Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, for a two-year tenure. Nesbitt, who lives with his family in Spokane, Wash. – will serve as an advisor on children’s poetry to the Foundation. He is charged with promoting an awareness of poetry among children by participating in literary projects and events across the country, and will deliver two major public readings of his poems. Beginning in July, Nesbitt will also provide monthly recommendations of poetry books for children, which will be posted on the Poetry Foundation’s Web site. The position carries a $25,000 cash prize.
“I plan to do as much as I can to increase the exposure of children to poetry, including promoting a Poetry Minute in schools,” Nesbitt told PW in a phone interview from Binghamton, N.Y, where he was visiting Port Dickinson School. Nesbitt explained that most children’s poems “can be read in a minute,” so he’d like to encourage teachers to take one minute out of each school day and read a poem to their classes.
“I’ve found, in my own experience, that it takes a week or two of reading poems to children before they have to have that daily poem,” he said. “And a minute of poetry each day adds up to three hours of poetry spread out over the course of the school year.”
The fourth writer to be named to the position, Nesbitt succeeds J. Patrick Lewis. The Poetry Foundation launched the Children’s Poet Laureateship in 2006, after a research study sponsored by the organization indicated that if children are regularly exposed to poetry, they will “most likely” develop a lifelong love for it. Jack Prelutsky was the first Children’s Poet Laureate, from 2006–2008, followed by Mary Ann Hoberman. Nesbitt’s term will last from 2013 to 2015.
Nesbitt, who wrote his first children’s poem, “Scrawny Tawny Skinner,” in 1994 while he was a software developer for Microsoft, is the author of a dozen collection of poems for children. His work is known for its madcap humor, often directed at school life. The Poetry Foundation said that Nebitt’s poems “abound with humorous and silly situations.” He is, Nesbitt writes on his Web site, most influenced by poets such as Ogden Nash, Dennis Lee, and Bruce Lansky – whose company, Meadowbrook Press, has published four of Nesbitt’s collections, including Revenge of the Lunch Ladies: The Hilarious Book of School Poetry, illustrated by Mike and Carl Gordon. Meadowbrook also published more than a dozen children’s poetry anthologies compiled by Lansky that featured Nesbitt’s poetry; children voted on which contemporary poems they wanted included in those anthologies.
His first collection of poems, My Foot Fell Asleep, illustrated by Michael Roberts, was self- published under his company’s name, Purple Room Publishing, in 1998, and his most recent collection, The Armpit of Doom: Funny Poems for Kids, illustrated by Rafael Domingos, was also self-published by Purple Room in 2012. Nesbitt called it “an experiment in POD technology.” Kiss, Kiss Goodnight, a board book illustrated by Rebecca Elliott, will be published by Scholastic in August, and he is collaborating with J. Patrick Lewis on Mongolian Death Worm (Chronicle, fall 2014 or spring 2015).
The Poetry Foundation, which is headquartered in Chicago and publishes Poetry magazine, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. In a statement announcing the new laureate, foundation president John Barr said, “With the appointment of Kenn Nesbitt, we welcome a new generation of poets who will continue to delight the hearts and excite the minds of children everywhere.”