What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman

What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman

As Children’s Poet Laureate, one of my jobs is to select a collection of poetry each month to feature on the Poetry Foundation’s website. There you’ll find my monthly book picks, and those of the previous Children’s Poets Laureate.

My pick for December, 2013 is What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman.

Interview with Children’s Poet Joyce Sidman

In addition, I interviewed Joyce about her life as a poet and about her new book. Here is what she had to say.

Children's Poet Joyce Sidman

Joyce Sidman

Kenn Nesbitt: How did you come to start writing children’s poetry?

Joyce Sidman: I have always been a poet—I think it’s the way I look at the world. When I became a mother and was plunged back into the world of children’s literature, writing for children became my goal. So, I guess I just combined two loves.

KN: Who / what most influenced you as you began writing children’s poetry?

JS: Poet Alice Schertle for sure—her book Advice for a Frog really opened my eyes to the possibility of writing expressive poetry about the natural world. Lots of other children’s poets—Marilyn Singer, Kristine O’Connell George—and adult poets, too, like Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. I just read everything I could.

KN: What do you think poetry does for children?

JS: I think poetry helps children (and us all) appreciate the joy, beauty, pathos, and humor of every day life. With its use of imagery and metaphor, it helps them observe details and connect all parts of their lives. It helps them play with words and meanings. But most of all, it helps them tap into their “deep heart’s core.”

KN: Tell me a little bit about your career as a children’s poet.

JS: I spent many years building up a good healthy rejection pile, with occasional acceptances by periodicals like Cricket magazine. My first break came from Millbrook Press, who published my book, Just Us Two: Poems About Animal Dads. Millbrook published another book of mine (Eureka! Poems About Inventors, which is still in print), and then I found editor Ann Rider at Houghton Mifflin, who’d been encouraging me for years and finally accepted Song of the Water Boatman. I have stayed with Ann ever since, and it has been a happy partnership.

KN: Tell me about your new poetry book, What the Heart Knows.

JS: What the Heart Knows is for an older audience than my other poetry books. In many ways, I wrote it for myself . . . for times I needed courage and comfort. But I was also inspired by young people I know, by their strength and willingness to engage with the world. I wanted to celebrate that strength. The book is divided into four sections: Chants & Charms (to bolster courage and guard against evil), Spell & Invocations (to cause something to happen), Laments & Remembrances (to remember or grieve), and Praise Songs & Blessings (to celebrate and thank). It was my third collaboration with Pamela Zagarenski, and I adore her gorgeous, dreamy illustrations.