Interview Wednesday: Janet Fagal

Please welcome Janet Fagal today.

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Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
JF: Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds about the words we should be using with children, a must read for everyone, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note about reading strategies, Taylor Mali’s The Last Time As We Are, Mary Oliver’s Evidence, Sophia’s War by Avi, Ann Martin’s A Corner of the Universe and The Lightning Thief. As you can see I am very eclectic and read a lot of books for kids, all kinds of poetry and books about how to be a better teacher.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
JF: Either in my den or bed! But pretty much anywhere.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?

JF: I am in my second year of retirement after a 40 year career in teaching. So my days are open, but full.

I actually write when the mood strikes or I have the time. I like to read blogs and comment there and on FB. I use FB in a professional way and find I love that aspect of it a lot. For poetry I enjoy writing late at night as long as I can sleep in the next morning. This sort of has surprised me, but I go with it. I am not fussy. I am and always have been a random soul “squooshed” into a school schedule. In retirement I am having to re-invent my routines. One might think this a grand thing, but to a “random”, life is a feast and I want to savor it all. So time can appear to stretch on forever some days. I just see and like to use time in my own way. And sometimes that means I scramble to meet deadlines!

MsMac: Ooh, your retirement life sounds wonderful. i have five more years. Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

JF: I relish the hard thinking, playing and energy that goes into revising. I remember hearing educator Lucy Calkins talk about needing to be both passion hot and critic cold as a writer. Passion to get it all out and down, to feel that need to write and write some more and cold to revise and edit with care and clarity, and precision, even when you have fallen in love with your own words. That said, writing is hard work.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

JF: Since we are empty nesters, I like to cozy up on my couch that sits in front of a large window and write on my laptop these days. Which is something I don’t think I would have predicted a few years back. I was definitely into paper and pen. I do love the messiness of drafting on paper, but I am now speedier on the computer. I am pledging not to get left behind by technology!

MsMac: What are your current projects?
JF: I am working on poems for submissions to magazines. There are a couple of Haiku contest opportunities I am working toward. I like having to find the essence that Haiku demands. I am also in the earliest stages of a verse novel; I have been greatly inspired by Nikki Grimes’s latest book, “Words with Wings”. I am working on a book about my poetry teaching. And I am still considering what my own Blog might be like.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
JF: I teach. I tutor and substitute teach and talk to teachers about using poetry with kids. I also volunteer in classrooms in my old school bringing the love of poetry to elementary kids. I travel to visit family and friends and look forward all year to our summertime R and R weeks in Maine. I am also on some boards. One is our local music in the schools guild, another is my Pen Women group and I am active in the New York State Reading Council in my area. I am secretary for one, co-president for another, I chair our annual poetry contest and help plan programs for the other. So I keep really busy.

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
JF: From my earliest days, thanks to my mother, lines of verse have been a part of my life. Because I grew up on Long Island and my mother lived on a beach, literally, some summers in the 1930s, “Sea Fever” by Masefield is a poem that resonates with an oceany roar from childhood. Poetry has helped me think about the world and notice more. Poetry makes me feel and helps me remember. In the last 12 years I stumbled on the joy of bringing poetry into the lives of children; so much so that I am called “the poetry teacher” in our town. My students are known for the poetry they can recite and the poems they write. Beginning in 2005 I started to learn poems by heart, too. Carrying these poems with me changed me. When I am alone or have time, I can entertain myself with words written long ago or recently and I love the connection to the poet who never knew me. I can recite for family and friends and little ones, too. And I am shocked that at my seasoned stage of life I can learn poems as easily as I do. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to read widely and about poets and poetry. I eagerly await Lee Bennett Hopkins’ newest book, All the World’s a Stage and a poem from that book, Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s “Amazing Face” will be the next one I memorize.


MsMac: Why is poetry important?

JF: 
Since I am a teacher I will talk about how I think poetry and kids go together like paddles and canoes.(I had to throw in a little poetic simile to consider!) Children love poetry. They love all kinds, if you present it in a way they can relate to. But no pressure to memorize or analyze. Just be with poetry. In school I did not make it like a lesson. I wove it in naturally and throughout the year. It was almost like a game at first, though at the same time, I built in reverence for words. And the kids knew when to be silly and have fun and when to talk about important ideas even if they might not yet fully understand. And they also developed a reverence for poets!!! Poetry is language at its finest. It grabs us, holds us, enthralls, and teaches, entertains and reaches us in ways that can take our breath away. Just like a picture is worth 10,000 words, a poem can make that picture clearer and more enduring. And the variety, ah the variety. Some thing, (many things) for everyone. I have found and believe strongly that we should never underestimate what children will be interested in or want to learn. When my 3rd graders eagerly learned “O Captain, My Captain” because they thought it was moving and important, my eyes were opened to possibility. Poetry is powerful language and thought. Like poet, Dana Gioia, I want it to be a vital part of our culture again for everyone. So dip your paddle in the poetic sea, don’t be afraid! Let yourself glide, silently at first, let it pull you along, let it transport you to where words sing siren songs. It will bring you to poetry if you let it.

Let me introduce you to 3 year old Samuel. I adore how he learned this poem just as my students learn, by ear. And you can tell he “gets it” on his own level and loves it.

Here he is reciting Litany by Billy Collins

Here are some photos that serve as Janet’s inspiration:

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Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Milk
JF: Coffee or tea? Tea

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
JF: Tango

Favorite Quote:
JF: Here’s a quote I like. I have so many favorites it is hard to choose.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then,
is not an act, but a habit.—Aristotle

Janet, thank you so much for sharing a bit of you poetry and writing world. Good luck on the submission process.
I will have a poem by Janet to share for Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading.
Happy Poetry.

MsMac

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5 thoughts on “Interview Wednesday: Janet Fagal

  1. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Peaches by Janet Fagal | Check It Out

  2. Janet — can’t wait for you to stop IMAGINING your blog and start WRITING it!! (wink, wink 🙂

  3. Ha Mary Lee! I put that in specifically for you!!
    J.
    I am having so much fun reading around. But….I do intend to do something……Just read Ann Martin’s 2002 Corner of the Universe. Do you know it? An interesting book, probably something for “some” gr. 5 kids to read and talk about. There is an emotional “issue” or two I wonder about for school, but in some ways I like it a lot. Kept me reading. Won a Newberry Honor which I didn’t know until I just looked at Amazon reviews. Have you read Sophia’s War by Avi? I really like it a lot. Historical fiction. Can’t wait for NCTE.

  4. Janet is so knowledgeable about poetry and teaching; I’m with Mary Lee and look forward to reading her blog. It is very hot today in Buffalo, and just reading the peach poem is making my mouth water! Thank you Jone and Janet for this post about a true friend of poetry. a.

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