Poetry Friday: An Interview with Ellen Hopkins

Thanks to Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for hosting this amazing community of poetry lovers.

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I am a long time fan and reader of Ellen Hopkins. Her book, CRANK, introduced me to novels in verse. It made me revise my WIP from prose to verse.

My oldest grand girl has been reading her since sixth grade. This year I purchased her latest, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE, to give oldest. I had to read (it was a CYBILS nomination after all). It’s a must read.

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Ellen Hopkins graciously answered the followings interview questions for me:

JRM: When and how did you get starting writing?


EH: I’ve been writing ever since I learned how. Poetry was my first love, but also short stories, essays, nonfiction, journalism. It’s a talent. It’s a passion.

JRM: What process do you use when writing in more than one voice?  Do you write the different voices as the story unfolds or each separately or a combo?

EH: I have to write chronologically, so I write each voice in succession. Often those voices connect somewhere, somehow, so it keeps everything in order in my mind, if nothing else.

JRM: If we could hear the actual voice of Violence, how would it sound? Old? Young? Or would it change?  What kind of picture did you have in your head as how Violence would look as a character?

EH: The call to violence is an ancient one, so for me the voice of Violence is ancient. Sometimes soft, sometimes loud. I picture Violence as a crone, but maybe one who can make herself beautiful if the need arises.

JRM: What kind of research did you do for this book?  Did you talk with people who’ve had first hand experience with Violence? Were you able to ask people the question of why pull a trigger?

EH: I mostly interviewed victims of gun violence… that, of course, includes the families of victims. I can tell you once someone crosses that line it changes lives forever. I was also raised in a household that had guns. My father hunted and also collected/traded them, so there has never been an aura of curiosity or inexperience with weapons surrounding me. On two occasions, as a child I witnessed my “responsible” gun-owning father (alcohol involved) put a loaded gun to my mom’s chest. She talked him down, but the fear was incredible.

Blending immigration, racism, violence and gun control seemed like a such tremendous task to weave together into one story.  Were there points when you needed to step away from the manuscript to allow it to percolate?

Stepping away from the manuscript was mostly for research. The percolation is in the pre-write for me. I generally have a real relationship with my characters before I sit down to write, especially with multiple viewpoints in the story.

JRM: How did you counter balance these hard themes when you were in the middle of writing? I wonder if it energized you or drained to write this book and how you balanced that out.

EH: Honestly, it depended on the day and what was going on, both in my life and in the world. There were several mass shootings in the news, which made it more difficult to write but also much more important. Without understanding the WHYS of gun violence we can’t work to mitigate it. Rarely do I have the luxury of stepping away from a writing project too long, by the way.

JRM: Would you like to share what’s next for you in the writing world?

EH: The next YA, which releases in October, is SANCTUARY HIGHWAY, a politically charged near-future look at where this country could end up if it keeps moving in the direction it has been. After that, I’m hoping to finish a middle grade novel about how a troubled kid who changes the lives of his new family negatively—-but much more positively.

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Stay tuned! In fourteen days, the CYBILs Awards will be announced.

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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: Voices in the Air by Naomi Shihab Nye

IMG_1077Thanks to Irene at Live Your Poem for hosting Poetry Friday this week.

This week, I want to show case the title I nominated for the CYBILS Poetry Awaed:  VOICES IN THE AIR, POEMS FOR LISTENERS by Naomi Shihab Nye.  If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I consider her a mentor.  Last April, I attended the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture given by Naomi Shihab Nye.   I, of course, bought her latest book.

What if we were the listeners of all the voices in the air? Those who came before us or those we have yet to meet? What if we took the time to listen? What would we notice?

VOICES is divided into three sections: Messages, Voices in the Air, and More Worlds.

Nye begins with an introduction, a pondering of making sense of the strange world we currently reside in with a quote by Galway Kinnell, “To me, poetry is someone standing up to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”

She reflects on a conversation student at the Yokohama International School in Japan. She said listening and writing poetry give us more yutori– a place to stand back to contemplate what we are living and experiencing…more spaciousness in being and more room to listen. I love this!

This ninety-five poem collection is contemplative and we should listen to one another read these poems aloud. Many of the poems were written for specific people. At the end of the book, Nye includes Biographical Notes.

We should take the time to slow down and listen.

Some of my favorite poems in this collection include: “Twilight”, “Train Across Texas”, and “Where do Poets Find Images, and For the Birds”.

Here’s the first few lines of perhaps my favorite (I’m not sure I can really choose)

Reserved for Poets
(Signs on first rows of chairs at poetry festival. La Conner, Washington)

Sunsets.

Trouble.

Full moons.

No really–they’re everybody’s.

Nothing is reserved.

I highly encourage to find this book, read it, and listen.

Title: VOICES IN THE AIR, POEMS FOR LISTENERS
Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Illustrator:
Published: 2018
Pages: 190
Reading Level: YA
Publisher: Greenwillow
ISBN: 978-0-06-269184-2
Source: Personal purchase

Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Shovan

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Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting today.

Laura Shovan was interviewed at the CYBILS website earlier this week.  Here are follow-up questions for her.  These questions were generated from the CYBILS Poetry panel and judges.,

School closings like this don’t happen very often. Did you know of a school that was closing or where this idea come from?

School closings are quite common in Maryland. Schools here are part of large, county-wide systems. Boards of education will sometimes shift entire neighborhoods from one school to another to relieve overcrowding, or even close a school that’s below capacity. For example, in 2016, the year THE LAST FIFTH GRADE came out, a high school was closed in Carroll County, Maryland. There was a lot of push-back from the community and from families who wanted the school to stay open. Despite all the research that shows how important community involvement is in making a school feel welcoming and successful, community members are rarely consulted about such closings. They tend to be a financial decision.

How did you choose the character names and did you map out the characters and classroom dynamic in a visual way?

Some of the characters’ name have clues about their situation or personalities. One is Brianna Holmes (homophone for “homes”), whose family is temporarily living in motel. Another is Newt Mathews (the word “math” is embedded in his name), who prefers form poems where he can count out syllables. And the twins, Sloane and Sydney Costley, have the small word “cost” in their last name – a nod to the fact that they are somewhat wealthy.

I’m a visual person. I had my daughter’s fifth grade school photo taped inside my revision binder. Since I come from an education background, I had to make a seating chart. That helped me to see which characters might develop friendships … or tension. I also had a list of who lived in which neighborhoods, who rode the bus together, who lived close enough to the school to walk.
What choices did she have to make to keep each voice unique?

Giving each of the eighteen characters a unique voice was something I focused on during revisions. Instead of working on the book from the beginning to the end, I pulled out each character – one at a time – and only worked on that person’s poems. In that way, I could look at things like vocabulary, cadence, and formal elements. A free verse poem in Sloane’s voice, for example, will incorporate slang and have a lot of rhythms, to capture her attitude. A free verse poem in Norah’s voice will have longer lines and more descriptive language because Norah is more observant than Sloane.

Have you as a child or your children involved in a grassroots campaign?  

No. My family wasn’t very political when I was growing up. I don’t remember my parents talking about the Viet Nam war at all. I didn’t become politically active until I was an adult. My friends at All the Wonders recently did a post on this topic, featuring picture books.

What other books for children would you suggest if students want to learn more about becoming activists in their community?

There are many types of activism that are appropriate for children. I tend to like books about the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and picture book biographies of civil rights activists. Three of my favorites are:

Andrea David Pinkney’s picture book SIT IN: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

Debbie Levy’s WE SHALL OVERCOME: The Story of a Song.

Tony Medina’s LOVE TO LANGSTON, about Langston Hughes’ childhood.

Another great resource is this Nerdy Book Club list from 2014: Top 10 Picture Books for Activists 

What advice do you have for writers who are working on a novel in verse?

I hear from a lot of authors who love reading novels in verse. But because they don’t see themselves as poets, they’re afraid to give the form a try. My advice is to think about the poems as short monologues. In a novel in verse, the main character or characters take the stage and describe their thoughts, feelings, and a moment of change or realization. Poetic line breaks add rhythm to the character’s speaking voice. I think this is what makes the novel-in-verse form so well-suited for voice-driven books. The combination of monologue and rhythm helps the reader hear what the character sounds like.

Thank you, Laura, for your insight!

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 Happy Poetry.

Happy Friday.

Poetry Friday: Student Odes

IMG_1077Thank you Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge for hosting Poetry Friday today.

My Poetry Rocks’ group worked on odes this week in response to the challenge at Today’s Little Ditty.  We started by reading some of the odes already on the March 2017 Padlet.

We wrote the group ode.

Ode to Recess

Children playing on swings
Children laughing with joy
Orange bark chips not good to eat
Friends playing together
Kids screaming with joy
The wind blowing
Children singing
Feel freedom feel the wind blowing
The smooth-rough play structure
Sad because no one plays with me
Taste the raindrops falling from the sky
Taste the wind blowing on my face
I wonder why kids are so loud
If it could be more fun
Because kids are having fun

~Poetry Rocks’ Kids

Finally, they wrote their own.

Ode to Summer

The sun shining
The wind blowing
The grass under my feet
The popsicles melting in my mouth
I wonder how long the summer is going to last
It does last kind of long

Marcella C., Grade 3
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Ode to Unicorns

I see unicorns every day
I hear unicorns singing
I feel rainbows in my heart
I taste rainbows
I wonder if I could really see unicorns
And unicorns are not real

Italy M., Grade 1
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Ode to Anything

I see people running
I hear the wind blowing
I feel the wind blowing in my face
I taste mint
I wonder what is
Airports

Charlie K., Grade 1
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Ode to Candy

Goodness
Crinkles of the wrapper
The candy melting in my mouth
A wonderful taste of caramel
I wonder what other candy tastes like
It does taste magical

Angel B., Grade 3
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Ode to Logs

Logs in the woods
I hear them molding
I feel the hardness of the wood
I taste the bugs in the wood
I wonder what bugs are in the wood
I know they are spiders.

Ella K., Grade 2
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Ode to Slime

My hands play with your substance
The pop of your bubbles
Your creamy texture
Taste of a grape laffy-taffy
I wonder if you are a waste
No, you’re great

Haylie S., Grade 4
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Ode to a Cat

A fur ball big and fat
A meow there at the door
The fur  in my fingers
What would it be like to be a cat?
It would be wild

Taylor D., Grade 2
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Ode to Spring

Flowers blowing in the wind
Quietness everywhere
I feel at home where it feels nice
I taste the wind in the air
I wonder how it is so beautiful
Because of the world

Bentley C., Grade 2
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Ode to Poetry

Children listening to poetry
Children singing poetry
Happy about singing poetry
I wonder if poetry could be magic
It is magic because you can sing poetry at home
And at Poetry Rocks

Eliza P., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see chocolate
I hear a drumroll
I feel rock candy
I taste gummy bears
I wonder where it comes from
Candy

Kruz G., Grade 1
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Ode to Computers

I see letters and numbers
I hear typing
I feel the keyboard
I taste the fresh air
I wonder if new games could be made
It should

Macy M., Grade 2
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Ode to a Fairy

I see really fast flapping wings
I hear lots of chattering teeth
I feel little feet walking across my hand
I taste the wind of fairy’s wings
I wonder why you’re so small
Because you don’t want a lot of people around you.

Lilly P., Grade 2
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Ode to Recess

Kids playing with friends
Balls bouncing
I feel happy at recess
I taste candy
I wonder if school could go on in summer
It does not

Dakota R., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see rainbows
I hear voices
I feel sticky
I taste sweetness
Why is candy so sweet?
To make it so sweet it’s good for people

Piper C., Grade 2
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Ode to a Boa Constrictor

I see scales
I hear “SSSSS”
I feel scared
How can snakes move without legs
Read books about snakes

Nevaeh S., Grade 3
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Ode to Dogs

Green fur
Soft barking
I feel softness
Lots of love
I wonder why dogs are so funny
Because they don’t know any better

Jazzlynn S., Grade 3
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Ode to Flowers

I see your pretty petals
I hear you blowing in the wind
I feel your soft pretty petals
I smell your beautiful taste of wind
I wonder if I could eat a flower
Somebody, please create it!

Avery W., Grade 2
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Ode to Poetry

I see kids listening to poetry
I hear the poetry kids listening to the speaker
I feel poetry on my arm
I taste poetry in my mouth
I wonder why poetry is so fun
Poetry is so great

Taryn E., Grade 2
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Ode to Spring

Your sunset at night
The wind blowing
The sunset shining
Taste the wonderful season
I wonder if rainbows can shine everyday
Spring is fun anyway

Lauren A., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see colors and candy
I hear hands sliding down the glass gumball machine
My eyes getting big at the sight of sweet candy
I taste the clean cut sweet and
I wonder if anything can be better than watching TV
and eating stretchy taffy
Nothing.

Ashlynn M., Grade 3
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Ode to Cheating

The other person’s paper
I hear the class tattle telling the teacher
I feel I’m going to the principal’s office later today
Taste the victory of cheating
I wonder why I cheat
I don’t know yet

Haylie S., Grade 4

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Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday to Billy Collins

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Thanks to Heidi for hosting Poetry Friday today.  What I love about our Poetry Friday community is that someone will have an idea and we will run with it.  Not only is Heidi hosting, she encouraged us to find a Billy Collins poem in honor of his birthday later this month.

I love this quote by him:

The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. Billy Collins

And there is a poem at The Poetry Foundation which I love.

The First Line of a Poem

Before it flutters into my mouth
I might spend days squinting
into the wind
Like an old man
trying to thread a needle
by a window
in the dying light of  late afternoon.

The rest of the poem is HERE.

At Deowriter, I took 10 words and wrote a first draft of a poem, At the First Light of Day

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Happy Friday.

Happy Poetry.

Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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It’s Saturday. Time to celebrate all the goodness of the week at Ruth Ayres Writes.

ONE

Summer vacation has begun as of today!  Our last day of school was yesterday. While bittersweet with eight people leaving us, it was a joyous day. So much love to be shared by students, staff, and parents.

TWO

Last weekend I was at my brother’s graduation from the Southern California Health Institute.  Forty years ago this month I graduated from Lewis and Clark College.  This weekend is our fortieth reunion.  Good to catch up with people.

THREE

Kindergartners who brought me cards for reading to them all year.  Singing “Metamorphosis” with the minders…it’s a song about change.

FOUR

I was accepted into the Darcy Pattison Revision Retreat along with 19 other people. In January 2015 (six months away).

FIVE

Getting my first summer poem in the mail for the Summer Poetry Swap from Diane Mayr.  Thanks, Diane.

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What are you celebrating?
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