Meet X.J. Kennedy, a poet who is just as playful as he is wise! Born on August 21, 1929, as Joseph Charles Kennedy, he chose the pen name “X.J. Kennedy” to make his name stand out just like his poems do. And that’s not all; Kennedy is known not only for his delightful and thoughtful poetry for kids and adults but also as a teacher, translator, and writer of textbooks about poetry.
Childhood and Early Years
Growing up in Dover, New Jersey, Kennedy always had a love for words. As a child, he liked to read books and had a way of painting vivid, colorful scenes with words. This love for language led him to become a writer and share the magic of words with others.
Becoming a Poet
Kennedy’s path into poetry wasn’t straightforward. He went to college and studied journalism, and then joined the Navy as a journalist and photographer. But he couldn’t resist the call of poetry. He went back to college, first in France and later in Michigan, studying the fine art of crafting poems. He also became a college professor, teaching poetry at several different universities. His journey shows that it’s never too late to follow your dreams!
A Playful Way with Words
Kennedy’s poems are a treat. Whether he’s writing about a child with a purple dragon or a mixed up school where the students have to talk backward, his words bounce and play in a way that makes reading his poems a joyful adventure.
For example, in this poem, he imagines a mother who is so frustrated with her child slamming the door that she does something ridiculous:
My mother said, “If just once more
I hear you slam that old screen door,
I’ll tear out my hair! I’ll dive in the stove!”
I gave it a bang and in she dove.
Books and Rhymes for Young Readers
Kennedy’s children’s poetry collections, like Brats and The Kite That Braved Old Orchard Beach, are full of playful, clever, and sometimes downright hilarious poems. They’re books where kids can find poems that rhyme and have fun rhythms, making them perfect for reading out loud.
One of his books, Exploding Gravy, is a big collection of poems that will make you laugh until your sides hurt but also make you think about the world in new ways.
Teaching with Kindness and Humor
Kennedy wasn’t just a poet; he was a dedicated teacher too. He taught in schools and universities, helping young writers find their own voice. He has a knack for explaining tricky things in a simple, easy-to-understand way. This made him a favorite among his students.
Kennedy knows that poetry isn’t just for poets; it’s for everyone! He wrote textbooks about poetry, not just for grown-ups but also for young readers. His book Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-Me Book of Poems (co-edited with his wife, Dorothy M. Kennedy) is designed to help children and their parents explore poetry together.
Awards and Achievements
Kennedy’s fun, smart writing didn’t just win over readers. His books have also won many awards, including the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, which is a very big deal in the world of children’s poetry.
X.J. Kennedy is a shining example of how words can bring people together. His poems are like welcoming invitations, saying, “Come on in, let’s have fun with words!” He shows us that poetry can be a playground, a place to explore, laugh, and think deeply about the world around us.
So next time you’re in the library or bookstore, see if you can find one of X.J. Kennedy’s books. Who knows, his playful lines might just inspire you to pen a poem of your own!