Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Inspiration

During David Weisner's CLA talk he said that in creating art you can't wait for inspiration to come to you. Instead, you must get to work and focus on the process. Truer words have not been spoken. I know I can't just stare at the blank page and wait for the words to come. I have to put pen to paper and write. That said, I've never been one to easily "free write." Those were dreaded words in my high school English class. I did often stare at the page because I needed some parameters within which to write. That's why I like poetry stretches--they give me something to focus on and think about. They may be a minor inspiration, but they do help me get started.

This week, let's write about something that inspires you. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quick Update - NCTE and Thanksgiving

NCTE has been amazing! The panel presentation on Friday went very well. The poets were terrific, as were Sylvia and Elaine. Did you know that Elaine and I started our e-mail and blog correspondence in the spring of 2007 and now I can say we've finally met! I also had the opportunity to meet Heidi Mordhorst and Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Hurray! I heard Gary Paulsen, Carole Boston Weatherford and David Weisner speak. I shipped a box of books home to the tune of $40+!

I have lots to tell, but since my family arrived yesterday, the next few days will be devoted to family vacation. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of NCTE.

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and Heidi Mordhorst

Three of the Four Poets on the Panel
Pat Mora, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Jame Richards

Elaine Magliaro and Mary Lee Hahn

Centerpiece from the CLA Breakfast and David Weisner's Talk

Once my NCTE obligations ended I hit the pool with my son. It's called the "Dig Site" and sports a Mayan temple!
We're having fun so far, so I may not update much until we return home. If I don't see you before then, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
William hamming it up!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Finding the Right Adjective

I've been inspired by reading Marilyn Singer's poems these last two weeks and want to try writing poems that mirror a poem of which I am particularly enamored. Here's the poem.
What Water Can Be
(from How to Cross a Pond: poems about water)

A furrow that's filling
       Water, collective
Your face in the puddle
       Water, reflective
A network of rivers
       Water, connective
Your boat drifting downstream
       Water, directive
A storm in the city
       Water, objective
One drop on your eyelash,
       Water, selective
For me this challenge will be all about finding the right adjectives for the poem's topic. I hope you'll join me. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marilyn Singer and Footprints on the Roof

I've been a facilitator for Project Learning Tree for some time now. When I lead workshops I always read this poem from Marilyn Singer's book Footprints on the Roof.

Trees are go-betweens
        listening to the stories
of both earth and sky
           the conversations
of vireos and star-nosed moles
       of eagles and worms
Trees know the soft secrets of clouds
       the dark siftings of soil
The hear the high keening of squalls
           the deep rumbling of rocks
Trees whisper for the sky's damp blessings
       and the earth's misty kisses
They issue warnings
They offer praise
       This is trees' work
and they do it with such uncomplaining grace
       it never seems like work at all
Here's what Marilyn had to say about this book.

It's obvious that I'm a nature-lover. I'd done several books of poems about the natural world before FOOTPRINTS, but I'd say that the poems in it are more sophisticated. FOOTPRINTS represents my reflective side. One reviewer wrote that my work is the poetry of questions. I really, really like that because, in terms of the natural world, I think I'm always asking myself questions, trying to puzzle out what things mean , how they work and what our place is in relation to them. I like feeling a small part of a large universe.

FOOTPRINTS is part of a series of three books which focus on those questions. The others are HOW TO CROSS A POND: Poems about Water and CENTRAL HEATING: Poems about Fire and Warmth. These books represent a kind of intersection of science and poetry. I write both nonfiction about the natural world and poetry. To me, both are about curiosity and wonder. Nonfiction can explain things we take for granted or things we find mysterious and make us appreciate them. Poetry can take these same things and make them mysterious or relatable in surprising ways. The excitingly strange can become intriguingly familiar, and vice versa, all leading to that sense of wonder. That's what I've tried to do with these poems--give the reader a bit of a surprise, make him or her curious, and encourage him or her to take delight in the wonders of our world.

The three books in this series are wonderful little packages full of surprises. The trim size is small, but don't let that fool you. These little gems are filled with Meilo So's gorgeous India ink drawings on rice paper (grays in FOOTPRINTS, blues in HOW TO CROSS A POND, and reds in CENTRAL HEATING) and poems that in turn will make you laugh then nod and smile in agreement. Here are two favorites from the other books in the series.
What Water Can Be
(from How to Cross a Pond)

A furrow that's filling
       Water, collective
Your face in the puddle
       Water, reflective
A network of rivers
       Water, connective
Your boat drifting downstream
       Water, directive
A storm in the city
       Water, objective
One drop on your eyelash,
       Water, selective

(from Central Heating)

Holidays are marked by fire:
Sparklers in summer,
Jack-o'-lanterns in fall.
Menorahs, luminarias,
Christmas lights mimicking flames
       of yuletides past.
Paper lanterns afloat
       in Japanese harbors,
           sending departed spirits on their way.
Clay lamps shining
       in Indian streets,
           greeting goddesses and each new year.
So much light and warmth,
So much hope reflected
       in watchful eyes,
           joyous or solemn,
           pale or dark,
All year long in our brilliant worldwide
If you are interested in seeing Meilo's work, visit her blog Meilo So Illustration.

Unfortunately, finding these books in print can be difficult. I've done particularly well with Abebooks and found nice copies of Central Heating and How to Cross a Pond.

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marilyn Singer and Turtle in July/Fireflies at Midnight

So Turtle in July is the book that introduced me to Marilyn Singer. In the late 80s when I was teaching a unit on animal adaptations I decided I wanted to share some animal poems with my students. While browsing in a local bookstore I stumble upon Turtle in July. This collection of nature poems includes poems that pair animals with the months of the year as well as four seasonal poems focused on the bullhead (a type of catfish). The poems on hibernation (timber rattlesnake) and migration (Canada goose) sold me on the book and turned me into a fan. I've been looking for and reading Marilyn's poetry and nonfiction ever since!

Here's what Marilyn had to say about these titles.

I've mentioned that TURTLE IN JULY began as a prose picture book about a grandmother and grandson walking around, looking at animals, and that it never worked. I was at pond in the Japanese garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I saw a turtle and heard its voice in my head telling me how good it felt to be in cool water during that hot day in July. I really loved the idea of getting under the shell of that turtle, as it were, and wondered if I could get into the skin of other animals as well. To do that, I spent quite a bit of time at parks, zoos, wild places, observing, as well as researching. Sometimes (usually when no one was looking), I tried to make sounds or move like those animals as well.

I did the same thing for FIREFLIES AT MIDNIGHT. TURTLE features animals during different months/seasons; FIREFLIES at different hours of the day. I have always loved fireflies--I used to catch them when I was a kid and put them in a jar, then let them go--but I think the first poem I actually wrote for this book might have been "Frog." I've written a lot of frog poems. I'm very attracted to these amphibians, though I'm not sure why. My husband and I have a house in Connecticut and frogs rule the night there with their calls. All of the animals in TURTLE are in the same general locale, but for FIREFLIES, I was thinking even more specifically of critters I've seen near that pond in Connecticut.

I want to share two wonderful things regarding these two books. The first is that an elementary school class set "Beavers in November" from TURTLE to music and performed it for me. What a delight! The second is that I writer I idolize, Susan Cooper, was handed FIREFLIES at a conference. I stood there as she looked through the book, then pointed to "Spider" and said, "Very good poem." I grinned like a fool!

Here's a favorite poem from each book.
Canada Goose
(from Turtle in July)

Did I tell you?
I should tell you
Going home
We're going home
Are you coming?
Yes, you're coming
Going home
We're going home
How the sun will warm each feather
How the wind will make us fly
Follow me -- I'll be your leader
As we flap across the sky
Are you ready?
I am ready
Going home
We're going home
Is it time now?
It is time now
October's happened
And we're going home

(from Fireflies at Midnight)

I, crayfish,
no day fish
no way fish
at all
Nosy otter, watch its jaws
Careless wader, watch my claws
Spend each morning
lying soundless
under stones
Spend each evening
shredding stems
picking bones
If you teach poetry writing, you can use Fireflies at Midnight to teach about personification. Learn more by reading the article Personification by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

You can find a nice review of Fireflies at Midnight with some classroom suggestions at the blog written by Emily Cox.

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NCTE Poetry Posts - What's Cookin'?

Here's a question for you. What happens when you spill an Earl Grey latte on your laptop? Well first you curse like a sailor (yes, I did) and hope no one hears you (they did). Then you panic. Finally, you pray that the amazing computer support folks can fix your monumental screw-up and save everything you haven't backed up on your hard drive, which is all your recent work from the last few months.

Whew! Thank goodness someone was smiling down on me! Now that I'm back, here's what I missed and what's new in our run-up to the NCTE panel on poetry and blogging.

This Week
At Poetry for Children, Featuring New Poet Jame Richards
At Wild Rose Reader, Eating Poetry, Number Two: A Poem for Lee Bennett Hopkins
At The Miss Rumphius Effect, Marilyn Singer and Monster Museum and Marilyn Singer and Monday on the Mississippi

Last Week
At Poetry for Children, Pat Mora on the Web and in Print
At Wild Rose Reader, Lee Bennett Hopkins: A Silent Mentor and The Anthologist: A Poem for Lee Bennett Hopkins

Go now, read and enjoy!

Marilyn Singer and Monday on the Mississippi

A while back I was looking for some poetry books to use in a geography unit in came across the book Monday on the Mississippi, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Frané Lessac.

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this book.
Guide books can be interesting and useful. Tours can be engaging and fun. Could there be such a thing as a poetic guide book, a lyrical tour? I thought so when I wrote NINE O'CLOCK LULLABY (Harper) and ON THE SAME DAY IN MARCH (Harper), trips through the world's time zones and weather. I liked researching and writing those and wondered what my next poetic trip could be? Well, why not a path steeped in story and history--the Mississippi River?

I'd been to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. My first glimpse of the river was at the latter location, as my husband and I drove from Wisconsin to Minnesota, and I recalled how excited I felt, seeing this famous river road. To write the poems for this book, I used those recollections and I also took another excellent road trip, stopping at Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin; Dubuque, Iowa, where there's a great river museum; Gutenberg and McGregor, Iowa to see the barges; and Effigy Mounds State Park, also in Iowa. I wish I could've visited every place I wrote about, but I could not, so for research I turned to reading, films, and correspondence/conversations with folks who lived in or spent time in those places.

In 2006, the American Library Association conference was held in New Orleans, the first big convention following the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. Each year at this conference, I co-host the ALSC Poetry Blast, a reading by children's poets, and that year, I read from MONDAY ON THE MISSISSIPPI. It was a poignant moment for me and the audience and it made me appreciate even more strongly how poetry can not only entertain and enlighten, but unite and strengthen writers, readers, and listeners.
I love poems that introduce and explore places, particularly places I've never been. Here's a poem about a stop on the east bank of the river.
Friday on the Mississippi
Memphis, Tennessee

At Mud Island, where their brothers admire
the perfect miniature model of the Mississippi--
its tiny towns, its little twists and turns--
two sisters want to sit quietly by the real thing,
listening for Martin Luther, B.B., Elvis,
and all the others that would've been,
should've been,
or never could've been.
They want to sit and hear the river that rings
with the voices of Kings.
One of my students wrote a nice little review of this title. You can read it here.

If you are interested in more poetry about places and using poetry to teach geography, consider these links.
Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Marilyn Singer and Monster Museum

Halloween may have passed us by, but for some folks monsters just never get old. Monster Museum, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Gris Grimly, is a book of poems that shows what happens when a group of children follow a docent (an undead one at that!) through a monster museum. Are Frankenstein, Dracula, Bigfoot, Medusa and others wax replicas? Or are they something else? Grimly's illustrations are terrific and reward those who take the time to study them.

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this book.
I dislike horror movies, but I do like monsters. Let's face it--monsters are fun! I'd written a few poems about them that I thought were pretty good and I liked the idea of a book about them, but what kind of a book? There were certainly other books of monster poems out there. I was mentioning this dilemma to a writer friend, and he suggested I set it in a museum. Zowie! That did it, and MONSTER MUSEUM was born! The monsters would be the exhibits (sometimes they'd be talking ab out themselves--I requested that the amazing illustrator, Gris Grimly, feature "Press Me" buttons) and there'd be a guide, who described the rest of the exhibits.

I remember going through several books and online guides to famous monsters. Those helped me with the poems and the "Glos-Scary" at the back of the book. I needed to know the "essence" of these monsters to write the poems, which also gave me a chance to play a lot with language, to be witty, and to write a few limericks.

The book was well-received, so I got to write a companion, CREATURE CARNIVAL, in which the attractions at a carnival are beings from myths, fairy tales, movies, etc. For that one, I visited several county and country fairs to get ideas for the attractions. A delightful way to spend a late summer day!
My son requested I share his favorite poem from the book, so here it is.

You want to be a millionaire?
Have gold and jewels beyond compare?
I'll give you wealth
(can't promise health)
if you will dare
to do my hair.

Lately I have such a whim
to get a perm--or just a trim.
An antique Greek
can still look chic.
A bit more prim--
but far less grim.

My ends will never split or break.
My scalp won't shed a single flake.
There's just one condition--
to be my beautician,
have you got what it takes
to put curlers on snakes?
Marilyn's follow-up to this title, Creature Carnival, was named an honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 2005. You can hear Marilyn read some of the poems from this book in her wonderful acceptance speech. (You even get to hear her sing!)

For more monster poetry titles check out the thematic list monstrously good poetry.

Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Research Report - Families That Read

This from the November issue of Journal of Research in Reading (Volume 33, Issue 4, 2010, pp 414–430). **The highlighting here is mine.**

Article Title: Families that read: A time-diary analysis of young people’s and parents’ reading

Abstract: Parents can play an important role in assisting their children to learn to read, and can act as good role models in promoting reading behaviour. While there has been a raft of research on the impact of parents as teachers, there has been little empirical analysis on the impact of parents in modelling reading. Addressing this gap in the literature with time-diary data, this paper presents a study of the association between parents’ and young people’s reading in the United Kingdom. The paper finds a strong association between parents’ and young people’s reading concentrated in households where parents are observed to read for more than 30 minutes per day. In addition, mothers’ reading is associated primarily with girls’ reading (especially in lone- mother households), while fathers’ reading is strongly associated with boys’ reading. Some implications for campaigns to encourage young people’s reading through increased parental reading are discussed.

Here are some things you should know about the method and data set.
  • This was a secondary data analysis from the UKTUS 2000–2001 that surveyed 6,414 households in the United Kingdom.
  • All individuals in the household aged 8 years and over (N 5 14,423) were asked to provide information about their activities, the other people they were with and their location in 10-minute intervals for a weekday and a weekend day.
  • This study looked at the reading behaviors of the parents as well.
  • The young people included in the sample resided in 981 households. There is information from 981 mothers and 749 fathers in the sample. (This means about one-quarter of these households are single parent, lone-mother households.)
Here are some of the more interesting results, some of which are not surprising.
  • Girls average significantly more reading time than boys.
  • There is no significant difference in the average reading time of young people in lone-mother households compared with those in two-parent households.
  • There is a difference in the average reading time of young people whose parents have a degree (20 minutes) compared with those whose parents do not have a degree (9 minutes).
  • Young people whose parents were observed to read for more than 30 minutes themselves average significantly more time reading than young people whose parents were not observed to read.
  • There is a relatively strong and statistically significant correlation between the proportion of time young people are at the same location as their parent and the time they spend reading. This shows that being in proximity to parents is an important factor in young people’s reading.
I'll say that the gender correlation bothers me a bit. What about households where single parents or same sex parents don't share the gender of their children? Regardless of the family configuration (single dad and daughter, single mom and son, two dads with a daughter, or two moms with a son), I would like to think that modeling and encouraging the habit of reading transcends gender.

Overall, this is one more set of data points that speaks to the importance of modeling and making time for reading at home.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Marilyn Singer and First Food Fight This Fall

First Food Fight This Fall: And Other School Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa, follows a group of children as they learn and grow over the course of a school year. These poems are written in the children's voices and fairly sing about the highs and lows of school.

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this title.
FIRST FOOD FIGHT THIS FALL started off as one poem, the final one in the book, "Last, First," which I had hoped would be a picture book unto itself. My brilliant editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested instead that I write a whole series of poems about kids in a particular class. A lot more work, but a truly interesting direction, I thought.

I wanted to create different characters, but the book needed more than that--an arc for each one. I'm big on hope and positive self-development, but not on sentimentality, so I strove to make the characters' development--and the poems--more organic, more in keeping with how I felt kids would grow and how THEY would express those positive changes.

I used several poetry forms in this book--haiku, cinquain, triolet, a variety of other rhyme schemes, and free verse, assigning those forms to particular characters, the way I imagined them speaking. Narrative poetry is, to me, about "inner speech" more than actual speech--it is poetic, it has metaphors and the like, but it should not sound forced. It should sound like the person speaking and not the poet. A third-grader may be more internally poetic, but he or she is still not going to use huge vocabulary words or highly sophisticated philosophy unless he or she is some savant and, none of those were in the third grade class found in FIRST FOOD FIGHT THIS FALL.
The poem that sparked this particular project is a celebration of those last days of school and first days of summer. All the children in the class have a voice in this closing poem. Here are the first stanzas of the last and first sections of "Last, First."
Last hurry-up bell,
Last pledge to the flag.
Last big words to spell.
Last wild game of tag.
First chance to sleep late.
First day it's too warm.
First do-nothing date.
First great thunderstorm!
For me, it's the arc of personal development that I love in reading the poems here. Marilyn's writing ensures that we see how these kids grow and change over the course of the year. While the children consider everything from gym to art to cleaning erasers, it's what they have to say about poetry that moves me. Here's what Laksmi says at the beginning of the year.
What I Think of Poetry
by Laksmi

Poetry makes me
sleepy: lullaby words in
a warm, quiet room
Here's what she and Kwan thought a bit later in the year.
When Ms. Mundy Read Us A Poem
by Laksmi & Kwan

I fell asleep as
usual. Only this time
I dreamed of flowers.

On the
grayest fall day,
all the maples outside
were bare, but in our room cherry
trees bloomed.
Laksmi discovers the beauty of poetry while in Ms. Mundy's class, and when I read her changing perspective I have to wonder why. What did Ms. Mundy do to change her mind? What can teachers do to help children discover poetry? How might we use First Food Fight This Fall in this endeavor? I'd love to hear your ideas about sharing poetry with children. Won't you share?

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

NCTE Poetry Posts - Day 3

Today is day 3 in the run-up to our NCTE panel on poetry and blogging. Here's what we have for you today.

At Poetry for Children, More on Mora
At Wild Rose Reader, A Question for Lee Bennett Hopkins
At The Miss Rumphius Effect, Marilyn Singer and Mirror, Mirror

Go now, read and enjoy!

Marilyn Singer and Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Massee, is a collection of poems based on fairy tales that tell two sides of the same story. But wait, there's a catch! The paired poems are inverses of one another, meaning the second poem is created by reading the first poem in reverse (hence reverso).

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this title.
When I was a kid, my parents read me lots of fairy tales and poems, so I have both in my blood. Therefore, it’s no big surprise that I ended about writing an entire book of poems based on these tales, MIRROR, MIRROR. Now, when I was little, I was not a big doll person, but my uncle gave me something called a “Rags-to-Riches doll.” She was dressed in a peasant costume with a patched dress, shawl, kerchief on her head, and no shoes. You took off the shawl and pushed down her skirt (gathered with a drawstring) and, presto, it was a ball gown! Under the kerchief was a crown. Dancing slippers completed the transformation. I’m convinced that that doll influenced this book because for it, I came up with a new poetry form: the reverso.

A reverso is two poems in one. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes just in punctuation and capitalization, and it's a different poem. To create reversos, I spend many hours at the computer (I write most poems with pen and paper, but not these!) playing with words and lines--shifting them around, seeing what makes sense and what doesn't. But first I start with the fairy tale. I have to be able to find two points-of-view in it that will make a good reverso because the hardest aspect of this form is that when you flip it, the second poem MUST say something different, not just the same message in reverse.

Another big influence on this book and these poems is my love of word games, as well as old-fashioned board games such as "Clue" and computer adventure games where you solve puzzles. And I love to challenge myself. Writing MIRROR, MIRROR gave me the chance both to create and solve puzzles. And now I've written a second, as yet untitled, book of fairy tale reversos. Told you--I love a challenge!
The author's note Marilyn provides also gives readers some insight into the form and her process. Here's what she says.
We read most poems down the page. But what if we read them up? That's the question I asked myself when I created the reverso. When you read a reverso down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem.

The first reverso I wrote was inspired by my cat, August:

A cat
a chair:
a chair
a cat.
You can view some of the gorgeous illustrations and read more poems from the book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I'm not only enamored with the form used in this book, but also the subject matter. After all, one of my favorite books of poetry is The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales, edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont & Claudia Carlson.

Incorporating fairy tale poetry in the classroom is a great way to spark interest in poetry itself. The topic is familiar and lends itself to examination from multiple perspectives. That's one of the reasons that Mirror, Mirror works so darned well. The unexpected second perspective is often surprising and funny.

Most elementary curricula mandate the study of fairy tales and fables as part of English/Language Arts. Teachers have become pros at integrating fairy tales from other cultures and "fractured" fairy tales. It's time poetry became part of this study. For some ideas on integrating fairy tale poetry into the curriculum, check out these resources.
Before I wrap this up I should tell you I have a copy of Mirror, Mirror to give away. To be eligible to win you must leave a suggestion for reading or writing fairy tale poems in the classroom on this post, or leave a question for Marilyn on the post More on Marilyn Singer and Poetry. The winner will be randomly drawn from these comments on Monday.

Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NCTE Poetry Posts - Day 2

Today is day 2 in the run-up to our NCTE panel on poetry and blogging. Here's what we have for you today.

At Wild Rose Reader, an interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins
At The Miss Rumphius Effect, More on Marilyn Singer and Poetry

Go now, read and enjoy!

More on Marilyn Singer and Poetry

Since I'm introducing Marilyn Singer to you and the folks at our NCTE panel in a few weeks, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of Marilyn's work and ideas about poetry in a format a bit different from yesterday's interview. So, here are some points of interest.

On Poetry for Kids
As part of the kickoff of National Poetry Month this year, School Library Journal published an article by Marilyn Singer entitled Knock Poetry Off the Pedestal: It's time to make poems a part of children's everyday lives. In it Marilyn wrote:
I know firsthand that most kids seem to like poetry. But something amiss happens along the road to adulthood, and many of those same students end up actively disliking poetry or not relating to it.
Now the ironic thing about this is that I could easily replace the word poetry with science and the sentence and sentiment would be exactly the same. What makes this discouraging is that it's not the subject itself that leads our students to disliking it, but rather the way we teach it. Don't believe me? Consider this excerpt from the poem Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
So, how can we encourage and engender an appreciation or even affection for poetry (they don't have to love it, just see the beauty in it) in young people? Marilyn shares her thoughts and ideas, as well as those of other poets in the SLJ article. What ties all these ideas together are the notions of exposure and playfulness. Kids need to be exposed to poetry of every kind and they need to hear it. We, the purveyors of poetry in schools and classrooms, need to make it fun! Perhaps if we do this we can inspire kids to carry poetry with them on more occasions than Poem in Your Pocket Day.

On Writing Poetry
On her web site, Marilyn offers 10 tips for writing poetry. The first appeals to the scientist in me and might just explain why I love poetry so much. It is:
Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?
This is, of course, what poets do. Not only do they look closely, but they encourage us to see things in new ways.

Marilyn in Her Own Words
You can learn more about Marilyn and her work (poetry and other genres too!) in these links.
Your Turn
Want to know more about Marilyn and her work? Here's your chance. Marilyn will answer questions you submit regarding her work, process, poetry, and probably anything within reason. Leave your questions in the comments or send them directly to me at pstohrhu (at) richmond (dot) edu. I will forward them to Marilyn and will round up her answers for you next week.

On the Horizon
Between now and November 12th I'll be featuring a number of Marilyn's poetry books. I will be sharing a bit of insight from Marilyn about each title as well as suggestions for using the books in the classroom. Up tomorrow is Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. Be sure to come back and visit as I'll have a copy of the book to give away!

Monday, November 01, 2010

NCTE Poetry Posts - Day 1

Today begins our run-up to NCTE in which Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader, Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children and I feature the poets who will be an important part of our panel discussion. Here's what we have for you today.

At Wild Rose Reader, Lee Bennett Hopkins - Why Poetry?
At Poetry for Children, Featuring Pat Mora and NCTE
At The Miss Rumphius Effect, Meet Marilyn Singer

Go now, read and enjoy!

Meet Marilyn Singer

I discovered Marilyn Singer in the late 80s when I was teaching science. My fifth grade students were studying adaptations and I wanted to share some animal poems with them. While browsing in a local bookstore I came across the book Turtle in July. This collection of nature poems includes poems that pair animals with the months of the year as well as four seasonal poems focused on the bullhead (a type of catfish). My worn, dog-eared copy died long ago, so I was thrilled when the very generous Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader sent me a few poetry books and this title was in the mix.

Before I talk more about this book and a few other poetry titles of Marilyn's, let's learn a bit more about her.

How did you get started writing poetry?
Marilyn: My parents read to me a lot, and among my favorite books were Little Golden collections of poetry. In addition, they sang me to sleep with the popular songs of the day, the lyrics of which were written by greats such as Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Yip Harburg, etc. The wit and style of those songs influenced me a lot. So, poetry/lyrics attracted me when I was very young. I started writing my own poems in first grade. Writing GOOD poems came somewhat later. ;-)

Who/what made you want to write?
Marilyn: I’d say that those good poets and lyricists made me want to write and that my teachers and parents were encouraging. When I actually began writing poetry for children, my husband and editors were extremely supportive.

What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Marilyn: My first books for children were picture books and novels, and most of the former weren’t even in rhyme. My first full poetry book was TURTLE IN JULY. It started as a prose story, which didn’t work, and that’s when it hit me—I could write in my favorite genre for KIDS. That was an amazing revelation! And it’s changed my reading, as well as my writing. I’d had some of my adult poems published in college journals and small press magazines, and I’d read a fair amount of poetry by well-known poets. Now Barbara Genco and I co-host the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Poetry Blast at the ALA (American Library Association) conference every year, where poets read their work aloud. To prepare for that, I get to read a lot of poetry for children and young adults, which is a great treat.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Marilyn: I majored in English in college, but took mostly literature classes. In the one creative writing class I took, my teacher said that my poetry was good, but the rest of my work wasn’t. Later for him! Other than that, I’ve had no formal training. However, I have gotten good teaching from friends and editors. Their comments have really helped me write better.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Marilyn: My poems are generally sparked by questions that I want to answer, by images that surprise me, by the need to play with language, and by characters whose voices I hear in my head (not literally!). My collections are largely thematic, but I don’t usually feel that there IS a collection until I’ve written a minimum of five poems on that theme and firmly believe that I can write a lot more.

I tend to write on legal pads or scraps of paper and revise until I’m satisfied, and I can write anywhere (and I do mean anywhere). When I’m on a roll, I will write several poems each day, spending much of the time staring into space and playing with language—or, as my husband puts it, “poetizing.” It’s a pleasant state to be in, but most particularly when I’m sitting outdoors in the country on warm days with few distractions.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Marilyn: Writing poetry allows me to answer questions, to play with words and images, and to surprise, amuse, and even—at the risk of sounding immodest—move myself, all things I find enjoyable. Poetry is largely meant to be read aloud, so it’s easy to share, and, if you love literature, I believe you enjoy sharing it. I know that I do.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Marilyn: MIRROR, MIRROR: A BOOK OF REVERSIBLE VERSE is my favorite. It features a form that I invented called the “reverso.” You read the piece down, and it’s one poem. Read it up, and it’s another. All the reversos in my book involve fairy tales.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Marilyn: I have a number of other poetry books coming out, including one about dog holidays (Dutton), another about games and play (Clarion), and THE BOY WHO CRIED ALIEN (Disney-Hyperion)—a “silent movie” in the form of poems. For that one I made up an alien language and wrote poems in that. Then I translated the poems into both literal English and poetic English. Still forthcoming are these poetry books: TWOSOMES: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom (Knopf); A FULL MOON IS RISING (Lee & Low), a lyrical world tour of events that happen during a full moon; A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING (Clarion), poems about everyday games and play; THE SUPERHEROES EMPLOYMENT AGENCY (Clarion), featuring B-List superheroes looking for work); RISKY PLACES (Chronicle) about animals that thrive in extreme habitats; and as yet untitled new book of fairy tale reversos (Dutton). Other forthcoming books include CATERPILLARS (EarlyLight), a nonfiction book; WHAT IS YOUR DOG DOING? (Atheneum), a rhymed picture book; and TALLULAH'S TUTU (Clarion), the first of three picture books featuring Tallulah, a young ballet student.

My most recent published poetry books are SHOE BOP! (Dutton), poems about shoes, and FIRST FOOD FIGHT THIS FALL (Sterling), poems about school in the voices of kids from one class, and MIRROR, MIRROR, fairy tales in a new form.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Marilyn: Shakespeare is my favorite author, and he was a grand poet. I also love Dylan Thomas.

Your favorite place to write?
Marilyn: I write poetry in a lot of places because it’s portable. I’ve written it in coffee shops, in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, at the Bronx Zoo, on the subway, on airplanes, by my pond in CT, in my apartment in Brooklyn—everywhere. Writing on the subway is fun because it makes the ride go a lot faster!

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Marilyn: I’ve always loved Coleridge’s quote: “Prose: words in the best order; Poetry: the best words in the best order.” I totally agree with it.

One of the things about Turtle in July that works so well is the pairing of the animals with the months. For example, October is the Canada goose, January the white-tailed deer, and March the brown bear. My favorite poem is the book is for the month of September.
Timber Rattlesnake

Summer it still is
September stones
Warm bones
Warm blood
Strike I still can
Snare and swallow the harvesting mouse
the shuffling rat
But slant they do the sun's rays
Shorter grow the days
Soon September stones
Chill bones
Chill blood
Stiff shall I grow
And so below I'll slide
Beneath stones
Beneath soil
Coil I still can
Sleep safe
Sleep sound
Snake underground
Marilyn followed up this effort with the book Fireflies at Midnight. Instead of describing animals throughout the year, this one is focused on a single day at different hours. Can you guess which animal is an early riser?

Up cheerup I'm up
Let me be the first to greet the light
First cheerily first
Hello day, good-bye night

Up cheerup I'm up
In this tree soon chicks will hatch
Soon cheerily soon
Down below are worms to catch

Up cheerup I'm up
Hail chicks and worms and sky!
Hail cheerily hail
Morning robins are not shy
The great thing about these books is that Marilyn has conceived of and written the animal voices and thoughts in such convincing ways. She talks about this in Paul Janeczko's book Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for New Poets.
Why do I have animals and people speak poetry, when we know that in real life they don't? For me, poetry is they're saying inside—their true thoughts and feelings. And it's not just what they'd say, but how they might say it. You know that some folks are more down-to-earth and have a plainer way of talking while others use fancier language. I think, if they could talk, some animals would speak in many different ways, as well. A turtle, for example, might talk slowly and use few words. A dog, on the other hand, would probably blabber excitedly. He'd also use slang. At least, that's how I imagine these animals would sound. In my poetry, I get to know these people and animals—and I hope you do too.
As you may have noticed, I am quite fond of animal poems, but Marilyn has written about many diverse topics including water, fire, nature, shoes, the Mississippi River, and more. One book about beasts of legend and fable, Creature Carnival, was named an honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Another book (released in September of 2008), First Food Fight This Fall: And Other School Poems follows a group of children as they learn and grow over the course of a school year. These poems are written in the children's voices and fairly sing about the highs and lows of school. Here's what Laksmi has to say about poetry at the beginning of the year.
What I Think of Poetry
by Laksmi

Poetry makes me
sleepy: lullaby words in
a warm, quiet room
Here's what she and Kwan thought a bit later in the year.
When Ms. Mundy Read Us A Poem
by Laksmi & Kwan

I fell asleep as
usual. Only this time
I dreamed of flowers.

On the
grayest fall day,
all the maples outside
were bare, but in our room cherry
trees bloomed.
One of Marilyn's most recent books has had me reading and puzzling over the poems for a while now. In Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, the poems in the book are based on fairy tales and tell two sides of the same story. Here's the catch. The poems are inverses of one another. The second poem is created by reading the first poem in reverse (hence reverso).

Here's the example Marilyn provides in her note about the form.

A cat
a chair:
a chair
a cat.

Brilliant, isn't it? The poems in this one are crafty. I've read them forwards, backwards, and over and over and find myself wondering how she did it. Perhaps one day she'll share her secret.

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.