Apr 21, 2017

Revisiting MYRA COHN LIVINGSTON, an Amazing Poet

Myra Cohn Livingston
If that's not a name you recognize, click on it and get a brief  introduction to a remarkable poet, teacher, and literary icon. Selections from her poems are featured on countless poetry websites, ranked alongside works by other timeless and amazing poets. The quality of poetry she produced in her lifetime is breathtaking. They stand up well over time and many titles become favorites of new readers.

One collaborator who produced memorable poetry picture books with Livingston is painter Leonard Everett Fischer. Together, they created themed titles, including the SONG series:
EARTH SONGS, SEA SONGS, SKY SONGS, and SPACE SONGS. All were published during the 1980s by Holiday House but are now out-of-print. Fortunately, copies of several titles are still offered online as used books and many remain on library shelves, so they can be accessed and explored. 
I hope many readers here will seek out these titles. With increased interest, perhaps a publisher would consider reissuing the collection. It would be a timely pursuit, since Livingston was decades ahead of the current trend in creating  picture book content for established readers that is based on content area subject matter. 

In the case of this series, the topics are evident in the titles. Fischer's paintings are deeply saturated double-page spreads with intense eye-appeal. They enhance the depth and scope of Livingston's free verse creations, which sometimes take specific forms and patterns (shape/concrete poems, limericks, etc.).

The books are designed to feature one poem per double spread, often using white text on the dark paintings. Each selection merits full attention, offering  a range of reflections within each broad topic. 
For example, in SKY SONGS, the poems progress as follows: Moon, Stars, The Planets, Shooting Stars, Noon, Clouds, Coming Storm, Storm, Tornado, Smog, Snow, Rain, and Sunset. 

Even those poem titles reveal that these provide a feet-in-the-sand perspective on the atmosphere in which we live. That approach yields a surprisingly emotional and personal response to the life above the crust in which we are all immersed.

Here's one example:


You must
be so angry
when you grumble and growl.
Even the wind breathes heavily

the ground
as you boil the
black clouds in steaming pots
to feed the skinny white creatures 

the earth, stretching
out their crooked legs to
touch the trees, hurling down sharp forks
of fire.

Livingston was a noted teacher and literary guide for those learning to write poetry. Her book, POEM-MAKING: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry, is a small but thoroughly detailed guide to the nuts and bolts of poetry forms, structures, and writing as well as offering exercises and examples for beginners to explore. Her collections offer countless examples of mentor text and quality that inspire both novice and expert writers.
Many others have followed in her poetic feet, directly or indirectly. This approach to creating compilations of superb poems on a particular subject can be found in  FRESH PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS' MARKET, featured here, or FREEDOM OVER ME, featured here. Joyce Sidman's  work, like UBIQUITOUS and SWIRL BY SWIRL, and books by many other poets assure that Livingston's legacy lives on.

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