Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo
Poet Randall Jarrell collaborated on three children’s books with illustrator Maurice Sendak: Fly by Night (1976), The Animal Family (1965) and The Bat-Poet (1964). Of the three, The Bat-Poet has always been my favorite. Shortly before publication of The Bat Poet, in 1964, Sendak sent this undated letter to Jarrell. In place of a signature, Sendak signed his letter with a characteristically charming and tiny pen & ink cartoon of himself in the guise of “Der Bat Artist” flourishing his brush in hand (or foot) and about to create. The miniature drawing perfectly captures the spirit of Jarrell’s poetic hero, who, like a real human child, tale is just so eager and sweet and shy and curious, yet manages all this without being too cloying. The small bat wants to know things, and then he wants to sing, and when that doesn’t work, he begins to make up poems, trying to express himself. He sets out to explore the day world, for example, and he gets a creative crush on the vain yet talented mockingbird. Little by little, he puts his observations into words. When he received Sendak’s letter, Jarrell filed it carefully inside his copy of The Bat Poet, where it remained until Joyner Library acquired it in 2010.
This post is in honor of Maurice Sendak who died on 8 May 2012 in Danbury, Connecticut at age 83.