POET OF THE WEEK: John Ciardi

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 6
JOHN CIARDI
(1916-1986, American)
[With special thanks to Sylvia Vardell and Lee Bennett Hopkins]

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    “The closest I come to pointing out the difference between poetry for children versus poetry for adults is that children’s poems are eternal; adult poems are mortal.”
                — John Ciardi, from Lee Bennett Hopkins’s Pass the Poetry, Please!
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John Ciardi was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 24, 1916. He received his bachelor’s degree from Tufts College in 1938 and his master’s degree in 1939 from the University of Michigan. He was married and had three children. He was foremost a writer and a critic of adult poetry, but he also worked as a professor of English at several colleges and universities and then as poetry editor for The Saturday Review. He is probably best known for his well-regarded translation of Dante’s Inferno.
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Ciardi received many prestigious poetry awards during his long career, including the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1982. His poetry is known for its intelligence and sharp sense of comedy and irony. His first book for children, The Reason for the Pelican (Lippincott, 1959), had a major impact on the field of poetry for children, bringing in more irreverent humor and fun.
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Ciardi’s collection You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You (Harper, 1962) is still in print after nearly 50 years. Much of today’s humorous poetry for children owes a debt to Ciardi; his smart rhymes helped pave the way for Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and even J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian in the years to follow.
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Ciardi was also the author of one of the most influential books of poetic theory and craft, How Does a Poem Mean? (2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin, 1975).
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Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast
By John Ciardi

Daddy fixed the breakfast.
He made us each a waffle.
It looked like gravel pudding.
It tasted something awful.

“Ha, ha,” he said, “I’ll try again.
This time I’ll get it right.”
But what I got was in between
Bituminous and anthracite.

“A little too well done? Oh well,
I’ll have to start all over.”
THAT time what landed on my plate
Looked like a manhole cover.

I tried to cut it with a fork:
The fork gave off a spark.
I tried a knife and twisted it
Into a question mark.

I tried it with a hack-saw.
I tried it with a torch.
It didn’t even make a dent.
It didn’t even scorch.

The next time Dad gets breakfast
When Mommy’s sleeping late,
I think I’ll skip the waffles,
I’d sooner eat the plate!

From You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi (Reprinted by HarperTrophy, 1987). All rights reserved.



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2 thoughts on “POET OF THE WEEK: John Ciardi

  1. i so enjoyed this poem. I have just sent it to my nephew who is in Afghanistan. this will brighten his day. Thank you!

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