Friday, October 2, 2020

Snapshot of A World Full of Poems by Sylvia Vardell

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup. I'm delighted today to be featuring Sylvia Vardell in celebration of her new anthology A WORLD FULL OF POEMS, brought to us by DK. 

And, to make it even more fun: on this very same day, Sylvia is featuring *me* on her blog -- or rather, my new book THIS POEM IS A NEST.  :)

I'm so excited about Sylvia's new big book of poems. I often tell new-to-poetry people to start with an anthology, because no matter your tastes and inclinations, you will likely find something there to love! It's why I often gift anthologies, too. (I have, in fact, already ordered copies of Sylvia's book to gift this holiday season!) And what better person to curate a collection of poems than poetry-dress-wearing, poetry-expert-and-enthusiast Sylvia??! So let's get to it, shall we?

Welcome, Sylvia!

SV: Thanks so much, Irene, for inviting me to share a bit about my new poetry anthology, A World Full of Poems. It’s been such a privilege to work on this book, especially during the first months of this horrible pandemic. All that quarantining enabled me to hunker down and dive deeply into poetry for young people. I have my own substantial library of poetry for young people and pulled piles of books to search for poems, then more piles, then more poems, and so on. I was given the assignment of finding approximately 150 poems for this anthology from the editor in London who vetted all the poems (along with her staff). I think it may be the first anthology of poetry that DK Books has published, although I may be wrong about that. (Please let me know if I’ve got that wrong!) It was my task to recommend poem after poem as they sorted through what fit best for each of the eight categories they had established.

The Fresh (Unexpected):

One of the things that was particularly fresh and fun was seeking poems from poets outside the U.S., particularly from the UK. Fortunately, I have MANY anthologies and collections
and had fun reading and hunting for the “just right” poem. I only wish we could have had more time to include even MORE poems by MORE English-speaking poets outside the U.S. But I am so happy to find so many poems by so many diverse voices inside and outside the U.S.!

The Difficult:

SV: The most difficult part of this anthology building was finding perfect poems and then not being able to use them. Why? Including a poem in an anthology requires getting permission from the poet and usually from the publisher that originally included that poem in a book (unless it’s out of print and rights have reverted back to the poet). So, that means tracking down the permission source—both poet and publisher, sending inquiries, getting responses, and finding out the permission fee. DK Books had a limit to what they could pay for a poem (given that they wanted to include 150 poems). In most cases, it worked out just fine, but there were a few cases in which the fee was so high, it was beyond our budget. I shouldn’t be surprised that a poem by Langston Hughes or Pablo Neruda would cost quite a bit to include in an anthology, but I had high hopes!

The Delicious:

SV: One of my favorite things in this process is that I was able to secure permission to include two poems by one of my favorite poets: Karla Kuskin! She was one of the first contemporary poets writing for young people that I encountered as a brand new teacher in the 1970s. I had grown up on the classics (like Longfellow) and wasn’t aware that there were poets TODAY who wrote for young people—what a revelation! (This was around the same time of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends in 1974; boy, do I feel OLD!). Although she has passed away, Kuskin’s poetry is still so relevant, engaging, and thoughtful. I hope I can help new readers fall in love with her work too. Here’s just one of her wonderful poems (and it appears in the book, too). 

Anything Else:

SV: Finally, my last task was creating some “activity” pages for the back of the book and you may know that I LOVE back matter! I went to town here and they ended up using about half of what I developed—which is fine. I made a poem “treasure hunt,” as well as providing tips on sharing and writing poems. I even had fun using Canva to create a graphic design for each page to show them how I thought these activities could be made more visually interesting and engaging for kids.

And now the book is coming out (Oct. 6) and I can’t wait to see it! I don’t have my copies yet, but I hope they arrive soon. I’m so happy to see 110 poets get their work out into the world and that DK Books has taken this chance on poetry when publishers are sometimes “shy” about doing so. Meanwhile, I just discovered that you can purchase the book on the Target website and that may be the craziest surprise of all!


Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing your book here today! And thank you for including two of my poems: "Summer Storm" and "Let's Celebrate the Elephant." YAY!!!

And now, my latest ArtSpeak: RED poem! I didn't know what to title this poem, and when I settled on "The Power of Art," I did an internet search on the same. I discovered this book that I immediately ordered! The power of art, indeed... also, you'll notice a little epigram "after Rilke." That's because of this Rilke quote which I adore, and sort of became the structure for the poem: I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” Thank you for reading!

The Power of Art
after Rilke

I stand in the gallery –
I stand, I sit.

I pace for a morning,
an afternoon,
all day.

And still I wonder:
am I the singing parakeet

or the artist's solemn

or something else,
dancing just outside
the frame?

- Irene Latham


  1. Such a great interview with Sylvia - I cannot imagine the work of compiling such an anthology, as she describes. I believe it will all pay off in this treasure trove of poems! I love how she loves "back matter" - I even love the phrase. So great that you're both featuring each other today. Your own work with NEST is wonderfully creative ... nests are stunning workmanship and I've always been awed that birds do this with no hands. As to the lovely gallery poem: To me there's always something else dancing just outside the frame...

  2. I love hearing from Sylvia about this new anthology & that there are poems by Karla Kuskin in it, a favorite of mine! I've used so many of her poems with students! This is going to be an anthology I will get for the girls. So far, not much poetry is going on for their online work. Your question from the art is a solemn 'wonder' of self, Irene. Taking time to ponder and connect with pieces in a gallery or museum is a beautiful thing. Have a lovely weekend!

  3. Thanks for this great interview with Sylvia, Irene! I love that you both featured each other's books today. I am in awe of such talent!

  4. Congratulations on the new anthology, Sylvia. What a sweet photo paired with Karla Kuskin's poems. Irene, I smiled at the parakeet in your poem!

  5. Irene, I am so glad I got to learn more about this exciting new anthology from Sylvia. I love Karla Kuskin's poem. I have this on pre-order and I think it will be a gift for a lot of lucky folks I know. I am on a mission. I am going to turn lots of folks into poetry aficionados!!! Oh, your RED poem, indeed. Wondering who we really are.....what do we want to do do we grow and change, too. Thanks for this, again. Janet Clare F.

  6. Such a rich, and robust post. I'm looking forward to this new anthology by Sylvia, and reading your poems Irene! I loved Kuskin's last line, "I'm Staying In Bed."
    I think Bethe's daughter is
    "or something else,
    dancing just outside
    the frame?"
    Just my hunch– And thanks for another gorgeous red painting- by Berthe Morisot, xo.

  7. Giving poetry as presents -- yes! I loved hearing about Sylvia's process. What an exciting project! Thanks, Irene :-) xo

  8. So much goodness in this post, Irene: Sylvia sharing about her new anthology, being introduced to Karla Kuskin, and your powerful poem on the many perspectives on Art. (I vote for the parakeet!)

  9. Thank you, Irene, for taking us behind the scenes of Sylvia's newest anthology. Congratulations, Sylvia! I loved this statement: "But I am so happy to find so many poems by so many diverse voices inside and outside the U.S.!" I know that Sylvia and Janet Wong are champions of diversity. I also want to share my thoughts on your ArtSpeak/Red Poem. The line,"I wonder", midstream is a great precursor to the end two lines.

  10. How wonderful to get a peek at Sylvia's incredible library and also at her process of selecting poems and obtaining permissions. I imagine it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and then finding out at the very end that you're not allowed to use a couple of pieces. :/ Your red poem is thoughtful and beautiful, Irene. It's hopeful to think that there is always another option of something dancing outside the frame.

  11. Wonderful interview, fabulous book. So happy for you to have 2 poems in it. I L-O-V-E your red poem. After Rilke... but totally original. Love it!

  12. I can't wait to get my copy of Sylvia's new masterpiece!

    Your poem strikes a chord with me. I love art museums and all the musings I muse while there!

  13. What a rich post! I enjoyed hearing all about Sylvia's newest book and love your latest poem. Those ending lines are fabulous.

  14. Oh, my heart is smiling through this whole post - with anticipation for this new collection, and appreciation for all the creative hours it required! - and for the Karla Kuskin gem, and for your oh-so-perfect response a la Rilke (swoon) to this painting (ditto swoon). [Plus, gotta say, having a poem in this new DK book is just a highlight of my life; just is. I've got so many DK books on my own shelves!!] :0)

  15. Thank you for this interview. I can't wait to get the book.

  16. Wonderful post, both the interview and your poem. Love!

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