From junior kindergarten through Grade 1, every visit to my school library started with a rousing recitation of a Dennis Lee poem or two. We started with Alligator Pie, working our way through poems about William Lyon Mackenzie King, Casa Loma, and – of course – the title delicacy. When we’d had our fill, we were presented with another Lee collection, Jelly Belly, which we loved just as much.
My classmates and I were lucky. Lucky to have a teacher-librarian in the school at all, and lucky to have such a good one. He fostered in us a love of rhythm and rhyme, and used Canadian poems to do it. He made the sharing and celebration of poetry an everyday thing, though we may not have recognized it at the time. Sharing those poems meant time away from our classroom, and permission to be a little bit silly. It was fun. This poetry was for us.
In retrospect I realize how easy it would have been for the librarian to have opened our sessions with classic nursery rhymes, or poems by Shel Silverstein, or Roald Dahl, which were almost certainly in the school’s collection. Maybe he did, but I don’t remember them. Dennis Lee’s poetry, for whatever reason, is firm in my memory. Long after I first heard “Alligator Pie”, I would learn of Lee’s many contributions to Canadian poetry, which I hope someone more qualified than me will write about as part of Brick Books’ 40th anniversary celebration. But for me, his poems for children are among the most important, maybe because they are the ones that have been with me the longest.
Dennis Lee is the author of Riffs, an adult poetry collection, which is now available in a new edition with an introduction by Paul Vermeersch. Here is a link to this book and more information about Dennis Lee.
Kate Edwards is Associate Director at the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), which represents more than 115 Canadian-owned book publishers. A graduate of the University of Toronto, and Centennial College’s Book & Magazine Publishing program, Kate sits on the boards of the Book and Periodical Council and Work In Culture. She is a past member of the National Reading Campaign’s steering committee.