Wayzata poet wins Newbery honor

Dark Emperor
The cover of "Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night" by Joyce Sidman of Wayzata. It was named a Newbery Honor Book today
Image courtesy Houghton Mifflin

Wayzata poet Joyce Sidman's collection "Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night" took one of the nations top literary prizes and became a Newbery Honor book. The poems grew out of Sidman's interest in nature - and her fear of the dark as a child.

Joyce Sidman said she'd heard rumblings her book was being considered by the Newbery Committee.

But as the morning wore on -- and knowing the judges usually call winners before the press conference -- she'd decided this was not her year.

"I missed the call!" she laughed. "It was like the five minutes I was out of the house."

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She got the committee back on the line though. She said they didn't tell her why she won the award. She'll get a hint at the awards ceremony in New Orleans in June.

"It's unusual for a poetry book to be chosen," she said. "And I feel really great about that, that poetry has been acknowledged. That's part of why I am happy because I don't think poetry is always given its due."

With illustrations by Rick Allen, "Dark Emperor" is a collection of poems about a forest, with its plants and animals. However, Sidman wanted to explore the ecosystem most people don't see through a particular group of creatures and their environment.

"Bats and porcupines and spiders and mushrooms: some of the things that live nocturnally that we don't usually see or notice or think about because they are out and about when we aren't out an about," she said.

As an example Joyce Sidman reads a poem called "Oak after Dark."

As night-time rustles at my knee, I stand in silent gravity,

And quietly continue chose of feeding leaves and sealing pores.

While beetles whisper in my bark, while warblers roost in branches dark,

I stretch my roots into the hill, and slowly, slowly, drink my fill.

A thousand crickets scream my name, yet I remain the same, the same.

I do not rest, I do not sleep, and all my promises I keep.

To stand while all the season fly, to anchor earth, to touch the sky.

Sidman said she's a little bit afraid of the dar, and that's what led to her to explore things that thrive at night. She said her fear began as a child at summer camp where a trip to the bathroom after sunset was a challenging experience.

"Just that feeling of no lights around, and the darkness, and all the noises of the darkness ant being kind of terrifying but thrilling at the same time, I think that had something to do with it," she said.

Winning the Newbery Honor award will likely lead to more sales for "Dark Emperor," and attract attention to Sidman's other books. She calls it a validation of her work, but in typical Midwestern fashion keeps it in perspective.

"It just means a really warm glow for a little while until I have to sit down and keep writing," she said. "It's not making me any better of a writer, but it's helping with the morale, I guess."

Joyce Sidman says one other advantage is now she knows so much about the creatures of the night, her fear of the dark is much, much less.