Poetry Friday: On the Eve of the CYBILS

It’s actually four more sleeps as I tell my grandgirls when waiting for time to pass.  I thought it a good time to interview last year’s CYBILS winner, Marilyn Singer.  Her book Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse was named best book in the poetry category.

Your Reading Life

 MsMac: What books are on your night stand?

 MS: I have different books for different reading locations.  On my night stand, for reading in a chair or in the bathtub (see below), I currently have THE CUPCAKE QUEEN by Heather Hepler, which I’m finishing, and BIRD IN A BOX by Andrea Davis Pinkney, which I’ll read next.  For reading on the subway and in coffee shops, in my tote bag I have THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST by Tim Harford, which I’ve also nearly finished.  The next book in that queue is HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR by Rebecca Rupp.  For sitting outside on a lounge, once the weather gets warm, the first book I plan to read is Stephen Sondheim’s LOOK, I MADE A HAT (I read FINISHING THE HAT last summer).

 MsMac: There are some books on the list that I will need to check out. What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult?

 MS: That’s really hard to answer as I’ve liked so many books.  I loved Grimm’s fairy tales, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and Sydney Taylor’s ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY a lot when I was a kid.  As an adult, I reread Shakespeare whenever I’m going to see one of his plays.    Some books I loved and have given often as gifts include R.A. MacAvoy’s TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON; SILK ROAD by Jeanne Larsen; M.T. Anderson’s FEED; Louis Sachar’s HOLES; and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy.

 MsMac:  What an eclectic list.  FEED was banned at middle school in my district. Any particular genre stand out?

 MS: I don’t think so.  You can tell from my current list that I like both fiction and nonfiction, though I don’t get to read much adult fiction these days.  I also read much children’s poetry, and you can guess why.  😉

 MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

 MS: I love reading in the tub and also outdoors in natural light (I can’t wait for winter to end!), as well as on the subways.  But needless to say, a comfy chair is also good.

MsMac: Which do you prefer a real book or ebook?

 MS: I don’t read e-books—don’t own an e-reader.  I can see that they’re great if you do a ton of traveling or have to lug textbooks, though.

 Your Writing Life

 MsMac What does a day of work look like for you? Favorite time of day?

MS: I’m an owl, not a lark.  Though I do sometimes start writing immediately when I wake up, I usually do most of it in the afternoon/early evening.  Occasionally, at 2 a.m. as I’m about to fall asleep, I have to jump out of bed and write something down because I just had an idea.  Groan!

 MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

 MS: Well, I revise as I write, but I guess I like that first burst of creativity the most.  However, revising is essential, so I like that, too.

  MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

 MS: I write everywhere—in my house in Brooklyn (both in my office, which is a room filled with books, objects, and three live birds and in my living room/dining room, in coffee shops, on the subway, by the pond at our place in Connecticut, at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and in the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which has been called “Marilyn’s office.”

MsMac: What are you currently working on?

 MS: I’m working on a book of poems about the U.S. presidents and I’m doing a lot of research, both through books and on the Internet, for that.  I also have a number of poetry books coming out this year and next:  A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING, ill. by LeUyen Pham (Clarion); EVERY DAY’S A DOG’S DAY, ill. by Miki Sakamoto (Dial); THE BOY WHO CRIED ALIEN, ill. by Brian Biggs (Disney-Hyperion); THE SUPERHEROES EMPLOYMENT AGENCY, ill. by Noah Z. Jones (Clarion); A STRANGE PLACE TO CALL HOME, ill. by Ed Young (Chronicle) and another book of fairy tale reversos (Dial), once again illustrated by the divine Josée Masse.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?

 Taking swing/ballroom/Latin dance classes with my husband, birdwatching, walking, shopping, playing with and training my dog, going to the theatre, watching TV, eating, sleeping, and, of course, reading.

 About Your Book

 MsMac: Where did you find the inspiration for Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse?

 MS: As I mention in the back matter to MIRROR MIRROR, I was watching my cat asleep in a chair and a poem came into my head—plus its reverse.  I wondered if I could write more poems like it, so I tried.   I showed that first batch to an editor.  Among those poems were some based on fairy tales, and she suggested that I write more fairy tale poems.  I thought that was a great idea because these tales often have two points-of-view, which is perfect for the reverso form.  So I took her suggestion.  The word “reverso” was my husband Steve Aronson’s brainstorm.  I was calling them “reverse poems,” but he said, “How about something Italianate,” and presto!  Just one of the reasons we’ve stayed married for over forty years.

 MsMac: Where there any challenges during the writing of the book?

 MS: As you may imagine, there were many challenges.  It’s not an easy form to write.  A reverso is two poems in one.  The first poem has to say one thing.  When reversed, changing only punctuation and capitalization, it has to say something different.  That’s hard to pull off.  First I had to think about what things the poems would say.  I looked for stories or characters with dual points-of-view (or a point-of-view that I could MAKE dual, as with the Ugly Duckling).  I usually write on a legal pad, but I wrote the reversos on my computer so I could shift lines and words, to see if they made sense.  I think of it as creating and solving a puzzle—sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately satisfying if I pull it off.

MsMac: What kind of research was required before writing the poems?

MS: I read a lot of fairy tales, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  That was pretty much it for the research. 

 MsMac: How did you find out that you had won the CYBILS award for Poetry?

MS: On the web site when I woke up.  What a lovely valentine!

 Just for Fun

 MsMac: Chocolate:  white, dark, or milk?

 MS: Dark.  White isn’t even chocolate!

 MsMac: Coffee or tea?

 MS: Tea only—but caffeinated.

 MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

MS: Just learned some American tango.  But my favorite is Lindy.

 MsMac: Favorite Quote:

 MS: Here’s my favorite quote about poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

 “Prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in their best order.”

Thank you, Marilyn.  We’ll have to stay tuned for who wins this year’s CYBILS Award in poetry on Tuesday, February 14. 

Poetry Friday is hosted at Writing World for Kids by CYBILS very own poetry judge, Laura Salas.

Happy Reading.