Livingston, Myra Cohn
LIVINGSTON, Myra Cohn
Born 17 August 1926, Omaha, Nebraska; died 23 August 1996
Daughter of Mayer Louis and Gertrude Marks Cohn; married Richard R. Livingston, 1952; children: three
As a child, Livingston wrote poetry and plays (which were produced at school) and showed a talent for music, winning a national competition on the French horn. "Whispers" (1946), written while Livingston was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, was her first published poem. After graduation, Livingston wrote book reviews and did public relations work. She continued to write poetry while her three children were growing up. Very interested in education, she was poet-in-residence for the Beverly Hills School District.
The collections of Livingston's poetry can be divided into two groups: those for the very young and those for children in the middle and late elementary school grades. Some of the former contain short unrhymed prose poems built around a particular topic; the most highly regarded volumes are I'm Hiding (1961), See What I Found (1962), and I'm Waiting (1966). Others of Livingston's books for young children are random collections in varying moods and meters about the oddities and joys of daily life. Livingston writes simply and directly from the child's point of view about things that please and puzzle the preschooler. The poems are very short, seldom more than 8 or 10 lines, and are intended to be shared with children in those brief moments when their attention can be caught. On the whole, the poems project a certain charm as they show how children can find magic in simple, everyday things, but they are repetitive, uneven, and sometimes strained. The expression lacks the melody and fun with words that small children most enjoy in their poetry. Livingston's poems for the very young mirror the child's world rather than extend it imaginatively.
Later poems, in collections such as Old Mrs. Twindlytart, and Other Rhymes (1967) and A Crazy Flight, and Other Poems (1969), continue the refreshing unpretentiousness and honesty of her earlier ones, but they show a changing perspective and increasing attention to broader matters that direct them toward a somewhat older audience. In general, these later poems are longer; forms, subjects, and moods are more varied; and there is less repetition. While these are also inconsistent in quality, they are more melodious, less prosy, and reveal a deftness and adventurousness of expression that the earlier poems lack.
In When You Are Alone / It Keeps You Capone: An Approach to Creative Writing with Children (1973), Livingston presents the philosophy behind her own writing and teaching, along with practical suggestions for helping children express themselves poetically. She maintains that exposing children from their earliest years to good poetry is essential for stimulating them to write well: "The sharing of poetry, wherever one is, in the classroom or library or at home, is intrinsic to the development of the imagination and the humanization of child and adult alike." Her articles (Horn Book, Dec. 1975 and Feb. 1976) deploring current methods of teaching children to write and the tendency of adults to rate poetry done by children higher than it should be have resulted in a reexamination of attitudes toward children's writing. A capable poet, an anthologist noted for several collections of poetry by other writers, and a respected critic, Livingston became a leading influence in the world of literature for children.
Whispers, and Other Poems (1958). Wide Awake, and Other Poems (1959). I Talk to Elephants! (1962). I'm Not Me (1963). Happy Birthday! (1964). The Moon and a Star, and Other Poems (1965). The Malibu, and Other Poems (1972). Come Away (1974). The Way Things Are, and Other Poems (1974). Four-Way Stop, and Other Poems (1976).
Allman, B., et al eds., Children's Authors and Illustrators (1991). Copeland, J. S., Speaking of Poets: Interviews with Poets Who Write for Children and Young Adults (1993). Larrick, N., Somebody Turned on a Tap in These Kids (1971). Mahmoud, L. V., ed., Books Remembered: Nurturing the Budding Writer (1997). Sutherland, A., and M. H. Arbuthnot, Children and Books (1977).
Anthology of Children's Literature (1970). Books Are by People (1969). CA (1967). SATA (1973).
Booklist (June 1995). Instructor (Oct. 1992).
—ALETHEA K. HELBIG