In Conversation With Helen Frost

In Conversation with Helen Frost

Welcome to a new year. In December, I asked Helen Frost to do an interview for January focusing on the William Stafford centennial. We have emailed one another over the last few weeks about Oregon’s former Poet Laureate as we honor his legacy.

Jone: First of all Helen, I wish that we could be somewhere having tea, surrounded by William Stafford’s books as we discuss his legacy and influence upon us.

Helen: And I agree, talking over tea surrounded by books would be lovely. That was what I loved about our time at the Highlights workshop.

Jone: I’ve been thinking about Stafford since contacting you.  How to start, where to begin?  It’s funny but I actually didn’t know of him until after graduating from Lewis and Clark in 1974.  I think it’s possible I met Dorothy Stafford first because I taught in Lake Oswego as she did.  I know that I took at least one writing workshop from him.  And I remember Stafford talking about following the thread.

Helen: I have always loved what the two Williams–Stafford and Blake–say about the golden thread. Stafford finds the golden thread inside an image or idea and follows it into a poem, somehow carrying his readers along even when the trail is mysterious.

Here’s one of my favorites, of Stafford’s poems: “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border”   http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237528
I love the way he can turn too-easily-accepted things on their heads, or inside out, and invite us to look at them from a new angle. 

I first met William Stafford through his poetry, of course. I think the first time I heard him read was in the late 60’s at Syracuse University. A few years later, I wrote to him and he replied! That was very exciting to me. When I moved to Oregon in the late 80’s I met him on several occasions, at the home of mutual friends. I was active in the Lane Literary Guild, and one year we invited William and Kim Stafford to lead a workshop and give a reading together. What I especially remember about the workshop is that there were one or two people who brought very rough drafts, which, as one of the organizers, I found mildly embarrassing. How could someone present careless work to William Stafford and expect his careful response to it? But his response to every poem was thoughtful and generous. “What is the gift of this poem?” he would ask. We would find that there always was a gift, and through his gentle guidance, we could find it. 

Then, about a decade later, I received an award from the Poetry Society of America the same year that William Stafford received the prestigious William Carlos Williams award.  My mother attended the awards ceremony with me, and was most impressed when I greeted this honored poet by saying, “Hi, Bill.” I don’t think I said it with the intention of showing off to my mother, but in any case, “Bill Stafford” greeted me (and my mother) with characteristic warmth. There was something about him that cut through convention, and invited friendliness. 

Jone: Stafford does have a way to turn “turn-easily-accepted things on their heads, or inside-out” especially when it came to war.  

He’s such a master of observation of the ordinary: “Ode to Garlic” (http://poetrypill.blogspot.com/2012/03/ode-to-garlic.html) which reminded me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Traveling Onion.” ( http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23310)

One could be amazed at the volume of poems Stafford wrote unless one is aware of his writing routine.  I am inspired by the way he would wake and begin the day writing.  To me that’s ideal but with the growing demands of school, I am learning to spend my lunch writing at school.  

Oh, to have been at that workshop with both Kim and his father. Your response reminds me about how I feel when students have shared their very rough drafts with visiting authors.  And Stafford, just a simple question about the poem being a gift. . It makes all the difference in the world.  What would the impact be on young writers if we asked simple, nudging questions?
How lucky your mother was to see you get your award along with meeting Bill.

In what ways does Bill continue to inspire you? 

Helen: I do think my life and work are influenced by William Stafford’s life and work, though something about the word “inspire” stops me a little short. I’m not quite sure why; maybe that hesitation itself comes to me through him, feels a little pretentious maybe. Let me think out loud here a bit–inspiration is breathing, right? I’m glad I’ve been able to breathe the same air with him, by being alive on the same planet at the same time, and by being in the same room with him, and with poetry, in a more literal way. But I’m not sure about being “inspired by” another person, as if they could tell (or teach) you how to breathe. 

One thing I remember him saying, though I don’t have the source, is that he wouldn’t want to think of his poems changing someone, that that would never be his motivation in writing. He asked how he would feel if someone entered a conversation with him saying, “I think I’ll try to change Bill today.” That makes me smile, and like so much of what he did and said, it relaxes me into my writing and into a certain way of being in the world. Trusting others and myself to be who we are without too much nudging. 

I guess that is a kind of inspiration, isn’t it? 

And yes, “Ode to Garlic” is all about this kind of strong and joyful humility.
Thanks for reminding me of that, and of Naomi’s poem which does sound Stafford-influenced. Lovely to think of these two poems in the same “poetry stew.”

Have you heard about the anthology in honor of the centenary of Stafford’s birth? A Ritual to Read to Each Other: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford
I have a poem in it that I’d be happy to share if you’d like. (Note to readers: Poetry Friday will feature this poem.)

Jone: I’d not considered the use of ‘inspire’ in that manner before, wow!  I think of all the times I have used the word.  Influenced is a more accurate choice.

Stafford’s lessons for me have been to observe the landscape of daily living in closer detail.  I read back through my interview with Kim Stafford last year.  His comments about his father support what you remember him saying about his poems.  

William Stafford always looked for what the the next writing exploration would bring him. His writing is so much about ‘trusting who we are without too much nudging’ as you suggest.

Have you visited the William Stafford Archives (http://www.williamstaffordarchives.org)? Such a fabulous resource.  Kim Stafford has an article, “Let’s Talk Recklessly” in which he explains that his father would encourage the polite talk to cease in exchange for talk that would require gossiping “freely about uncertainties and strange beliefs and lean forward and tumble into the liveliest possible interchange.”  If you could have been at the table with William Stafford during a ‘talk recklessly’ time, what might you have discussed with him?

Yes, I am anxious to get the new anthology, A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford.  Next Sunday, January 17, I am attending a celebration at Powell’s Bookstore on Hawthorne.  Kim Stafford with be there and will the Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Peterson.

Helen: I haven’t been to the Stafford archives yet, though I do hope to get there sometime in the next year or two. Just looking at the website is impressive!

Inspired…influenced..”in conversation with”–that is a good choice of words for the subtitle of that collection of poems that have been gathered around the Stafford centennial, don’t you think?

As it happens, I do recall a particular conversation with Stafford that I would categorize as “talking recklessly.” I’ll recount it here without mentioning names, though in the actual conversation we recklessly did talk about an actual person. I was young and not-yet-published, or very minimally published, and a one-on-one conversation with Stafford, in the safety of a friend’s home, brought up an experience that was troubling me: a workshop in which a famous poet had, I felt, used student poems as a vehicle to showcase his own wit and cleverness. He had been relatively easy on me, though I felt embarrassed by some things he had said about one of my poems, and I was having a hard time letting go of that. But what I found more troubling was that this poet had been unduly harsh to several people who seemed to me particularly vulnerable to criticism. Many people would have steered clear of such a conversation, and perhaps good manners should have dictated that we not discuss another poet like that, but Stafford drew me out, asking for details I really did want to offer. Then he said simply, “That’s not teaching.” Our conversation moved on, and I felt somehow eased of a burden. 

As for today, if I could talk with him now, yes, there are things I’d love to ask and share with him. But this is an online interview, which means that though I am talking with you on the surface, I am simultaneously talking with the whole world now and forevermore. I think this has altered our conversations somehow–the seeming intimacy of online exchanges, while necessarily holding back on private matters.. 

Jone: Thanks, Helen. I am not sure you could have stated any better how communication has been forever altered with the advent of social media. There’s a reckless conversation to have with Stafford: social media. I wish we had more time to virtually chat and I wish you could be in Oregon as we celebrate Stafford’s life and legacy. I am looking forward to sharing your poem Friday and seeing it in the book, Ritual to Read to Each Other: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford.

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Please be sure to return for Poetry Friday.

Poetry Friday: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. and Fog

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This has been reading week in the library.  Once a month students in graders third through fifth spend the time reading and trying out new books.

This week, I got to read Greg Pincus’ book, The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.  Have you read it?  You should!  I could relate to the main character Greg who dislikes math yet loves poetry.  The themes of friendship, perseverance, and learning to stand up for what you believe in is woven into the book so naturally plus it is funny!

A fourth grade boy wasn’t happy with the choice of books in book boxes so I passed the book to  him to read today.  He checked it out after class.

I will be suggesting it for read aloud when school returns from winter break.

The book inspired me to write a fib about the fog which until yesterday was a fixture in the Pacific Northwest sky.

Fog
shroud
hovers.
Quiet
lingers in the mist.
He quivers, lighting one candle.

You can find out more about Greg HERE. Poetry Friday is at Buffy’s Blog. Thanks, Buffy!

Happy Friday! Winter break begins!

MsMac

Interview Wednesday: Meet Anastasia Suen

Anastasia Suen visiting today. She is currently on the CYBILS Round One Poetry Panel and is quite busy so I’m glad she took time from her schedule to be interviewed.

Your Reading Life
MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AS: The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine and you are here by Thich Nhat Hanh. I also have a stack of books for my Booktalking blog, (including this year’s CYBILS poetry nominations).
MsMac: What is your favorite reading spot?
AS: An old couch in my studio. (From there I can see all of the great books waiting for me!)

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Your Writing Life
MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you?
AS: I write in the morning and I teach in the afternoon. (I’ll be teaching the Naturally Creative Workshop again in January as well as the three kidlit writing workshops I offer year round: picture books, young nonfiction and children’s novels.) I always have a dozen or so projects in the works at one time, so no two days are alike.
MsMac: What is your favorite time of day to write?
AS: First thing in the morning is the best time to write. I write in longhand before I work on the computer, so my thoughts are free to go in any direction.
MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AS: I like first drafts because that is what the big decisions are made. I need to take all of the research and thinking I’ve done and make it into something new. (Synthesis!) I find that very satisfying.
I also like to revise because I keep coming up with new ideas as I write. I love it when that happens.
MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AS: I have my old couch, a wall of bookshelves and four tables of varying sizes with stacks and piles of files from different projects. There are two filing cabinets in the room (and stacks of file boxes in the closet). I also have several whiteboards that I use to plan my books.
Here is the character board for The New Girl (2013)

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MsMac: What are your current projects?
AS: In addition to writing my own books, I also work as a freelance book editor and write two magazine columns. Focus on STEM is my Booklist column and Grow with STEM is the LibrarySparks column I write with science writer Shirley Duke.
So I am writing (and editing) a dozen different projects right now: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I also have my own poetry blog, Poet! Poet! (I post a new haiku each Friday.)
MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AS: Most of my work day involves sitting, so I like to take breaks and stretch, do yoga, or lift weights. I also read, listen to music or watch TV while I train on the elliptical, walk, or jog. (I watch mysteries and singing contests on TV. La, la, la!)
MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AS: I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school. My mother played the radio all day when I was child, so we always had music in the background. A song expresses emotions and tells stories with concise vivid language. In my view, poetry is spoken music. It is a song with the human voice as its only instrument.
MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AS: Poetry is important because it focuses on one story or one emotion at a time. It doesn’t rattle on and on going here and there and everywhere. Instead, it concentrates on one thing and looks at it deeply.
Poetry slows us down and asks us to think, to see the world in a new way. It gives us the gift of being present in this moment. This is especially true with haiku, and that is why I like it so much. It is a challenge to say something with so few words. You have to make every word, every syllable, count.

Just for Fun
MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AS: Dark.
MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AS: Tea.
MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AS: Funky chicken.
Favorite Quote:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Please return Friday for an original haiku by Anastasia.

Happy Reading.
MsMac

Meet Carole Boston Weatherford

Late August an email appeared for a free SKYPE visit from Carole Boston Weatherford. She has been talking to students about the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. I though what a great opportunity for my fifth graders. It was a great visit two weeks ago. Have you read Birmingham, 1963? If not, you should.

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Today Carole is stopping by to share about her reading and writing life.

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Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
CBW: Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector, A Biography by Elinor DesVerney Sinnette

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
CBW: In bed or in the passenger’s seat of a car or on a train.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
CBW: I like to write in the morning or afternoon. But if I’m grooving with a manuscript, I can keep writing until late at night.

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
CBW:I like revising because I am able to see progress with each subsequent draft.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
CBW:It has two legs and a soft cushion and most often denim upholstery. It’s my lap.

MsMac:What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
CBW: Teaching. I am a college professor and teach children’s and adolescent literature and professional writing courses.
In my spare time I like to travel and to visit museums, parks and historic sites.

MsMac :You have been conducting SKYPE visits in remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing. What has been the response from the students you have visited?
CBW: They can’t believe that such hate violence occurred in the United States. They are appalled, and rightly so.
MsMac: I would agree that was the feeling of my students. I kept wondering why they would ask the same question. Then I realized that it was their way to process and confirm such a horrific event.

MsMac: As a child, how aware were you of the protests, the bombings, and the fight for civil rights?
CBW: I saw news reports of protests such as the March on Washington and the aftermath of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. However, my parents shielded me from the news of the church bombings when they incident occurred. I was only seven years old at the time.

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
CBW: Poetry sings to my soul. Sometimes, I think and feel in poetry.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
CBW: Poetry distills emotions and makes music with words. For children, poetry contributes to creating a language-rich environment so crucial to early literacy.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
CBW: Very dark (85 or 90 percent)
MsMac: Me too. With nothing else.

MsMac:Coffee or tea?
CBW:Tea

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

Favorite Quote:

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
~George Washington Carver

Be sure to stop in Friday as I will have a poem by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Happy Reading.

MsMac

Interview with Kelly Fineman

Today, I am Interviewing Kelly Fineman, poet  and CYBILS’ panelist for round one in poetry.  Last year her poem ‘Sea Jelly’ was published in National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, a CYBIL’s poetry finalist.

National Geographic book of animal poetry

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
KF: Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig (re-read)

Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett

MsMac: Wheres your favorite reading spot?
KF: On the cheetah print chaise lounge in my living room, or on the leather sofa in my sweetheart’s living room, or on the deck at my house or the patio at his. But I love to read, and can read anywhere.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
KF: I am working hard to create habits so that I have a “typical” day of work, but it varies by day. Most days of the week, I start by reviewing emails and social media, then move into a before-lunch work session. At least three days a week, I have afternoon work sessions as well. On Tuesdays, I meet my friend and writing partner, Angela De Groot, at a local Panera’s for shared writing time, which is always inspirational and fun. My favorite time of day to write is probably the morning, although I am not an early starter.        

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
KF: Ooh – tough question. Writing the first draft is so satisfying, because it’s creating something out of nothing, but revising is also satisfying because it polishes what’s there, pares off the extraneous stuff, and adds in what’s missing. Both can be frustrating and triumphant, but I think the pleasure in getting something “right” means that revision wins out for me by a whisker.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
KF: I am in the midst of straddling two living spaces just now. At my house, I write sitting at my dining room table, because the area gets lots of natural light and has lovely views out the back sliding doors and front picture window.

At my sweetheart’s house, I sometimes write in his current office, which has the benefit of a water fountain located just outside the window, which makes a lovely, soothing noise as I work, and sometimes in the living room, which has a gorgeous view of the back yard.

MsMac: What is your current project?
KF: I have just finished up revisions on a young adult poetry collection, and am working on a new collection of poems for middle graders.

MsMac: Ooh, yound adult poetry, sounds interesting. What might readers find you doing when youre not writing?
KF: They might find me meditating or doing tai chi, or reading (of course!), or baking or cooking.

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
KF: Talk about a tough question! I can’t tell you for sure whether writing poetry makes me more aware of phrases, incidents or images that inspire new work, or vice versa, but I do know that I find inspiration all around me on a pretty regular basis.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
KF: I could probably write you a dissertation on this one. It’s important for children – and should be used far more widely in schools than it is – because the poetic devices used, whether it be rhyme or metre or alliteration or assonance or just the concrete imagery and excellent, specific word choice that is commonplace in poetry, help kids to process information in different ways. Rhyming, metrical poetry is processed in the same section of the brain as music, which allows some kids to process or memorize the information contained more easily.

Poetry is important in general, though, because it allows people to process information free from the boundaries of precise logic, although precise language is usually involved. It allows a reader to experience an emotion or action vicariously, and through a far different lens than is available in other forms of writing. Startling juxtapositions are not only allowed, but encouraged, and the use of rich metaphor opens up interesting and unexpected associations.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
KF: Yes!

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
KF:
Also yes! (But I drink far more tea than coffee, though I have both most days.)

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
KF: Well, I can DO the funky chicken, so I’ll go with that.

MsMac: Favorite Quote

KF: Asking me for a favorite anything is useless, really, because I stink at picking favorite anythings. Here’s one that I like a lot, from Neil Gaiman’s poem (now a picture book), “Instructions”: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.” From “Instructions”, by Neil Gaiman: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

Check back tomorrow when I share her poem, ‘Sea Jelly.’

Happy Reading

MsMac

Poetry Friday: Says the Seagull by April Halprin Wayland

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Welcome to Poetry Friday. I am super excited to share a poem by April Halprin Wayland whom I had the privilege to interview on Wednesday. Even cooler, April invited me including my family to meet her while in Southern California last week. So I was able to get a couple of pics:

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April at her desk. How cool is that?

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Her tortoise, Sheldon, who loves to nibble toes as well.

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Her dog, Eli, who was nicknamed “Peanut Butter” by my grandgirl. She would have stoled “PB” is she was able to. She talked about him the rest of the trip.

And now for her poem:

SAYS THE SEAGULL

Shalom to slowly sinking sun
I sing in salty seagull tongue.

But who’re these people on my pier?
I sail, I swoop and then fly near.

They’re singing, marching up the pier
I think they did the same last year.

A father gives his girl some bread
she scans the waves then tosses crumbs.

I dive, I catch,
I save and…yum!

I like this ritual at the pier.
I think I’ll meet them every year.

I screech my thanks, and then I hear
“L’shanah Tovah! Good New Year!”

note: Shalom can mean hello, good-bye and peace.

poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

I like the ritual as well, April. Maybe one year I will join you at the pier. Thank you for sharing.

Poetry Friday is at Steps and Staircases. Thanks for hosting.

PS. Do you love poetry? Want to be part of the CYBILS, read about it and apply HERE

Happy Friday.
Happy Reading.

MsMac

Interview Wednesday: April Halprin Wayland

Today I am excited to share my interview with April Halprin Wayland. I recently had the opportunity to meet April in Southern California. She was so gracious to welcome not only me but my family to her home where we met her dog and tortoise. I’m writing from the road so I will share photos with her poem for Poetry Friday.

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AHW: I am a very slow reader, but I just read the wonderful non-fiction picture book (an SCBWI 2013 Golden Kite winner) Noah Webster and his Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, and two wonderful picture books by Michelle Markel: Brave Girl—Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrated by Amanda Hall. I’m in the middle of the riveting multi-award-winning non-fiction book, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, and Desperado’s Wife—a memoir, by Amy Friedman.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
AHW: In bed!

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
AHW: I am much sloppier and not as well-organized as this is going to sound. This is my ideal day; sometimes I nail it and sometimes I don’t:

I drive with my friend, her dog and my dog (Eli) to The Coffee Place Which Shall Not Be Named to say hello to my friendly barristas and order a single shot soy latte with extra, extra, extra foam. Then we drive to the dog park. After the dog park, I will meditate for 30 minutes and take an exercise class. Then I run errands, have lunch, and write my daily poem and send it off to my friend Bruce Balan, who sails around the world with his wife in a trimaran. They’re in Thailand right now.

Then I’ll whack away at emails, critique student picture book manuscripts for my UCLA Writer’s Program class, critique manuscripts for the folks in my critique group, work on a blog post. Finally, I write! I’m excited about a couple picture books now.

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AHW: The first draft, until I get to the end, at which point I mutter—I have no idea how to end this! Or—now, that’s a really corny ending.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AHW: I write in our extra bedroom. It looks like a child’s playroom with light pink walls, light blue carpet, and a huge plastic shower curtain printed with a map of the world on it hanging up and dog toys in an open drawer and spilling all over the room.

I write on a stand-up desk which I made by putting a pretty coffee table that I never knew what to do with on top of my desk. I love my desk. I stand on a bosu ball and bounce as I write. It feels very child-like to bounce while I’m downloading something from the internet.

MsMac: You’ll see her writing space on Friday.

MsMac: Please tell us about your new book, New Year at the Pier.
AHW: It’s beautifully illustrated by the most highly awarded illustrator in Canada, Stéphane Jorisch. Stéphane and I have been blown away by the response our book has gotten. It won the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal as well as other distinctions.

It’s about a young boy named Izzy whose favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a joyous waterside ceremony in which people apologize for their mistakes of the previous year, cleaning the slate for the new year. But there’s one mistake on Izzy’s “I’m sorry” list he’s finding especially hard to say out loud.

Tashlich (celebrated in my town on September 5th this year) is one of my favorite traditions. We walk to a body of water, sing psalms, and toss pieces of stale bread into the water. Each piece of bread represents something we regret doing in the past year. Because I live near the sea, I get to toss my “mistakes” into the ocean. It’s a way of letting go, of creating a clean slate for the coming year.

I’ve dragged numerous friends to our pier so they can taste the poetry of this ritual, to feel the wind, hear the gulls, experience moments of relief when they tossed each piece of bread. These moments changed me. How could I not share this in a picture book?

MsMac: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
AHW: That we are all human.
And perhaps they will learn how to apologize and how to forgive.
For teachers:

Let this book help you explain to students why some of their Jewish classmates are absent for a few days in the fall…and what they may be doing.

Read it in January to talk about the ways people around the world celebrate the new year.

Use it with younger kids to talk about apologizing to and forgiving their friends and family.

Use it to open a discussion with older kids about the Rwanda Reconciliation.

I’d especially love to hear that you gave this book to someone from whom you’ve been estranged, as a way of starting a conversation, apologizing, and possibly beginning a new relationship.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AHW: Singing folk songs and playing my fiddle with a big circle of musicians, hiking with my hiking friends, walking Eli, being politically active so that our country supports all of us and so that we all support the world, driving my new all-electric car (it’s so exciting and so quiet!), taking care of my elderly relatives and taking long, adventurous bike rides with my best friend who is also my husband. (I know…awwww…sooooo corny!)

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AHW: I’ve written a poem a day since April 2010, which changed my life; now I believe I really am a writer. Poetry seeps into me and leaks out. This can be very messy.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AHW: Because it just is.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AHW: Dark

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AHW: Both

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AHW: Israeli folk dances!

Favorite Quote:
If you think you are too small to be effective,
you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
~ Betty Reese

Thank you so much for sharing your writing and reading life with us, April.
Happy Reading.
MsMac

Interview Wednesday: Robyn Hood Black

Today I am featuring poet, writer, and online haiku friend, Robyn Hood Black.

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?

Robyn: Hattie Ever After (Kirby Larson), The Art of Haiku – Its History Through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters (Stephen Addis), Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolff), some art books, and picture books by Jean Craighead George and Susan Pearson.

MsMac: Ooh, I will need to look up the Addis’ book and I just finished Make Lemonade. What was your favorite book as a child? Was poetry something you enjoyed as a child?

Robyn: When very young, probably Are You my Mother? (P. D. Eastman) and The Poky Little Puppy (Janette Sebring Lowrey) and other Little Golden Books (really). I also still have my set of Walt Disney records/storybooks that I acted out repeatedly! My school book fair money went to nonfiction animal books. Later I loved the Joy Adamson Born Free series as well as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Judy Blume) and It’s Like This, Cat (Emily Cheney Neville).

I did enjoy poetry; I remember loving “Eletelephony” by Laura Elizabeth Richards.

Ms Mac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

Robyn: On a pretty day, out in the swinging chair hanging from an old dogwood tree. Most of the time, on the couch with one or more dogs.

Your Writing Life

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

Robyn: It varies! A perfect day is reading first thing in the morning, then writing during the latter part of the morning & mid-day, then working on some art (at some point catching up on email and blogging).
Deadlines often involve large amounts of midnight oil. And while I love school visits and conferences, these change up the creative schedule for sure.

MsMac: Which is your favorite first draft or revising?

Robyn: I like the thrill of a first draft, and the relief of revising, so it depends! When revising, it’s nice to have something already there to work from.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

Robyn: A little tornado-ish at the moment. I’m lucky to have my own nice-sized office space with a built-in desk for my computer as well as a big old desk for art, plus another spot for writing/drawing in the corner. Cabinets, bookshelves, closets – all full! Cardinals and squirrels at the two windows. My old office cat, May, loves to rearrange things and play with computer buttons. I often write a first draft, though, with paper and pen in another part of the house or outside.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

Robyn: I’m very excited to have just written a poem for a book for the very youngest listeners/readers, by the incredible Lee Bennett Hopkins. A dream come true!
I just finished my fourth year of writing nonfiction animal profiles for a national character education program, Core Essentials.

I always have poetry in the hopper. I’m also illustrating (with relief prints) a collection of original children’s poems that I hope will someday find a home. And I have lots more art I want to make for my art business/Etsy shop, artsyletters.

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

Robyn: Making art. Hanging out with my husband and kids (one in college and one about to be) and our animals. Prowling antique shops. Walking and conversing with birds. Not doing enough housework.

About Your Books and Haiku

MsMac: How did Sir Mike and Wolves come about?

Robyn: Both resulted from meeting editors at our SCBWI Southern Breeze (Ga./Ala.) conferences. I’ve volunteered with SCBWI for years and can’t say enough good things about it. Joining is the first thing anyone serious about writing or illustrating for children should do.

MsMac: Besides having haiku published in journals, have you put your haiku in a collection?

Robyn: Not yet – still working on building up a body of work. But I’d love to do that down the road.

MsMac: Where did your interest in haiku begin?

Robyn: There used to be an online magazine of haiku for kids, Berry Blue Haiku, edited by Gisele LeBlanc. As a children’s writer, I got involved with that and quickly fell into reading everything I could about the history of haiku as well as lots of contemporary journals. I was immediately hooked. Now I submit regularly to those journals, and though Berry Blue is no more, Gisele and I remain friends.

MsMac: As you know the haiku in the adult writing community is structurally not as confining as the 5-7-5 that is taught in schools. How do you teach students to write haiku?

Robyn: I explain to students that the 5-7-5 is not an exact way translate the haiku structure for English, because Japanese sound units and English syllables are not interchangeable. Our focus then becomes creating a short poem of typically three lines – ideally with two different images. Haiku’s traditional emphasis on the natural world is a wonderful way to bring kids into listening to and writing these poems. I love taking kids outside when possible! Most respond enthusiastically to such a short form, and to nature.

MsMac: What do you hope readers/viewers take away?

Robyn: A mom told me once that her young son kept wanting to go the doctor’s office. She finally discovered it was because he wanted to read SIR MIKE there, and after she bought him his own copy, he would only answer to “Sir Mike” for a short time. This is just a simple easy reader with no fancy awards or anything, and yet it fueled a child’s imagination and give him a positive attitude toward reading. That’s enough for me. For older kids or adults, if something I write or draw creates a connection that has meaning for them in some way, I’m honored and happy.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Robyn: Dark.

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
Robyn: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

MsMac:Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Robyn: The last time I tried some all-out-funky dancing (at a church youth group event three years ago), I tore my Achilles. I’d better stick with the Hokey Pokey.

MsMac: Favorite Quote:

Robyn: This week? ;0)
How about one on haiku and one on art, but they seem related:

“Most haiku of excellence are serenely vibrant. Although they seldom are concerned with grand or marvelous events, or employ highly charged language, or possess startling qualities, they nonetheless are intensely alive in their quiet and deep evocation of aspects of life and the world, aspects that can easily be overlooked.”
Robert Spiess (1921-2002)

“Give up the idea of the perfect flawless picture, and aim for one that is alive instead.”
Uri Shulevitz

Perfect. Robyn, thank you for stopping by. You can read more about Robyn at her website.

Interview Wednesday: J. Patrick Lewis

Today I am pleased to share my recent interview with J. Patrick Lewis, currently the Children’s Poetry Laureate.

Your Reading Life

MsMac:What books are on your night stand?
JPL: P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, Charles Causley’s Collected Poems, James Fenton’s Out of Danger, Ian MacEwan’s latest novel, Sweet Tooth, The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry, Lewis Turco’s The New Book of Forms, which makes a nearly quotidian circuit from nightstand to study, and a glass of Chardonnay.

MsMac:What was your favorite book as a child? Was poetry something you enjoyed as a child?

JPL: I was weaned on the venerable Childcraft Series (Aesop’s Fables, the Brothers Grimm, myths and other folktales), though I doubt that too many folks remember those books. As a youngster, I’d wager I read half of the 200 orange Bobbs-Merrill biographies. Poetry never entered my galaxy until I was 39 years old. (Long story.)

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
JPL: A chair, any chair—Hepplewhite, Chesterfield, chaise longue, barber’s chair, bean bag, bar stool. A chair.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
JPL:Mirabile dictu, I awake each day at 3:30 AM (warped metabolism!). So I’m in my office no later than 4:30. With breaks for coffee, emails, grazing, a nap, a pedicure, extreme skateboarding, and schmoozing with my wife, I am writing, rewriting, reading, researching until c. 4 PM. I’m not particularly proud to admit that I affirm more than most William James’s adage: “Habit is the great flywheel of society.” As Donald Hall put it (counterintuitively but correctly in my view), one should save the last third of one’s life for work.

All of the above apply on days that I am not visiting schools, traveling to conferences, or TLCaring for the 35 trees I’ve planted in my backyard.

MsMac: love Donald Hall’s statement. Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
JPL: I spend so much time revising one continuously changing draft that it always seems like writing the first draft to me. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

JPL: Nondescript. A crooked little room in a crooked house with a window looking out on a blue jay cannonballing the birdbath, a sparrow flirting (in vain) with a goldfinch, and Mr. and Mrs. Wren squabbling as usual . . . or a snow plow whizzing by.

MsMac: What are your current projects?
JPL: Make the Earth Your Companion, a lyrical book-length nature poem I am revising for Creative Editions; an ambitious ms., the tentatively-titled Voices from the March, 1963, a book of poems I am writing with my friend George Ella Lyon; my sixth book with the marvelous illustrator, Gary Kelley—James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters; and always, when time allows, the desultory adult poem or light verse.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
JPL: Skyping with my grandchildren in Portland, Oregon and York, England, or with my dear Russian friends of forty years in Moscow. Also, I’m about to fence the entire block with an enormous macramé I have made out of my rejection letters. The letters are twisted in such a way that you can’t see any of my naughty marginalia.

About Your Books and Being the Children’s Poet Laureate

MsMac: As the Children’s Poet Laureate, how has the awareness of children’s poetry been raised? What do you wish for children’s poetry?
JPL: Baseball is not America’s pastime, as I’ve said so often. America’s pastime is not reading poetry. I like to think of myself as a Pied Piper for poetry—before, now, and after the laureateship. Perhaps all children’s poets who visit schools feel the same way. I don’t want children to love poetry. My objective is more modest: I want them to hate poetry less than most Americans do. If, at the end of a school day with 400-500 children, I have turned 4 or 5 heads in such a way that I have convinced them to keep poetry in their quivers for a lifetime, then I call that success.

MsMac: i agree with the desire to keep poetry in their “quivers”. You had seven books published in 2012. What does it take to get that many published in one year?
JPL: Paying various editors large sums of money. Seriously, the answer is a combination of hard work and dumb luck. Children’s poetry has become the demented stepchild of publishing, best kept chained in a broom closet. These days many publishers have embargoed it altogether. So seven books in one year is a mistake and a rarity, at least for me, and I’m sure it will never happen again. To state the obvious, the quantity of books one writes counts for nothing next to the quality.

MsMac:Two books, Last Laughs and Twins were a collaboration with Jane Yolen. What can you share about the collaborative process?
JPL: Collaboration is probably not the right word since it suggests two poetsworking together cheek by jowl, revising one poem, back and forth, until it’s as close to perfection as they can make it. I would say that what I have done with a half dozen children’s poets, including Jane and our three books, is simply “co-authorship.” We settle on a subject that appeals to both of us, then write and rewrite 8 or 9 poems each until we’ve produced what we think is a publishable ms. Sometimes, of course, we’re wrong. For the three books Jane and I have published successfully, three others have died aborning.

MsMac: What do you hope readers/viewers take away?
JPL: My books.

But seriously, I hope to provide them with a soupcon of entertainment in a dwindling-down day. Certainly no “message” and nothing of an “educational” nature appear in my books.

Just for Fun

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Either one, with almonds.
Coffee or tea? Decaf

Dance: funky chicken or the tango? If I were to attempt either one, it would be a personal offense to my sacroiliac.

Favorite Quote:

JPL: My favorite quote, like my favorite book or author, changes every 15 seconds. This 15 seconds?

“Technique is important. I think that if most people who called themselves poets were tightrope-walkers they’d be dead.”
~Irish poet Michael Longley

Thank you, Patrick. If you haven’t read his poetry books, run quick to get them.
Happy reading. Come back Friday to read one of his poems.
MsMac

Interview Wednesday: Greg Pincus

Many know Greg at Gotta Book from KidlitCon. Last year, he published an ebook of poetry, The Late Bird. It was nominated for the CYBILS Award in poetry. He’s hear today to answer questions.

Your Reading Life

MsMac:What books are on your night stand?
Greg: My TBR list/pile is currently topped by The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (which was there before the Newbery!); The Way I See It by Temple Grandin, and the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry compiled by J. Patrick Lewis.

MsMac:What was your favorite book as a child? What particular genre stands out?
Greg: As a wee youngster, I loved Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand, as read by my father. Later on, my favorite was probably Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. As a kid, I was not a big reader, believe it or not, but when my mom started giving me books by folks like MacLean and Ludlum and Christie I found some favorites.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
Greg: We have a very comfy big, green chair in which I love to curl up and read.

Your Writing Life

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

Greg: I love to write late at night until early in the morning. This runs into problems with getting up at 6:30 to get kids to school, however. I’ve tried to adapt! A typical day of work has a block of writing time carved out of the morning and one kinda late but not too late at night. I have made a request for an eighth day of the week devoted totally to writing. I will keep you posted.

MsMac: Thanks, Greg. I need that extra day as well.Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

Greg: Whichever one I’m not currently doing! I love both parts in different ways… and curse their existence from time to time, too 🙂

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
Greg: Currently, a mess. In general, my writing space is wherever my keyboard or yellow pad is. I don’t tend to see much else beyond that.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

Greg: Currently, I’m focused on the final t-crossings/i-dottings of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. – upcoming from Arthur A. Levine Books. I hope to put together another book of my poems, too, and am working on other novels and picture books plus finally diving into the companion book to 14 Fibs.

MsMac: That’s great, Greg. I love the Fibs and teach them, thanks to you. How does social media tie into your writing?

Greg: I view social media as a key part of both my writing and my writing career. For writing, I get support from friends, do research, and find and receive amazing and generous advice. For the career, I find that the connections and friendships from social media lead to incredible opportunities for all of us.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
Greg: Hanging out with my kids and friends. Seeing a movie. Exploring Los Angeles. Searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

About The Late Bird

MsMac: Tell me a bit about this book. What was your process? Why did you choose to publish an ebook rather than print?

Greg: I had wanted to explore eBooks and self-publishing for some time, and The Late Bird seemed like a great way to do that. In traditional publishing, I’m incredibly excited to debut with my novel (that has some poems, by the way!), so I wanted to explore with something totally different. Most of the poems in The Late Bird had already been published on my blog, GottaBook, so I figured compiling them would be easy and fun and would lead, in my head at least, to a book about which I had zero sales expectations. That was key to me, as I wanted this project to be an exploration and learning experience while still offering up something I was proud of. I chose not to do print only because of my own deal with myself in terms of time management. I have had a surprising number of requests for print, however.

MsMac: I think a print book would be great. What do you hope readers/viewers take away?
Greg: Smiles, laughs, and an appreciation for or at least recognition of the fact that we all have different perspectives on the world.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Greg: Dark chocolate.

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
Greg: Coffee. With a side of dark chocolate.

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Greg: I will be the guy watching others tango or do the funky chicken, ideally while drinking coffee and savoring a side of dark chocolate.

Favorite Quote:

Greg: Oh, boy. I have a zillion favorite quotes, and find new ones all the time. But since it ties into this interview nicely, I’ll pick a favorite from Madelyn L’Engle:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

Come back Friday for Poetry Friday and a chance to win a copy of The Late Bird by Greg.
Happy Reading.
MsMac