I’ve repeatedly flipped through “Worlds Enough: Poems for and about Children (and a few grown-ups)” and haven’t yet gotten my fill of the sometimes wild, sometimes subtle, always colorful poems and illustrations.
Years ago, while teaching poetry to middle school students, I had so much fun because the kids had fun. They let loose with clever thoughts and rich artwork as we tackled each type of poem or poetic device one by one. The results were albums of work, each unique to the adolescent who’d created it.
“Worlds Enough,” written by Scott Owens and illustrated by Missy Cleveland, is a grown-up version of my middle school kids’ collections. The book of 57 poems and even more illustrations is fun, vibrant, and unique in its explorations of some of the simplest topics, such as hiccups, kites, earthworms, leaves, stars, and shadows as well as ponderous issues: time, word choices , friendship and brokenness. “Worlds Enough” introduces children — and probably some adults — to poetry, the pleasure of reading, the value and delight of illustrations, and making connections to others’ views.
People are also reading…
I talked to Scott and Missy about their book, recently published by Catawba Valley Community College’s Redhawk Publications, and discovered how “Worlds Enough” came to be.
You might be familiar with Scott. He and his wife Julie Owens own Taste Full Beans in downtown Hickory. Scott’s also a creative writing instructor at Lenoir-Rhyne University and an award-winning poet, having completed 16 books of poetry prior to writing “Worlds Enough,” his first book for children. “The most fun I’ve had writing a book,” he offered with a smile.
Scott said he’d worked with a photographer once but this was the first time he’d teamed up with an illustrator.
Missy is a self-taught artist, a muralist who also creates smaller painted and multimedia works. She co-founded the popular Bottega artist boutique on Union Square in Hickory and is currently producing custom commissioned canvases for the public and for Old Hickory Tannery, a Newton furniture company. “Worlds Enough” represents Missy’s inaugural undertaking as a book illustrator. She said she enjoyed the process and looks forward to doing it again should the opportunity arise.
Scott said he’d written many children’s poems over the years but never pursued publication because he didn’t have an illustrator. Then one morning, walking through Taste Full Beans, a specialty gift shop as well as café, “this painting of Missy’s was on the wall,” Scott explained, “and it resonated with a poem I’d just started.” A poem about plurality, about the fact that we’re not always the same person and our faces disclose who we are at any given time.
Said Missy, “I painted that piece probably two years ago and in the same mindset.” The painting’s faces are upside down, sideways, multicolored, and representative of various moods.
“I have five of [Missy’s] paintings in my home,” Scott continued. “I looked at them and realized how wonderful they’d be in a book of poems for children.”
So, the book ended up containing poems from Scott’s long ago past, including one from high school; his nearer past of him, especially topics and verses inspired by his daughter of him Sawyer; and just a couple of weeks before publication as some of Missy’s paintings moved him to write poems about them.
Similarly, Missy had existing paintings that fit naturally with some of Scott’s poems, and she painted or used markers, pen and ink, pencil, or oil pastels for new ones to go along with other poems. An example is “I Bet I Can Make You Cry,” a poem about the power of cut onions. Because she likes to put humor and color in her work, Missy produced a painting depicting a lovely onion woman and a dapper onion man.
Besides free verse and traditional poetry with rhythm and rhyme, “Worlds Enough” offers Haiku, riddles, a lot of fun poems, and some stories. “If kids can think of poetry as fun, then they’ll continue with it,” said Scott.
Missy said she saw the book as a great graduation gift, “just as [Dr. Seuss’s] ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’”
“There’s so much [Scott’s] written in this book that resonates with all ages,” Missy said.
Speaking about his daughter Sawyer as inspiration for many of his poems, Scott shared the story behind “The Word for What Only 4-Year-Olds Can See.” After Sawyer’s maternal grandmother died, Sawyer talked to her, Scott explained. He said he asked her who she was talking to her, and Sawyer responded, “Grandma.” Scott told her he couldn’t see Grandma, and she told Scott he was too old. He asked her what else she could see that he couldn’t, and she listed a number of things, “giving them made-up names,” he said. Sawyer coined the term efflutress to name her special ability.
As Scott and Missy talked, it was clear that creative people save all their creations, ideas, and materials. Scott said he tells his students to throw nothing away, that they never know when they’ll have a use for it. Missy agreed. “I can’t throw anything away,” she said.
Concerning the title “Worlds Enough,” Scott said it was from 17th-century poet Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” the first line of which is “Had we but world enough and time.” “We do have enough world and time,” said Scott. “We just have to recognize the joy and opportunities that surround us.”
Missy agreed and added, “I know what art in books did for me as a child. hopefully [this book] could have a similar effect on other children out there in the same way it had on me.”
“We really do want to get the book into the hands of children and people who spend time with children,” Missy continued. “We’ll be donating at least 200 books to the community.” She expressed appreciation to the United Arts Council of Catawba County for supporting the publication of the book with a grant, making it possible to distribute complimentary books to various institutions and individuals.
One person who’s already received a free book is a middle-aged woman who stopped by Taste Full Beans and while waiting for the restroom to become unoccupied, picked up the book and started looking through it. The restroom cleared, but the woman continued reading. Twenty minutes later, she took care of business and left, the copy of “Worlds Enough” in her hands from her — a gift from Scott.
To close, here’s an excerpt from the poem “Of”: “Poetry is contrary to productivity. Poetry encourages idleness. Poetry stands at the window because it is curious about the flowers, this flower with its yellow fringed face around its one brown eye. … Poetry walks back and forth through a field going nowhere. … Poetry thinks it’s okay to look at the same sky day after day, sometimes minutes at a time, sometimes with no other purpose but remembering blue.”
“Worlds Enough: Poems for and about Children (and a few grown-ups)” is available for $15 at Taste Full Beans, 29 Second St. NW, Hickory; www.redhawkpublications.com; and Amazon.