Tag Archives: Valerie Worth



Last year I had the amazing tall red zinnia in the back yard, but my favorites from the past have been bushy big orange ones in the vegetable garden. For some reason I don’t care for purplish-pink, but if you buy a variety six-pack, there always seem to be several of that color. And if you buy them before they are root-bound they won’t have started to bloom so you can’t even know what color you are setting out.

This year the two 4-inch potted zinnias I bought, in orange and yellow, are not remarkable. But the mix of six are very showy. They are huge; I think they are the “State Fair” variety. I guess I have broadened my mind, because I don’t even mind their hodgepodge of different colors by the driveway.

One I planted in the far corner of the back yard, sort of behind the lavender bush because there was an empty spot. I hadn’t gone to that corner of the garden for a week, and was surprised to see flowers poking out all the way to the sidewalk. It’s as though that dark pink zinnia went into contortions just so I would look at it.

In the front yard I planted some trailing orange zinnias, which I think look nicer flowing out of a pot, but they are cheery enough here. All through springtime when I was planting the front garden, I knew I was not getting the look I wanted. I didn’t have enough time or energy to comb the county for just the right colors and types of plants to create the perfect design.

But now that I have run across this poem — another one by Valerie Worth who wrote the “Library” poem — I have been encouraged to philosophize about the flowers and see a lesson in them. I know that I am very pleased every time I arrive home and they come into view all bright and in their proper places after all.


Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched,
Arranged to please us
In the house, in water, they
Will hardly wilt—I know
Someone like zinnias; I wish
I were like zinnias.

–Valerie Worth

I take the bait and keep eating.

Every day a poem comes into my e-mail inbox from The Poetry Foundation. Even this solitary Poem-a-Day is often too much for me to handle, and I either let my supply build up for days and/or I delete some poems after a brief scan. But on the occasional day I take the bait and end up reading several poems and stories about the poets.

A couple of monthsxj kennedy ago there was a poem by X.J. Kennedy that got my attention, because although I knew his name from a poetry textbook I own, as he was co-editor with Dana Gioia of that book, I hadn’t seen any of his own poetry before. I was predisposed to like him because of his collaboration with Dana Gioia whom I greatly admire (As you will see if you check out tags with his name here on my blog).

Kennedy was born in 1929 and wrote science fiction in his youth. His poem-writing seems to have come a little later, along with journalism work during the war, and teaching English. Here is a short poem from 1985:

     You Touch Me

      You touch me.

      One by one

      In each cell of my body

      A hearth comes on.


When I read that he had been writing a lot of poetry for children in recent years, I borrowed several books by him from the library to investigate.  A book of nonsense poems wasn’t my style, but The Beasts of Bethlehem is quite wonderful, with short poems from the perspective not just of the usual farm animals, but some critters less famous for being near the Christ Child, such as a beetle, a bat, a worm, and this:


Before ChristP1100192, yesterday,
From clouds I dived, gave chase,
And fed. But in this place
Of peace I shall not prey

On living things. Those six
Young hares ripped from their burrow
Were lovely, though. Tomorrow,
Old plump hen, watch your chicks.

As you can see, the animals not only think to themselves about the Event, but are in conversation with each other.  Many also convey Kennedy’s sense of humor that is not without reverence. I have already bought three copies of this book so that I’ll be ready for next Christmas.

The Owlstone Crown is a novel Kennedy wrote for middle-schoolers, I think. It features children who accidentally fall into an alternate world where they help to rescue their relatives from slave labor. I was first off charmed by the presence of a talking ladybug, but it turned out to be a man ladybug who was a wisecracking tough character, and I didn’t like him much even though he was the type who has a good heart. I did see the book through to the end, but can’t imagine anyone to whom I couldn’t recommend some much better story.

My favorite discovery from X.J. Kennedy (if you Google him you can find out how and why he got those initials) I have kept for last. It is his Child’s Introduction to Poetry titled Knock at a Star. I wish I could have read the whole thing with my children, but it was published a little late for most of them, in 1999. So I bought a few copies for grandchildren who are at the right age right now, or will eventually be.knock at a star

The first section of the book is “What Do Poems Do?” and the answers are Make You Smile, Tell Stories, Send Messages, Share Feelings, Help You Understand People, and Start You Wondering. Each of those chapters includes ten or more poems, many by well-known poets and not specifically for children, which I appreciated. Too often I’ve seen collections that were so dumbed-down as to be insulting, and not a good kind of literary food for inculcating good taste.

Even the humorous poems include “Termite” by Ogden Nash. This one from the Understanding People section is by Valerie Worth

My Mother

My mother
Wasn’t like
Some others.

She didn’t
Make cakes or
Candied apples.

She sat down
Beside her
Sewing basket

And stayed
Up late
Reading poetry.

In Section 2 the question “What’s Inside a Poem?” is answered. Here a poem by Wallace Stevens illustrates that Images may be inside. And Word Music is shown through this poem by Emanuel diPasquale, “Rain”:

Like a drummer’s brush,
the rain hushes the surfaces of tin porches.

Beats That Repeat are found in one of my favorite “Opposites” poems by Richard Wilbur, and in others by Robert Frost and Gertrude Stein. The descriptions of poetic technique are brief and helpful, so we can move on quickly to the poems themselves.

There are limericks, of course, and songs (“Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan) and haiku. And a last section on writing your own poems. I just think this book has everything for the child of eight or ten and older, and if I’d read something like this when I was young I’d be even more like that mother in the poem. I wonder just how late she stayed up?