Paul B(ryan) Janeczko (1945-) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1945, in Passaic, NJ; Education: St. Francis College (Biddeford, ME), A. B., 1967; John Carroll University, M.A., 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, cooking vegetarian meals, biking, working with wood.
Poet and anthologist. High school English teacher in Parma, OH, 1968-72, and Topsfield, MA, 1972-77; Gray-New Gloucester High School, Gray, ME, teacher of language arts, 1977-1990; visiting writer and lecturer, 1990—.
National Council of Teachers of English, Educators for Social Responsibility, New England Association of Teachers of English, Maine Teachers of Language Arts, Maine Freeze Committee.
English-Speaking Union Books-across-the-Sea Ambassador of Honor Book award, 1984, for Poetspeak: In Their Work, about Their Work; Don't Forget to Fly: A Cycle of Modern Poems, Poetspeak, Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems, and Pocket Poems: Selected for a Journey were selected by the American Library Association as Best Books of the Year.
Loads of Codes and Secret Ciphers (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
(Compiler) Poetspeak: In Their Work, about Their Work, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1983.
Bridges to Cross (fiction), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
Brickyard Summer (poetry), illustrated by Ken Rush, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor) The Place My Words Are Looking For: What Poets Say about and through Their Work, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1990.
Stardust Otel (poetry), illustrated by Dorothy Leech, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers, illustrated by Cathy Bobak, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems, illustrated by Carole Katchen, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
How to Write Poetry, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
(Compiler) Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Writing Winning Reports and Essays, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Opening a Door: Reading Poetry in the Middle School Classroom, Scholastic Professional (New York, NY), 2003.
Good for a Laugh: A Guide to Writing Amusing, Clever, and Downright Funny Poems, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing, illustrated by Jenna LaReau, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Worlds Afire (poems), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
COMPILER; POETRY ANTHOLOGIES
The Crystal Image, Dell (New York, NY), 1977.
Postcard Poems, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1979.
Don't Forget to Fly: A Cycle of Modern Poems, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1981.
Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1984.
Pocket Poems: Selected for a Journey, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1985.
Going over to Your Place: Poems for Each Other, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1987.
This Delicious Day: 65 Poems, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1987.
The Music of What Happens: Poems That Tell Stories, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Preposterous: Poems of Youth, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Looking for Your Name: A Collection of Contemporary Poems, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Wherever Home Begins: One Hundred Contemporary Poems, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Naomi Shihab Nye) I Feel a Little Jumpy around You: A Book of Her Poems and His Poems Collected in Pairs, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Home on the Range: Cowboy Poetry, illustrated by Bernie Fuchs, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Very Best (Almost) Friends: Poems of Friendship, illustrated by Christine Davenier, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
Stone Bench in an Empty Park, photographs by Henri Silberman, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
A Poke in the I, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2004.
A Kick in the Head, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor of articles, stories, poems (sometimes under pseudonym P. Wolny), and reviews to periodicals, including Armchair Detective, New Hampshire Profiles, Modern Haiku, Dragonfly, Friend, Child Life, and Highlights for Children. Also contributor of articles to books, including Censorship: A Guide for Teachers, Librarians, and Others Concerned with Intellectual Freedom, edited by Lou Willett Stanek, Dell, 1976; Young Adult Literature in the Seventies, edited by Jana Varlejs, Scarecrow, 1978; and Children's Literature Review, Volume 3, Gale, 1978. Leaflet (magazine), columnist, 1973-76, and guest editor, spring, 1977.
Poet Paul B. Janeczko is highly lauded for his work as an anthologist of such volumes as Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems, The Place My Words Are Looking For: What Poets Say about and through Their Work, and Very Best (Almost) Friends: Poems of Friendship. Works by internationally known poets appear alongside those of young upstarts in the many anthologies Janeczko has assembled. Janeczko's books are distinctive because each provides multiple ways of understanding the experiences of young people through poetry while at the same time maintaining their unique focus, whether it be friendship, romantic love, or other common experiences. Janeczko, who taught language arts for twenty-two years before becoming a full-time writer, has also authored several books that aid and inspire both beginning poets and report-writers. He has also penned several collections of his own poetry, among them Brickyard Summer, which depicts two teenage boys enjoying a summer away from school, and That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems.
When Janeczko was growing up, he was more interested in baseball and riding bikes with his three brothers than he was in school. His mother, however, had other ideas about how he should spend his time, and in the fifth grade she made him read for twenty minutes each day. While at first Janeczko started getting headaches from keeping one eye on his book and the other on the clock, he soon grew entranced by books such as the Hardy Boys mysteries. In the tenth grade he was transferred to a Catholic school run by the Christian brothers, an order noted for their discipline and use of corporal punishment. Janeczko's dislike for such authoritarianism is reflected in his novel, Bridges to Cross, which recalls some of the difficulties of attending such a strict Catholic school.
Surviving Catholic high school, Janeczko enrolled at St. Francis College, in Maine, where he began to enthusiastically pursue an English major. "I really began to change my attitude towards study, towards knowledge, towards intellectual pursuits," he once recalled in an interview with Author and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA). "I saw that many of the people were just far better students than I was and realized at that point that I had wasted a lot of time. I needed to work harder just to tread water, and as I worked harder school became more interesting and satisfying." In addition to publishing poetry in the school's literary magazine, he was exposed for the first time to some of the world's greatest poets, both old and new, and learned to recognize and understand good poetry.
After attending graduate school, Janeczko became a teacher, and his enthusiasm for this career soon led him to the two activities that have dominated his professional life: writing and collecting good poems. He began collecting poetry as a practical response to his needs as a teacher, because he was given a great deal of freedom in designing his own curriculum. "Poetry was going through a period of change," he later recalled of his teaching during the 1960s, "and I wanted the kids to experience some of that new poetry. I've always felt that any kid will read if you give him or her the right stuff, and that applies to poetry as well. I felt like if kids found contemporary poetry to their liking then somewhere down the line they may, in fact, discover and enjoy some of the classics." Janeczko began sharing the better poems he remembered from graduate school as well as poems from small poetry magazines. His students responded enthusiastically, partly because they liked what they were reading, and partly because they were rebels who enjoyed exploring the cutting edge of culture, according to Janeczko.
A chance meeting with a book editor resulted in The Crystal Image, Janeczko's first poetry anthology. "I had no idea then that anthologies were going to be what I would wind up doing or that poetry was going to be such an important part of my life," he told AAYA. While The Crystal Image presented a wide-ranging collection of verse, Janeczko's subsequent anthologies have centered on an idea or a theme. Postcard Poems, his second book, contains poems short enough to fit on a postcard sent to a friend; Strings collects poems about family; and Pocket Poems: Selected for a Journey is organized around the idea of being at home and then going out into the world and returning. While he has discovered many poems in books and magazines, as his anthologies have become increasingly well known, Janeczko has been able to directly contact living poets with a request that they pen something on a particular topic for an upcoming anthology.
Janeczko's Preposterous: Poems of Youth is primarily a book about boys, boys who are not quite men but feel the pull of manhood nonetheless. The opening poem, "Zip on 'Good Advice'" by Gary Hyland, sets the tone for the entire book by calling into question the authority of parents and their good advice. From that point on Janeczko groups his poems around such themes as anger, budding sexuality, the loss of a friend, and the delight to be found in mischief. In "Economics," a poem by Robert Wrigley, a young boy boils with rage at the man who owns everything he sees—and has a pretty daughter who seems unattainable. The boy strikes out where he can, but remains trapped in the impotence of his youth. Jim Wayne Miller's "Cheerleader" is no less striking a poem, though it deals with a very different pain of adolescence. In language reminiscent of a Catholic service, Miller condenses the sexual longing of adolescence in the image of a high school cheerleader who lives to share herself with others. Each of the poems speak to a young man's vague yearnings to have more—more knowledge, more freedom, more control—and they convey the feelings of youthful frustration.
In Pocket Poems Janeczko arranges the poems to suggest the passage of time and the passage from the security of childhood to the responsibilities of growing up. The book contains about 120 poems broken up into three sections. The first fifty poems focus on place and reflect the concerns of childhood and young adulthood; this section ends with poems about going away. The middle section contains twelve seasonal poems, roughly representing the twelve months of the year, that suggest the passage of time. The final fifty poems focus on being out in the world, taking responsibility, and growing up, although the section ends with poems about returning. "I put a lot of thought and effort into how the poems are arranged," claimed Janeczko of his anthologies, "and people may not see the overall structure from beginning to end but I hope they see how poems are clustered, two or three or four together." In reviewing another of Janeczko's structured anthologies, Don't Forget to Fly: A Cycle of Modern Poems, a reviewer for English Journal found the organization to be one of the volume's greatest strengths, commenting that "the poems are arranged like a symphony with similar subject matter grouped together."
Focusing on one of the most common subjects of poetry throughout the ages, the anthology Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters combines excerpts from love letters and love poems that range throughout the centuries. From William Shakespeare and John Donne to Naomi Shihab Nye and Maya Angelou, the works selected reflect the timelessness of love yet present a "take on romantic love [that] is the antithesis of the popular starry-eyed stereotype," according to Horn Book contributor Nell Beram. On a less-intimate note, his anthology Very Best (Almost) Friends reflects "the stab of jealousy and the ache of loneliness" while also extolling the many joys of close friendship, according to Booklist reviewer Rochman. Giving sentimentality a wide berth, Janeczko selects poems by Walter Dean Myers, Myra Cohn Livinston and Charlotte Zolotow, and he even includes a verse of his own. Praising the watercolor illustrations by Christine Davenier, a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed the collection a "choice gift for new friends and old."
Although each of Janeczko's anthologies has a different story to tell, the books are all similar in that they all encourage the reader to think, to play with words, and possibly to write poetry themselves. Among the anthologies that convey this message well are Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, The Place My Words Are Looking For: What Poets Say about and through Their Work, and Poetspeak: In Their Work, about Their Work, the last which English Journal reviewer Dick Abrahamson called "a real find for teachers of poetry." In preparing Poetspeak Janeczko asked each of his contributors to write a short essay of no more than five hundred words about one of their poems, about their writing process, or about anything else they wanted. The essays that resulted echo Janeczko's main goal: encouraging young readers by reminding them that poets are just people shaping their thoughts into words. "I want young people to see that poems are expressions of human experience, that poems are as different as people," he noted in an essay for the Children's Book Council Web site. "The possibilities of subjects poets choose to write about seem endless. I've offered young readers poems about teeth, suicide, lasagna, movies, swimming, insomnia, gluttons, dentists, war victims, crows, cars, cats, and gnats, to name a few."
In Seeing the Blue Between Janeczko collects poems and letters from thirty-two noted poets who write for children and teen readers, among them Naomi Shihab Nye, Lillian Morrison, Janet S. Wong, Nikki Grimes, Joseph Bruchac, Douglas Florian, and Andrew Hudgins. Filled with humor, insight, and encouragement, poet-penned letters that School Library Journal reviewer Lauralyn Persson characterized as "personal, friendly, and supportive" are followed by short poems from each of the writers included. Praising the volume as effective for use in a classroom setting, a Kirkus Reviews contributor added that, "like a favorite poem, their advice has rhythm and repetition;" the letters, addressed personably to the reader, urge students to look, listen, read, revise, and read again.
While the poems Janeczko collects for his anthologies, as well as those he writes, are often uplifting, he sometimes uses poetry as a means of illuminating the darker side of life. In "The Bridge," a poem from his own collection Brickyard Summer, Janeczko describes a group of boys' stoic reaction when one of their friends falls through the old railway trestle their parents had warned them about: "The only words we said about it/were Raymond's/'We were lucky'/after we watched Marty/slide into the ambulance/wrapped in a rubber sheet." However, he recognizes that there are dangers in exploring life's down side. "I don't want to be the 'Captain Bring Down' on poetry, so I try to strike a balance between the dark and the light poems, I try to write goofier ones or more 'hanging out with the guys' kind of poems. Part of what I want to do in a book is give kids some hope and some escape. If their life is a drag maybe reading one of the poems like 'The Kiss' (in Brickyard Summer) will just give them a little spark and that's good."
Janeczko focuses on a twentieth-century tragedy that has been the subject of several prose works in his original 2004 work Worlds Afire. On July 6, 1944, a tragic fire erupted in the main tent of the Barnum & Bailey Circus as the greatest show on earth performed in Hartford, Connecticut. In its wake, the fire left 167 men, women, and children dead and over 500 others injured, in one of the greatest New England tragedies of the twentieth century. In twenty-nine poems that recount, first, the circus opening, then the fire and, finally, the tragic aftermath, Janeczko gives voice to the survivors, as well as those destined to die. Even the arsonist is allowed to express himself through the poet's free verse in a "verse novel" that a Kirkus Reviews writer described as a "rich, challenging poetry experience" that "creates an overview of a community in tragedy." Although his verses capture the human tragedy rather than the graphic horror of the event, as Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted, "the combination of a thrilling circus and true catastrophe will grab middle-schoolers" cautious about investing in reading poetry.
Most of the poems Janeczko writes spring from his imagination, and begin as only an abstract idea. "Roscoe," a poem from Brickyard Summer, is a good example. In this poem two boys accidentally chase a neighbor's cat which causes it to run in front of a truck, and then hide their responsibility from the neighbor. Janeczko described the poem's origins in his AAYA interview: "One of the things you grow up with when you're a Catholic is guilt. I wanted to write a poem about guilt and 'Roscoe' was my vehicle for doing that, because guilt was the experience, but I never did anything with a cat." Janeczko encourages young writers to stretch their imagination in similar ways, reminding them that they are not chained to the facts. He also encourages budding poets to develop believable characters. "Sometimes I start with an idea, but a lot of times my poems are about characters. When I develop interesting characters, chances are they are going to do interesting things and so a lot of times I just come up with an interesting character and see what he or she does."
Janeczko retired from teaching in 1990 in order to concentrate on his own writing and to spend more time visiting schools. Leaving teaching was a big step, for he had been teaching for twenty-two years. His first year away from teaching was actually planned as a leave of absence; during that year he became a father for the first time and spent a great deal of time with his new daughter, Emma. He soon discovered how much he enjoyed writing, visiting schools, and talking to students, so he decided to make his retirement from teaching permanent. "I still get to work with kids, which is why I went into teaching in the first place," he commented. Since retirement, he has worked with young writers throughout the United States, as well as in Great Britain and Europe.
One of the things Janeczko talks to students about is the process by which he creates poems. Reading like a memoir in verse, the short poems in Brickyard Summer describe the life of two boys passing the summer between eighth and ninth grade. While the poems contain such clear images and telling details that they seem to grow out of the poet's memory, Janeczko maintains that there is very little in Brickyard Summer that actually happened to him. "There was nothing spectacular about my childhood," he explained in AAYA, "but when I write I can make it funny, I can make it interesting, and I can make it exciting. I don't write the truth but I try to write what's true." Part of the difficulty in getting young people to write poems is getting them to let go of the facts of their experience when those facts do not suit the poem. "You take one little bit of your life," he advised, "and then you do something different with it, that's okay, this isn't history, this is a poem and you go with that."
In addition to poetry, Janeczko has published the novel Bridges to Cross, as well as two nonfiction books on secret writing: Loads of Codes and Secret Ciphers and the more recent Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing. As Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson pointed out, "codes, like poems, allow one to conceal or unveil meaning in satisfyingly elegant ways," which explains the author's interest in the topic. In addition to discussing the history of cryptography—including Morse code, semaphores, Cardano Grilles, and other forms of secret communication—Janeczko provides a how-to for the budding spy by providing instructions for everything from invisible ink to simple code-breakers. Noting that the author's "upbeat, positive tone is refreshing and his enthusiasm … contagious," School Library Journal reviewer Cynde Suite dubbed Top Secret a "wonderful guide" while Mattson maintained that young readers would "take to this packed-to-the-gills volume like a spy to a cat suit."
"The great thing about writing," Janeczko once told AAYA, answering a question that has often been put to him by young people, "is that you can try different things. [British novelist] W. Somerset Maugham said there are three rules about writing a novel, and unfortunately nobody remembers what they are. I think that is also part of what I like about writing. I'm a disciplined person and I have my routine where I write, but … I have this thing about authority, and I suspect that that applies to rules too. Rules? You can break the rules, and I think that is the biggest attraction about writing."
But what about poetry? Why should students be exposed to it? Janeczko has an answer for that also, telling Patricia L. Bloem and Anthony L. Manna in an interview for the ALAN Review: "A good poem can put you in touch with strong emotions. Philip Booth once said that poetry brings us closer to what it means to be alive. There's also [fellow poet] James Dickey's famous assessment of poetry, that poetry is 'just naturally the greatest goddamn thing that ever was in the whole universe.' A good poem is like a booster shot of humanness. We need more of that. I think that's the 'so what' of poetry."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Janeczko, Paul B., Brickyard Summer, illustrated by Ken Rush, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Janeczko, Paul B., Don't Forget to Fly: A Cycle of Modern Poems, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1981.
Janeczko, Paul B., editor, Preposterous: Poems for Youth, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991, pp. 27-28.
Literature for Today's Young Adults, 4th edition, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1993.
Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1989.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 18, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 151-164.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
ALAN Review, spring, 1997, Patricia L. Bloem and Anthony L. Manna, "Reinventing What Our Lives Give Us" (interview), pp. 12-16.
Booklist, June 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems, p. 1758; December 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Very Best (Almost) Friends, p. 754; March 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of How to Write Poetry, p. 1340; March 15, 2000, Linda Perkins, review of Stone Bench in an Empty Park, p. 1378; March 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, p. 1392; January 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters, p. 841, and Hazel Rochman, review of Worlds Afire, p. 857; May 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing, p. 1621.
Emergency Librarian, January-February, 1996, Teri S. Lesesne, "Paul Janeczko: Exploding with the Possibilities of Poetry," pp. 61-64.
English Journal, September, 1982, "The Music of Young Adult Literature," pp. 87-88; January, 1984, Dick Abrahamson, review of Poetspeak: In Their Work, about Their Work, p. 89; November, 1984, "Facets: Successful Authors Talk about Connections between Teaching and Writing," p. 24, and Beth and Ben Nehms, "Ties That Bind: Families in YA Books," p. 98.
Horn Book, March-April, 1990, p. 215; May-June, 1990, p. 343; November, 1998, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Very Best (Almost) Friends, p. 750; March, 2000, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Stone Bench in an Empty Park, p. 206; July, 2001, review of Dirty Laundry Pile and A Poke in the I, p. 466; January-February, 2004, Nell Beram, review of Blushing, p. 96; May-June, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Worlds Afire, p. 328.
Instructor, April, 2002, Judy Freeman, review of A Poke in the I, p. 15.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Seeing the Blue Between, p. 414; February 15, 2004, review of Worlds Afire, p. 180.
New York Times Book Review, April 27, 1980, p. 61; October 7, 1990, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1998, review of That Sweet Diamond, p. 64; December 14, 1998, review of Very Best (Almost) Friends, p. 76; April 16, 2001, review of A Poke in the I, p. 63; July 18, 2001, review of Dirty Laundry Pile, p. 80; December 15, 2003, review of Blushing, p. 45; March 8, 2004, review of Worlds Afire, p. 75.
School Library Journal, May, 1990, p. 118; March, 1991, p. 223; March, 2000, Lee Bock, review of Stone Bench in an Empty Park, p. 254; April, 2001, Nina Lindsay, review of A Poke in the I, p. 161; August, 2001, Susan Scheps, review of Dirty Laundry Pile, p. 169; May, 2002, Lauralyn Persson, review of Seeing the Blue Between, p. 172; January, 2004, Linda Wadleigh, review of Writing Winning Reports and Essays, p. 149; April, 2004, Renee Steinberg, review of Worlds Afire, p. 156; May, 2004, Sonja Cole, review of Blushing, p. 169, and Cynde Suite, review of Top Secret, p. 170.
Teacher Librarian, May, 1999, Teri Lesesne, "More Poetry, Please," p. 43.
Children's Book Council Web site, http://www.cbcbooks.org/ (October 21, 2004), "Paul B. Janeczko."*
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