October 2014 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

The Storyteller: Jane Yolen's Autographed Poetry Broadsides

Lauded as the Hans Christian Andersen of our time, Caldecott Medal winner Jane Yolen continues to produce books and poems that inspire readers of all ages. Now, Joslin Hall Rare Books, located in the bohemian, eclectic college town of Northampton, MA, is offering a limited-edition run of poetry broadsides signed by the author.   


10.15.11JaneYolenByLuigiNovi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eight poems are printed on beautiful art paper and illustrated with what appear to be nineteenth-century calligraphic art images of various animals. The subjects range from a quiet musing on Jerusalem to a charming comparison of how the craft of poetry is similar to the tunneling lives of moles. A selection of eight different poems have also been printed onto bookmarks and signed by Yolen. Except for one, all poems are available in limitations of fifty. The holdout, a poem called "The Story Teller," is available in a limitation of twenty six and was printed by A Midsummer Night's Press, an enterprise once devoted to letterpress printing of broadside poetry. (The independent publisher now prints perfect-bound, commercially printed volumes and operates three imprints dedicated to poetry.) 
English: Line art drawing of a mole.

English: Line art drawing of a mole. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last winter Yolen discussed with me the process of writing poetry, and creating a poem of lasting merit often requires drafting poems of lesser quality.  In fact, in 2010, she started a project called "A Poem a Day," for which she committed herself to writing one poem every day, and in January 2013 she convinced subscribers to sign up for her daily verses. Now she has at least 150 devotees who receive a daily poem in their inboxes. "I explain to them that many of these poems are never going to be in books - they're not good enough - but, the more you write, the better you get."

Yolen is currently recuperating from back surgery, but if her work ethic is any indication, she's already completed a few poems to meet her daily quota. When we spoke, recent eye surgery kept her from looking at a computer screen for a while. "Some days I cheat and write three or four poems in case something comes up." Poetry subscribers can rest easy knowing that Yolen has already prepared their morning compositions. Perhaps keen subscribers will pick up the Joslin Hall catalog and recognize bits of earlier works they saw first via email.