[beachy review] My Poet by Patricia MacLachlan and Jen Hill

“I have great respect for children. And I have great respect for their ability as writers.” ~ Patricia MacLachlan

“Words have not only a definition… but also the felt quality of their own kind of sound.” ~ Mary Oliver

Where do poets find their words?

Young Lucy learns the answer to this question in My Poet, a luminous new picture book by late Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Jen Hill (Katherine Tegen Books, 2022).

One summer day, Lucy and the poet next door – whom she calls “my poet” – explore their seaside town with a shared goal: to find words. Lucy, an aspiring poet, takes along her notebook and pen.

Together, they visit the farmers market, stroll along the beach with the poet’s dogs, meander through the woods by the marsh, and take refuge in a boathouse during a thunderstorm.

Throughout the day, Lucy notes that her poet sees objects differently, describing them in novel ways. A strawberry is a jewel. A stone has a story. Lucy wonders how her poet hears the words she writes about her dogs. 

Does she find words in their fur?

Does she hear their dog talk,

read their thoughts?

Does she see the word “joy” in them?

Sitting on the beach, Lucy pours a handful of sand into her poet’s hand. She lets it slip through her fingers. Smiling, her poet seems to know something.

 Does the sand whisper to her? 

In the woods, there is more to contemplate:

Does the blue heron who flies over my poet/in a darkening sky/carry words to her/in his high cry?

Does she untangle the sound of/aspen leaves
blowing in the wind/into words?

As she continues to see how the poet interacts with the natural world, quietly listening, watching, touching – Lucy begins to understand, happy in the knowledge that she, too, has the power to find her own words. Lucy then writes a poem of her own.

In her Author’s Note, MacLachlan reveals that the story was inspired by Mary Oliver, whose poems she read “over and over.” Though not close friends, MacLachlan and Oliver crossed paths as they went about their daily lives on Cape Cod – running errands to the post office or walking their dogs.

Although My Poet is not biographical, MacLachlan emulated Oliver’s signature modus operandi in this heartfelt ode to writing, poetic process and creativity. Her spare, lyrical prose, as emotionally resonant as Oliver’s verse, bears out her assertion that “her landscape is my landscape, too.”

Time and again, MacLachlan emphasizes the importance of close observation, personal perception, and engaging the senses as crucial to good writing. So we smell those wild rugosa roses (who “sing words”), hear that clap of thunder, and feel Lucy’s poet nuzzling against a horse’s face. 

Jen Hill’s soft, muted gouache paintings capture the essence of  Oliver’s spirit as it was embodied in the natural landscape she knew intimately and loved so well. The windswept beaches, a light-dappled pond, a roomful of adorable dogs – all emblematic of Mary Oliver’s poetry. 

Especially touching is Hill’s depiction of Lucy with her older poet friend. Most seniors in intergenerational stories are grandparents; here we have two kindred spirits far apart in chronological age, bonded by their desire to express choice experiences in words. Nice to see them side by side, nose to nose, open, curious, happy together. The white stone pressed into Lucy’s hand, warmed by her poet, is a lovely token of mentorship.

I found it especially poignant reading Patricia MacLachlan’s My Poet dedication – In Memory of Mary Oliver (1935-2019) – only to see (1938-2022) under MacLachlan’s name on the jacket’s back flap.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Just last August, MacLachlan had discussed the book with Lin Oliver in an SCBWI 50th Anniversary Conference interview. She noted how her longstanding love of Mary Oliver’s poetry had inspired her to write My Poet.

No one could have guessed then that she would not live to see the book’s publication.

Patricia MacLachlan (1938-2022)

I’ve long been an ardent Oliver and MacLachlan fan, largely for the shared qualities of their work. MacLachlan was fond of saying that she wasn’t a poet, when in fact everything she wrote was poetry. She was a master of beautiful poetic prose. Compare her approach with Mary Oliver’s: they were able to write the bare bones of truth and human emotion in ordinary, accessible language that spoke directly to the heart. 

Most writers will agree that it’s often harder to write “short” than long, to say big things in a small space. Both MacLachlan and Oliver had that gift. Pare down, cut back, be clear. In poetry and prose, their unadorned words, like rare white stones imbued with profound meaning, endure for their artless appeal.

My Poet is just right for contemplative readers who appreciate quiet, gentle stories, budding poets and writers seeking inspiration, and Mary Oliver fans who would enjoy seeing how her poetry inspired one of our most beloved children’s authors.

*

MY POET
written by Patricia MacLachlan
illustrated by Jen Hill
published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, September 2022
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Includes Author’s Note
**Starred Review** from School Library Journal
Amazon || Bookshop

*

The lovely and talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup this week. Stroll on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere. Have a lovely Veteran’s Day weekend!


*Interior spreads text copyright © 2022 Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations © 2022 Jen Hill, published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

32 thoughts on “[beachy review] My Poet by Patricia MacLachlan and Jen Hill

  1. I need this book…we ALL need this book. Thank you for such a beautiful introduction to it. I’m jumping in the shower and then in my van for a long roadtrip. I’m so glad this post and it’s beauty will be with me on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think many can say MacLachlan and Oliver are two of their very favorites. I didn’t know about MacLachlan’s admiration for Oliver’s work until I read this book. Nice to have these two amazing writers connected this way.

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  2. This book is life! It’s appreciating all that is around us. It’s just plain and simple “noticing”! Thank you, Jama. I have to get my hands on both these books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re often too busy to “notice.” Yes, the world is in turmoil, but books like these remind us not to forget all the beauty around us. Poets are trained in this noticing; there is much to learn from them.

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  3. I loved learning the connection between Patricia MacLachlan and Mary Oliver, and how that inspired Patricia’s final book. And your words too, Jama, resonated with me: “Lucy notes that her poet sees objects differently, describing them in novel ways. A strawberry is a jewel. A stone has a story.” That sounds like a recipe for being a poet. Definitely going to look for this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been trying so hard to quell my book buying, but oh, I must have this one. I knew it was about Mary Oliver before you wrote it. And Patricia MacLachlan is a favorite as well. Thanks for your lovely review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s been breaking my heart with sadness and joy to read Patricia MacLachlan’s last books. I feel the same sorrow in her passing as I feel about Mary Oliver…and now to have them both together in one book! Sorrow becomes joy! The consolation: the rest of my life to read and re-read all that both have written. What a pair! Thanks for this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, they are quite a pair. I also felt the same sadness when Oliver passed away. Safe to say, we won’t see their likes again, but they have left an amazing raft of books we can reread to our heart’s content.

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  6. I love learning that there’s another book to add to my collection of book that show “What Do Poets Do?”–that’s the name of one of my workshops for beginning writers. I hadn’t heard that PM passed–it is very poignant to see the fruit of their not exactly collaboration in Provincetown. Thanks, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing news of this book, Jama. I recall when Patricia passed earlier this year, it was such a shock; I’d just met her a few years ago, pre-pandemic, at an SCBWI conference where she’d spoken. A wonderful tribute, as it turns out, to both women!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I appreciate you sharing this beautiful book in such a lovely way. Right away I knew it was about Mary Oliver, who is also one of my favorite poets. I enjoyed learning that Patricia was inspired by Mary, which led her to writing the book about Mary. I love how Lucy’s questions, observations, and listening to her poet using her senses in nature aloud lead Lucy to writing her own poem. Those luscious illustrations are spot on of Cape Cod. I love sticking my nose in rugosa roses, also. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have some rugosa roses growing in my garden, too, but I don’t have enough sun to grow a lot of roses. We have a park in Saratoga Springs where they have many rugosa roses blooming. I just have to make sure there are no bees in the roses before I sniff them. Where do you live? Maybe you can grow some there.

        That is wonderful that you have been to Cape Cod! When our girls were one and three years old, we started taking them to Cape Cod every summer. Beautiful beaches in the bay area with the roses growing wild. We would catch hermit crabs with the girls. I loved observing and listening to the wee piping plovers. The blue hydrangeas are amazing in Cape Cod, also. I’m looking forward to going back in a few years.

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