There’s a new website in town, and if you’re a lover of children’s and/or YA poetry, you will want to high five it. Perhaps a fist bump if you’re extra rad.
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The brainchild of writer, researcher, teacher, editor, film producer and poet Steven Withrow, Poetry Advocates for Children & Young Adults, or PACYA, is a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to, in Withrow’s words, speaking out for the need to engage with poetry at every age level; creating a global online hub for communication, projects, news, reviews, essays, interviews, scholarly resources and much more; and organizing and promoting readings, awards, workshops and conferences throughout the world.
Withrow has created an 18-member advisory board for PACYA, a labor of love for him, which includes poets, educators, bloggers, illustrators and more. In the name of full disclosure, I’m one of those advisory board members, also a follow-my-bliss, labor-of-love type of activity. I’m happy to get the word out about the group. With Withrow at the wheel, we are in good hands. “Poetry reminds us,” Withrow says, “that we are all, at every moment, equally alive, equally worthy of attention and respect.”
Yep, in very good hands.
I took a few moments to talk to Withrow about the organization.
How did PACYA come to be?
Over many years of writing and researching poetry and children’s/YA literature, I noticed that, while there are thousands of passionate children’s poetry supporters in communities around the world—and potentially millions of casual fans—most advocacy efforts and poetry-related programs and events exist in isolation—many voices in the chorus, but not much in the way of harmony.
Writers and readers of poetry for young people have had no central space for connecting with one another and for exploring the incredible range of poetry for young people worldwide and throughout history. Exceptions include the amazing work of Sylvia Vardell, Morag Styles, Bernice Cullinan, Lee Bennett Hopkins and a handful of others.
I decided to create an online hub to attract poets and writers, artists and teachers, librarians and booksellers, publishers and scholars, and students and readers. Poetry Advocates for Children & Young Adults (PACYA) promotes an open exchange of ideas and encourages collaborative opportunities. Our primary focus is English-language poetry, but we are open to exploring poetry in translation and in other languages as well.
People sometimes speak of poetry as though it were dead and in need of rebirth. I see poetry as very much alive—and absolutely necessary for people of every age group.
Can you please point folks to the new PACYA site, and tell us what readers can find over there?
The Poetry at Play blog, which is PACYA’s home for the time being, is at http://poetryadvocates.wordpress.com/. We post daily news and weekly/monthly features, including our Poet of the Week feature and an upcoming International Poet of the Month feature by Carol-Ann Hoyte. We are open to ideas for features [essays, interviews, reviews, chronologies, teaching materials, etc.] from our members and visitors. We are definitely interested in creating an audiovisual archive.
What has been the reaction to PACYA?
We signed up nearly 600 members in 12 countries on four continents in the first six weeks. I receive e-mails from new members each day and the enthusiasm is beyond what I’d hoped for. Many people have said, “I’ve been waiting for the chance to belong to something like this.” I was a painfully shy kid, so it doesn’t surprise me that, as a slightly more outgoing adult, I’d choose to help instill and nurture that sense of belonging in myself and others. Poetry can be a lonely business, but poets, and those who love poetry, can be astonishingly generous.
You are a writer, researcher, teacher, editor, film producer and poet. What’s on your plate right now, other than this ambitious project, and what's next for you?
PACYA is taking up a good deal of my very limited free time, but I’m extremely proud to be a part of it. I work by day as a communications officer for a nonprofit hospital system. My dream is to work on PACYA at least half-time. I’m now revising a verse novel for teens and writing two poetry collections for children. My poem “Cornered” appears in Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s p*tag e-book anthology, and my poem “Night Sledding” will appear in the soon-to-be-released Gift Tag holiday anthology.
A documentary film I co-produced called Library of the Early Mind, directed by Edward J. Delaney, will be available on DVD and by digital download on Dec. 1.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.