Poetry Friday: An Interview with Janet Wong

Today, Dani at Doing the Work That Matters is bringing us all things poetry at the round up.

And here at Check It Out, I am thrilled to be interviewing Janet Wong about A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND MORE. I have had such great success using this book as a mentor text during my recent time in classrooms. Food and family are such inspiring topics. Kids can relate to food and have strong emotions around food. It was such a delight to see them write their poems.

JRM: How did it come to be that you were able to re-issue an updated edition of A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND MORE?

JW: A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED was published originally by McElderry Books (part of Simon & Schuster) in 1996. When it went out of print in 2006, the rights reverted to me. Right away I made a simple paperback reprint of the original book through BookSurge/CreateSpace, but last year I decided that I really wanted to tell the stories behind the poems and expand the scope of the book to make it more useful in a classroom. Sylvia Vardell and I create books through Pomelo Books (PomeloBooks.com), but our Poetry Friday books are somewhat different in flavor from this book, so I published this book through my YUZU imprint.

JRM:I love the backstory from the poem, “A Suitcase of Seaweed”.  I can just picture the anticipation of presents from grandmother and then the disappointed to find food instead.  What prompted you to write the backstory of many of these poems?

JW: I speak to children at many school visits each year, and I find that putting a poem in a “sandwich” of backstory and questions is a fun and effective technique. It’s not something I’d ever done in writing before this book, but I think it worked really well to give the established text a whole new twist.

JRM:Were there notes to look back on in order to write the new material, the back story?

JW: I think I might have notes and multiple drafts somewhere in a box in my garage, but I relied on memory for the backstories here.

JRM:I’m really questioning how it is that I have never tried kimchi.  I love cabbage, chili peppers, and garlic. What do you eat kimchi with or is it eaten alone?

JW: If you are a traditional Korean person, you eat kimchi with everything—and alone, too! Kimchi and several other little dishes of mung bean sprouts, boiled spinach, soy-soaked chili peppers, little fish, shredded squid, black beans, potato salad, etc.—“banchan” or “panchan”—will appear at every dinner (and often at lunch and breakfast), along with rice.

JRM:Were you at all tempted to revise the poems besides adding the new text boxes?  Were there poems that didn’t make the book?

JW: Yes, I was tempted to revise—but decided that it was best to leave the poems alone. All of the poems made the book.

JRM: In the poem, “Sisters”, you explain that the poem is really about your mother.  Did you ever let your mom know about the poem?

JW: No, I never told my mom that she was my sister in one of my books. She used to love it, though, when people would mistake us for sisters, especially after I turned fifty and my hair started turning gray. One stranger even told her that I looked like her OLDER sister! She really loved hearing that.

JRM:What do you hope readers will take away from A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND MORE?

JW: I hope that readers will feel inspired to write about their own family memories—and snippets of memories. Poems are perfect for capturing little memories—an image, a taste, a funny saying.

JRM:Your “Advice for Writers” is spot on.  Especially the starting small and making the time to write. I have been thinking a lot about organizing poems.  Do you categorize your poems as you write so they’re easy to locate? What tips might you have?

JW: I wish I were organized enough to categorize my poems as I write! But one thing that I feel—and I think it’s a healthy thing—is that it’s OK to write something and do nothing with it. It’s OK if it gets lost. It’s OK if no one ever sees it. But if a person wants to share, and have other people read and talk about her work, then she shouldn’t just wait for a traditional publisher to say yes. Go ahead and use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or another company (Ingram Spark, Lulu, Blurb, etc.) to get it out in the world. Work like crazy on a book, get it done, and spread the word!

JRM:Yes, I agree! I’ve used KPD and Blurb for a couple of photo and poetry books. What is one food that all readers who read A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND MORE should run out and try?

JW: Seaweed, of course! It’s funny that my grandmother needed to bring seaweed in her suitcase so that my mother could have it, and yet now you can buy it even at Walmart and Costco.

JRM:How does one choose a good restaurant for Asian food?

JW: Word-of-mouth and Yelp! Readers: if you need a recommendation for an Asian restaurant, just email me with your city name. I’m pretty fanatic about food (especially Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food) very good at sifting through Yelp reviews, and I also have tried a lot of restaurants (particularly in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Central Jersey, and Philadelphia). And if you HAVE a recommendation for an Asian restaurant that you love, let me know! (janet@janetwong.com)

Students wanted to know: What is your favorite food?

JW: Japanese: sushi (sweet shrimp, albacore), ramen (fresh extra firm noodles and broth cooked at least 24 hours); Chinese: dim sum (ha gow – shrimp dumplings), wonton noodle soup (shrimp and pork wontons with Hong Kong style thin but chewy egg noodles), soup dumplings, ma la (spicy tingling) beef tendon; Korean: soon dae (blood sausage); Mexican: cochinita pibil tacos (very soft stewed pork tacos with small corn tortillas), empanadas with potato; Italian: gnocchi (potato dumplings); Swedish: potato pancakes; Danish: potato chips (I had the BEST potato chips ever in Iceland, a Danish brand called Kim) . . . I think the better question is: what foods don’t I like? (Answer: I’m trying to stay away from processed foods that contain ingredients I can’t pronounce.)

I love this book SO much that I have an extra copy to give away this week. Please leave a comment and I will let the winner know next Friday.

Want to read some very fun food poems? Visit these posts:

Friday, May 17, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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Student Poetry Month: Inanimate Objects Poems

I interviewed Laura Purdie Salas about her new book IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT in March. That interview is HERE.


Then I had an opportunity to work with a fourth grade class. We made a list of classroom inanimate objects. I am featuring their poems all week.

Organized calendar
I’m as smart as a 7th grader
flip, count, mark
you know what day it is
Time keeper

~Tim, 4th grade

Majestic American Flag
We are strong as a bald eagle
Strong, brave, huge
Best
my country flag

~Kelton

Poetry Friday: RIP, Mary Oliver


Thank you to Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for hosting Poetry Friday this week.

I don’t know about you, but my heart was saddened to hear the news of Mary Oliver’s passing today.

One of my treasured gifts last June was FELICITY by Mary Oliver. A recorded interview about the book can be founded HERE.

Besides the natural world that she has explored so often, in FELICITY Oliver explores the mysteries of the heart.

There are so many lines to consider in this book:

“I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.” (The World I Live In)

“All the important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.

To understand many things you must reach out
of your condition.” (Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way)

“Do you bow your head when you pray or do you look
up at the blue space?

…Rumi said, “There is no proof of the soul.
But isn’t the return of spring and how it
springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?” (Whistling Swans)

And finally this:

Humility

Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for transporting poems to the world all these years. You will be missed. Your voice will remain.

Poetry Friday: Summer Swaps

IMG_1077Thank you Tara for hosting Poetry Friday at A Teaching Life today.

It’s summer and thanks to Tabatha Yeatts, I get write and send poems out to participants during the summer.  I also receive little packages of poems.

Last week or so I received a joy bundle from Joy.  Not only did it have this fun poem(and words to live by), but a cool little surfboard for my mobile (how did she know), a letter, one of her grownup poems and an envelope with words to create my own poem.  Thank you, Joy.

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This week, I was blessed with this treasure tote bag from Donna in Maine.  The photo is mine and she wrote a poem to go with it.  I am using this tote tomorrow to deliver four photos to the Clackamas County Fair.  Thanks, Donna.

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This supports our community of writers so much.  It’s so fun to create.  I have two more to send out before the end of summer.

Happy Friday.

Happy Poetry

Poetry Friday: Congratulations, Margaret Simon

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This weekend, many of my online poet friends are gathered at the annual NCTE conference. Some year, I’m going to get there to hang out with my people.

This year one of those friends is receiving the Donald H. Graves Award. What an accomplishment. So deserved.

I love reading her blog, Reflections on the Teche. It’s rich with student poems, her poems, and celebrations.

Margaret was in Washington last summer. I love the first line of this poem. Clouds do keep you guessing in this part of the country.

Deception Pass, Whidbey Island, July, 2014

The clouds always keep us guessing,
so you have to know the tides.

Deception is easy, looking only
at the horizon line. Sometimes masked as a cloud,

the snow-topped mountain in the distance
deceives us, too.

The rocky beach becomes my foot hold,
a path of colorful stones washed smooth

by the constant lapping of the water.
I close my eyes to the salty air, listen

to the hum-swish of waves crashing the shore,
hear in them the possibility of danger.

Guided by the presence of the moon,
the sea gives and takes.

In the grit on my tongue, I can taste
the unleavened bread of sacrifice.

Be still and know is all I must do.
Marvel at the wonders of rock and air and sea.

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Thank you, Margaret, for all that you do for students and the poetry community.
Poetry Friday is hosted by Becky at Tapestry of Wordsa.

Happy Friday.
Happy Poetry.

Poetry Friday: From Dead Poet’s Society

20140729-185933.jpg Today Heidi is hosting Poetry Round-up at My Juicy Little Universe. I am saddened by the passing of Robin Williams as have many.  Just a few weeks ago, I re-watched Dead Poet’s Society…And so today in his memory I share O Me! O Life! (From The Poetry Foundation)

O Me! O Life!

BY WALT WHITMAN

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
This poem is even more haunting with his passing.  And the movie, timeless.
Thankful for the Poetry Friday community where we may all contribute a verse.
Happy Friday.
Happy Poetry.