In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Roses are planted where thorns grow”: The 2012 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry
  • Michael Heyman (bio), Michael Joseph (bio), and Joseph T. Thomas Jr. (bio)

Arnold Adoff. Roots and Blues: A Celebration. Illus. Gregory Christie. New York: Clarion Books, 2011.

Honor Books:
Nan Forler. Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year. Illus. Peter Etril Snyder. Ontario: Tundra Books, 2011.

Paul B. Janeczko. Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2011.

This year was a difficult one for the judges of The Lion and the Unicorn Poetry Award. But it was difficult for reasons that make one feel foolish and spoiled when complaining. While last year the quantity and variety of our submissions dipped, this year we were back to a larger array (thirty-seven books), and among the usual—and by far more numerous—poetically barren collections we found several remarkably fine books and a handful of powerful, shapely poems. As an experiment in criticism, we took it upon ourselves to treat our submissions in rough accord with the insights of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, whose heterodox perspectives and innovative combination of the visual and verbal arts as well as its canny and whimsical dialectical mischief seem eminently apposite to judging children’s poetry. Serving as our Virgil, Blake guided our [End Page 288] deliberations, reminding us that “Roses are planted where thorns grow[,] / And on the barren heath / Sing the honey bees” (pl. 2).1 Temporary as it may have been, the “infernal wisdom” (pl. 6) this approach afforded us led in the end to three books of exceptional merit: our winner, Arnold Adoff’s Roots and Blues: A Celebration; and our two honor books, Nan Forler’s Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year and Paul B. Janeczko’s Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto.

However, we begin not with the best but rather by taking up a few submissions worthy of—if not our scorn—then at least a little medicinal teasing (“Listen to the fools reproach. It is a kingly title!” [pl. 9]). At the top of this list is The Legend of Messy M’Cheany, by Kathie Lee Gifford and illustrated by Peter Bay Alexandersen. Gifford’s little book plumbs the dark heart of contemporary gender relations, reminding us in unvarying, anapestic meter that good girls don’t play in the dirt, but instead attend to more virtuous matters, like serving as a moral compass for filthy boys, bringing those same boys to their penitent knees, and studying their own considerable beauty with no fewer than five mirrors simultaneously (and should the young woman need more reminder of her worshipful loveliness, the illustration suggests that hanging a portrait of herself near her amply mirrored toilette will do the trick). A fair parody of Robert Service, The Legend of Messy M’Cheany reminded one of the judges of another in this esteemed genus, sometimes called the “Ballad of Mangy Nell and Pisspot Pete,” that warhorse of a filthy folk poem similarly preoccupied by gender relations and cultural constructions of chastity—although one certainly less coy in its celebration of the Blakean proverb, “the lust of the goat is the bounty of God” (pl. 8). Messy M’Cheany is a kind of warped reflection of “Mangy Nell.” The poem’s concluding rhyme reveals Gifford as the eponymous narrator of our feminist manifesto, and of course it is the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Gifford who exemplifies its moral lessons: be kind and graceful, beautiful and blonde (as if to underline this point, the back cover is dominated like a dirty, dirty boy by a full-color glamour shot of the poet). Gifford’s psalm of over-cleanliness, chaste girls, and filthy boys recalls Blake’s observation that “[w]ithout Contraries is no progression” (pl. 3). Therefore, the judges were inclined to read Messy M’Cheany redemptively as an inversion of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque emphasis on the body and the filthy pleasures of its lower regions (hell), yet even then its puerile morality forgets Robert Venturi’s Blakean notion that “valid [art] must embody the difficult...