POET OF THE WEEK: Eve Merriam

Each week we will briefly introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) a poet whose work is enjoyed by kids and/or teens. We will start with the winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children before moving on to other poets, past and present. Some poets you will encounter here are already familiar and popular; others are less widely known yet their poems deserve to be shared and remembered. Links within the profiles will take you to additional information about the poet.

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WEEK 5
EVE MERRIAM
(1916-1992, American)
[With special thanks to Sylvia Vardell]

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“…a good poem contains both meaning and music.”

Eve Merriam began writing poems at age seven. As a teenager, she wrote poems for her high school magazine and newspaper. Merriam began her career as a copywriter and later as a radio writer for Columbia Broadcasting System and other networks. She also worked as a fashion copy editor and then as a free-lance magazine writer, book writer, and poet.

In her later career, Merriam focused on writing adult plays. She was a frequent speaker and promoter of poetry for young people and was honored in 1981 with the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her entire body of work.

Merriam’s writing comprises a wide variety of works: poetry, plays, and nonfiction for adults; approximately 40 picture books and nonfiction titles for children; and more than 20 poetry books and anthologies for children. Many are out of print but may still be on library shelves; some are being reissued, sometimes as poem picture books.

Her poetry is characterized as smart, playful, and lively and often explores the sounds and origins of words. In her later works, she tackled social issues and topics of racism, sexism, and environmental concerns.

Check out The Singing Green for a sampling of several of Merriam’s poems from previous out-of-print collections, including “The Poem as a Door,” one of several poems Merriam has penned that try to describe what poems are and how poets create poetry:

The Poem as a Door
By Eve Merriam

A door
is never
either/or.
A door
is always
more.

You cannot skip over,
you cannot crawl under;
walk through the wood,
it splits asunder.

If you expect it to be bolted,
it will be.

There is only one opening:
yourself as the key.

With a sigh of happiness
you pass through
to find on the other side
someone with a sigh of happiness
welcoming you.

From  The Singing Green  by Eve Merriam (HarperCollins). Copyright 1992. All rights reserved.

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7 thoughts on “POET OF THE WEEK: Eve Merriam

  1. I found THE INNER CITY MOTHER GOOSE when I first started writing children’s poetry. I felt that this book, along with Myra Cohn Livingston’s THERE WAS A PLACE, really gave me permission and encouragement to write about difficult subjects such as racism and death–for children (in GOOD LUCK GOLD). When I visited the Kerlan in Minneapolis a few years ago, one of my favorite boxes was the Eve Merriam box, which contained all kinds of notes, receipts, and even royalty statements. The contents of the box seemed to ready to pop, as if Eve herself had been waiting all these years to jump out and look around the room!

  2. She was one of my heroes. It wasn’t just her poetry. Even though I was east coast of Canada, and she was New York, there was so much about her life I could relate to. Years later I had the rare good luck to see her papers in the archives at the Kerlan Collection. There was her handwriting. And there, her revisions. It was a moving experience, to say the least . I still remember how many drafts she did maybe my fav lines ever:
    “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?””

    This is a wonderful tribute to her. Thank you so much. Love your blog and site. I’m joining.

  3. Back in the late l980’s I sat on a plane (bound somewhere!) next to a young man who
    was illustrating his first book, HALLOWEEN ABC. He talked to me about it saying it
    was by a famous poet, Eve Merriam. He was shocked I knew her. Of couse, Lane
    has gone on to become one of America’s best-loved artists. SPOOKY ABC was a newly designed editon of Halloween ABC published in 2002…a decade after Eve’s death.

    Never thought about again … till now.

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