to introduce them to the pleasures of the subtle and the complex." - Philip Pullman

Yes! Lee and I could certainly agree on that. Lee helped me know that my natural poetic voice does have a place in children's literature. (Not all poetry for kids needs to be light verse/funny!)

Lee's impact on children's literature is profound and inspiring. No doubt he is watching us all from some unseen purple palace (on a cruise ship, maybe? from a box seat at a Broadway show?), scrolling through our posts, eyes sparking with glee over our efforts to help keep his memory and his words warm and breathing.

 One of my favorite LBH anthologies is AMERICA AT WAR: Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. War is a tough topic for anyone, and here there are fifty poems that give voice to the wide array of experiences and emotions associated with war. I've loved this book for a long time.

Here's Lee's poem, about a feeling everyone who's ever lost someone or something knows deeply:

Once More
for C.J.E.

Outside the church
I wait.
Wait for someone
to invite me
for a longing
Christmas dinner.

No one does.

The cheap hotel room
I'm in
on leave
is dank
grim --
not a trace
of angels
a star-lit tree
a manager
a nativity.

Just a lamp
a bed
a phone
a lonely me.

I slowly open
the small Christmas package
from Mom and Dad
feeling the hands of Mom
deep in my heart
she wrapped this box.

A pair of socks
a new set of white underwear
a tin of homemade cookies
a surprise comic book
from my treasured collection.

I find the courage
to pick up the phone --
call home.
An awaited conversations begins
with rivers of tears.

The last good-bye
the hardest.

I sit alone
on the edge of the bed
a family
Christmas dinner
must be like.

If only once more.


- Lee Bennett Hopkins

There are many "If only once more"s in my mind when I think of Lee... one of them:

If only once more LBH would tell me I use too many "and"s in my poetry. :)

And now, a little self-promotion, of which I am sure Lee would approve: In case you missed it, earlier this week Penguin Random House coordinated the cover reveal for THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO, my new (true!) book with Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrations by Yuko Shimizu coming spring 2020. Please take a look!


  1. Dear One Irene,
    I love this post.
    [First, an aside from your PR/Marketing Dept: You are too kind to mention that Lee selected you for a great honor as a young new poet. (Do I have this right? Please set me straight with the year/title in your comment, back - OK. Lee would want that.)
    And thank you for the spotlight on this war collection - I need to read it.

    Lee's potent letter home as the lonely soldier is going to help a lot of children of today understand what it's like for their older brothers, sisters or even, their parents because sadly, we are still so much At War. I am appreciative your selection of it.

    With arms around all of us missing #DearOneLBH,

    ps more on the war cat cover reveal another day... but for now ... a big MIAO!

  2. "If only once more..." What a reminder these words are, to hold our now and living dear ones. I am grateful you are one of mine, Irene. xx

  3. I love this anthology, too, Irene, having experienced some of the loss, some of the words from those I knew who understood "if only once more" when far, far away from home. I also loved hearing your loving words for Lee and your connection. Those are special links that show his love of the wide world around him. Thank you!

  4. Oh, Irene - beautiful and poignant. At the 2007 SCBWI LA Poetry Masterclass, Lee shared some of proof pages from this collection. I managed to get this particular poem for Charles, which Lee signed. What a treasure.
    On your other mention, I am so happy about your Cat Man book and can't wait to finally see it! XO

  5. What a beautiful poem you've chosen to share--the loneliness so palpable. And the world is richer for your poetic voice, Irene. Putting The Cat Man of Aleppo on my TBR list!

  6. Goodness....the trust in children to handle what's real. That just gets me. I so agree. I work with that every day in my school. It's not always easy or apparent but it's just the plain truth of life. Thank you for your perspective on knowing Lee. I so appreciate that your friendship grew your poetry for kids and everyone. We all are so much better off because of it.
    MANY congratulations on The Cat Man of Aleppo! How wonderful! Please let me know how I can help promote. I volunteer!

  7. Thank you for sharing the more serious side of Lee in this poem, Irene. Also the peek at your own personal relationship with him. I also happen to LOVE the vision of Lee in a purple palace, or on a cruise ship, or in a box seat enjoying all of the festivities today in his honor. I'm sure you're right! xo

  8. Irene, how we need to write to the need kids have to understand the realities of life along with the fun and science and seasons and mischief and all the rest. I wish for quite a few "if only once mores" from and with Lee. We need to seize the moment, I thought/hoped/believed he'd be around for a lot more time. I had plans. I was shy in my interactions with him. He was generous. I am going to go back in my fb comment world and find all of our various interactions. He liked Alan Katz, a friend of mine, where we had many humorous exchanges. He was so good to so many. When did he sleep? He keeps on teaching us, doesn't he? Thanks for this post!
    Janet Clare F.

  9. Irene, I read this post yesterday and thought I responded but I see I did not. One of your opening lines about Lee is so accurate: "whose recent death has sent a white-hot jolt through our community." I am learning so much more about Lee from all of these tribute posts. His impact on the poetry world was far and reaching and his voice will always be remembered. This particular poem is filled with such a serious and sad tone but that is the power of his voice-to be able to give rise to emotions through a poem. May Lee be looking down at us from his regal purple throne and know that we all found a special place in our hearts for him.

  10. Congratulations on The Cat Man of Aleppo
    I might have to purchase America at War since none of my local libraries have a copy.
    Having experienced traumatic events in my own childhood, I am a believer that children can handle much more than many adults understand.

  11. "If only once more..." Such powerfully longing words. I didn't know Lee, but I've got a couple for my mom that are pricking tears in my eyes right now.

    Congrats on the new book! SO exciting to see your writing career taking off big time!

  12. Congratulations on the new book and cover reveal--your new book sounds like it would fit right in with this collection from Lee. Aleppo has seen more than its share of war, and I'm sure there are many who stayed and who fled that think "If only once more...'

  13. As Mary Lee said, "If only once more" is quite powerful. Thanks for sharing this, Irene! And I know what you mean about the 'throwaway words' Lee my poem, I deliberately made sure there were no "the"s! ;)

  14. Dear Irene -- I'm so glad you chose this poem to share. Lee was a fine poet, as well as being a poetry advocate. The emotion and sense of loss that comes across in this poem are beautiful.


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