Barbara Juster Esbensen, by Lee Bennett Hopkins
This beloved poet may be gone, but her words will certainly never be forgotten
A selection from Barbara Juster Esbensen's award-winning body of work.
It is incredible what one teacher can do! Eulalie Beffel, Barbara Juster Esbensen's tenth-grade teacher, nurtured her poetic talent the moment she told Barbara, "You are a writer!"
Miss Beffel introduced the class to works by prominent poets including Amy Lowell, Emily Dickinson and Stephen Vincent Benet.
"After reading these poets I thought I was going to faint," Barbara told me. "Miss Beffel changed my life."
An honored poet
Barbara was born in Madison, WI, on April 28, l925. After years of moving around the country while raising six children, she and her family settled in Edina, MN.
Her venture into poetry began in 1965, with the publication of Swing Around the Sun (Lerner), which contained 28 poems celebrating the four seasons. The book remained so popular that it was reissued 38 years later in a glorious new edition of 25 poems. As a tribute to Barbara, four artists from Minnesota, including Caldecott Award-winner Stephen Gammell, were commissioned to illustrate the book.
Another gem, Words with Wrinkled Knees: Animal Poems, originally published in 1986, was reissued by Boyds Mills Press in 1997 as a commemorative edition. The volume has a Forward by Bernice E. Cullinan and a tender memory piece written by Barbara's husband, Tory.
In 1994, Barbara received the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, an honor bestowed on a poet for their aggregate body of work.
A dance of breath
The following year, Dance with Me (HarperCollins, 1995) received the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. A gardener, grandparents, a basketball player, and others who become dancers in their own right are celebrated via l5 poems.
At the close of the evening's award ceremony in Hershey, PA, Barbara turned to me from the dais and said, "Lee, you can dance with me any time."
Shortly after the publication of Dance with Me, Barbara died on October 25, l996.
One of my favorite quotes from this beloved poet is, "A poem is merely a dance of breath that has learned to fly!"
We will miss her dance steps, but will forever hear the music — the music of her wonderful words.
Lee Bennett Hopkins is a distinguished poet and anthologist. A recent collection is Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums (Abrams, 2007).