In Conversation With Amy VanDerwater

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Today I have Amy VanDerwater, author of FOREST HAS A SONG: POEMS. Her book was recently selected as the winner of the 2013 CYBILS Award for Poetry.
I first interviewed Amy at Check It Out in December 2102

And this just in: Amy informed me that FOREST HAS A SONG just won 2014 Golden Kite Honor Book Award for Picture Book Text that FOREST from SCBWI.

Imagine Amy and me sitting in some cozy chairs, drinking tea, and nibbling on cookies.

Jone: Amy, congratulations on winning the CYBILS’ Award for Poetry. How did you find out?

AMY: Thank you, I was truly surprised, and it was fun to awaken to Mark holding the laptop at the bedside at 5:30am.

Jone: Well, I wonder if we could have a conversation about the process regarding FOREST HAS A SONG? The idea that a poetry book had an arc or a “spine” was discussed during the CYBILS’ deliberations in both rounds. It’s also been discussed among my poetry friends. So how did you decide the arc or the “spine” of the poems for FOREST HAS A SONG?

AMY: I wrote to Marcia Leonard at HMH about your FOREST arc question because I did not determine the order of the poems at all.  I thought that Robbin Gourley, the illustrator, had done so, but she referred me to Marcia. She told me, “Marcia Leonard decided the order after my first attempt. And she was right about everything and got the project on track. She would probably love to share her thinking. I remember she said she spread everything out on her table (my sketches, etc.) and ordered the poems which in the end felt exactly right, very organic.”

Jone: Okay, so did any poems change their form?

Amy: Below you can see two draft  versions of “Farewell”, the last poem in the book, from earliest and then newer and then newer….  A notebook keeper, I still have a soft spot for this first version though it does not give FOREST the voice that the final version does.

Original Draft:
Secrets

Reading my notebook
I think of them all —

Woodpecker poet

Smoke-blowing ball

Tiniest tree frog
trying to woo

A wintergreen leaf

Her silky shoe

One spider spinning
shimmering floss

Mysterious bones

Chickadee

Moss

Forest holds secrets
wild
lovely
small.

Reading my notebook
I think of them all.

Revised Last Draft:

Forest Breathes
Forest breathes
a spicy breeze.
It blows
into my home.
I find a path
of pinecones.
Between tall trees
I roam.
On narrow trails
I silent step.
I go
I don’t know where
through
light brown
dark brown
every brown
on airy earth
in earthy air.

Jone: The transformation of the final poem is incredible.  I felt I was reading the list of secrets of the forest in your notebook.  And then in a process of letting go, the second poem reminds me of a flash draft of the essence of the poem, what you most want to remember.  And then finally you seem ready to say “farewell”   and the essentials returned. So lovely.
What else do you remember about the process of writing this book?

Amy: Sometimes I fear that I am not a very thoughtful writer.  I cannot remember too much about process or why I did things a certain way.  It seems at times that a word is just off or a line must be a particular way, and I don’t even feel that it is me making the decision.  The poem decides.  This  might sound strange, but it feels very true to me.

This is a book about family memories: memories of  my childhood camping days, our family’s hikes behind the house, and our trips to my husband’s family camp in the Adirondacks.  I’ve said before that this book is a sort of love letter to Mark, who carefully observes each wild creature we see or hear.  When I flip through the pages of FOREST now, I can be many places, in many times, at once.

The poems are short, perhaps because I have a short attention span.  But I like being right there in the center of just a few words, evening them out again and again, saying them out loud until all of the extras are gone.  Sometimes I miss one or two extra words, and they can drive me crazy!

Hmm…it is fun to think about something I have not thought about in a long time.  Usually when I write, I simply move on to the next project-voice in my head.  (Keeps the insecurities away!)

Jone: Any word from Marcia?

Amy: Yes, here are words from Marcia:
“As I studied the manuscript, I was struck by the richness of the images and the fluidity of the language, but I was concerned that that the book not be simply a collection of disparate pieces.  When I consider any project, I always ask myself: What will distinguish this book from others that cover the same subject? What is the unexpected element that will add value beyond the intrinsic quality of the text and art?  Very quickly I saw that the poems could be rearranged to create a narrative arc and reflect a year in the life of a girl who loves to explore the woods near her home.  Robbin could then show the progression of the seasons—through the changes in the forest and the actions of the main character, her dog, and her family.  And the reader could absorb all this without it being overtly stated.  It was very satisfying to see the results.  In essence, I feel that my role was to help Forest Has a Song become the book it wanted to be.”

So gracious and smart. I am lucky.

Jone: I find that the idea of creating an arc, or an order of poems fascinating. It’s made me think about my own little book of poetry.
Looking back, I know I could have put more emphasis on the order. It really takes a team to create a book from the manuscript, doesn’t. How great to have an editor like Dinah Stevenson and Marcia Leonard as editorial consultant.

Can you talk about bit about the different forms you used in the book?

Amy: It is so fascinating to see how many people work together to make a book a book.  I feel so lucky to get this peek behind the scenes.  It still feels magical and mysterious, and I love learning about it.
I hear what you are saying about ordering poems.  I wonder if it helps to have a different reader, someone not so close to the work, to see new possibilities in order.  Don’t you just feel like you can be too close to it?

Regarding form, I mostly write in some kind of meter and rhyme, even if it is not a named form.  I do a lot of counting of syllables and spend lots of time flipping through my rhyming dictionary, making lists of rhymes.  In FOREST, there are a couple of haiku, and I explore various forms in my notebook and on The Poem Farm, but usually I just let a poem find the voice it wants to find.  I enjoy trying out the various meters and rhyme schemes in poems I admire; that is a great exercise.  Sometimes I hear favorite poems in my head when I write, and so snips of meters from favorite poems nuzzle their way into my own verses.

Jone: What was your biggest surprise with FOREST?

Amy: My biggest surprise is that FOREST is actually a book and that people have actually read it.  I am honored that Clarion would choose those poems, thrilled that Robbin would take the time to illustrate them, and am just surprised every time likes the book.  I feel lucky to be part of it all, but in a way, I don’t feel responsible.  In a way, it’s as if I got to be there when those poems wanted to be written.  But I did revise them!

Jone: Amy, thank you for stopping by today. I could talk poetry all day long. Thanks for bringing by the cookies.

Please return on Friday for a poem featured in the new POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY for SCIENCE. Bonus: hear Amy read her poem.

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Poetry Friday: First Friday

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It used to be that the “First Friday” of every month, grade levels would go to the library to share their writing. We don’t get to do that any more. Time is tight in all classrooms. But what I can do is offer up student poems here on the first Friday of each month.
These poems are a result of the three days with author, Susan Blackaby.

I jump and run fast so cats don’t get me I’m
Tiny but sneaky. I can hide in plain site
And if people try to catch me I will bite
I’m also can be cute nice but if I’m scared
I can fight I’m small but in my head I’m tall

~Rylee D.
4th grade

I am a pink pig.
I am as chubby as a bookshelf.
I waddle and trottle.
I oink like thunder.
I am the barn pig.

~Brevin B.
4th grade

I am a white wolf
I’m faster then a horse
I leap, gallop
I’m invisible in snow

~Vadim C.
4th grade

I am a blue bird.
I am as small as a mouse.
I hover, flap, and glide across the sky.
Dog bark at me as I drift above them.
I am one type of my 9,000 different species.

~Mariah K.
4th grade

This is a sneak peak of the poems coming in April. Poetry Friday is held at Reflections on the Teche.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

Last week I was sidelined with asthma so I caught up with some books that have been on my TBR pile.

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The One And Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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May B.: a Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

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The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Find out what others are reading at Teach Mentor Texts.

Poetry Friday: What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings

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WHAT THE HEART KNOWS: CHANTS, CHARMS, and BLESSINGS by Joyce Sidman was among the seven poetry finalists for the CYBILS.

This is a slim but powerful volume of poetry which contains four sections: Charms and Chants, Spells and Invocations, Laments and Remembrances, and Praise Songs and Blessings. When have you wished for something, felt a loss, or just enjoyed the blessing of the day?

The one thing I love about Sidman’s work is they way she will take a topic and present a unique twist. Her opening sentence in her note to readers says it all, “We speak to send messages to the world.” Once upon a time, chants, charms, and blessings were used to encourage the crops to grow or to place a spell on someone or something.

Today in a world of one hundred forty characters to express your feelings, I am glad Sidman’s book is in the world when I am in need of a lament or an invocation. Sidman’s book is a fabulous as a mentor text for anyone needing to write such a poem.

Then there are the mixed medium illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. (I missed out on her calendar this year but next year….) The muted tones, the evocative nature of the illustrations pull the collections together for a stunning book.

Continue reading

Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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It’s Saturday.  Time to write about the good things in life and share at Ruth Ayres Writes.

ONE

Getting back to school. My snow wish came true, we had two snow days this week. Our Tuesday two-hour late became another day because our parking lot was treacherous (we don’t have to make it up as we were one of three schools in the same predicament).  It was a pleasure returning to school even if only for two days as Friday was part of the Presidents’ Day weekend. February is a wacky month with Presidents’ Day weekend and conference.  Throw in snow days, you wonder if you’ll ever get any teaching finished.

TWO

Co-workers who step in to help you out.  My partner with the  PRE-K story hour read the books for me this week due to an asthma flare-up  and loss of voice. Truly a gift for me to not have to read.

THREE

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The beginning of a three-day author visit with Susan Blackaby.  Her latest book, BROWNIE GROUNDHOG AND THE WINTRY SURPRISE is the best.  Susan will be working with students on where ideas come from and how to elaborate and find the just right word during her time with us.

FOUR

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I was invited to talk with students at another elementary school about my little haiku book,

SOLACE IN NATURE.  Plus some of the bought my book!

FIVE

My online conversation with Diane Mayr about haiku and the haiga she shared for Poetry Friday.

FIVE.FIVE

How could i miss this?  CYBILS Winners announced and the fabulous Forest Had a Song: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater was selected for poetry.

What are you celebrating?

Poetry Friday: A Haiga by Diane Mayr

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Last Wednesday, Diane Mayr and I discussed haiku. Today, Diane is sharing a haiga, illustrated haiku. Diane is using a picture from the Library of Congress collection of Japanese prints created before 1915.

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Plus today is the day the CYBILS are announced. You can find full results HERE.

Hearty congratulations to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for Forest Has a Song: Poems.
And thank you to a fabulous judging committee.
Linda Baie, Teacher Dance
http://teacherdance.org
@LBaie

Matt Esenwine, Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme
http://mattforrest.wordpress.com
@mattforrestvw

Renee La Tulippe, No Water River
http://www.nowaterriver.com
@ReneeMLaTulippe

Julie Larios, The Drift Record
http://julielarios.blogspot.com

Irene Latham, Live Your Poem
http://irenelatham.blogspot.com
@irene_latham
They read and discussed all the nominations to the fullest extent.

Poetry Friday is being held one of the esteemed poetry judges, Linda at Teacher Dance.

Finally, give a book to someone today. It’s International Book Give Away Way!

Happy Poetry.
Happy Friday.

In Coversation with Diane Mayr

Are you interested in the craft of writing haiku? Diane Mayr offers up some thoughts about the practice. She has four blogs. She’s been on the CYBILS’ Poetry Panel in past years. We are talking today about haiku and her practice.
Jone: I’ve been reading Random Noodling and am wondering what made you decide to have a blog that featured haiku and haiku?

Diane: By April 2009, I had been posting for about 2 1/2 years on my library blog, Kurious Kitty’s Kurio Kabinet , a year and a half on my quote blog, KK’s Kwotes , and a little less than that with The Write Sisters on our joint blog project . As you may have figured out, I’m quite opinionated, and didn’t feel I had complete freedom to write about what I wanted to write about (I can’t imagine library users wanting to read my rants on poetic forms). I was into haiku in 2009 and only just beginning to think of myself as a poet; I wanted to share my work. In the beginning I was not completely focused on haiku–I would comment or share other things (for example: http://randomnoodling.blogspot.com/2009/12/another-time-sucking-suggestion.html)

I tried to “enlighten” people who think haiku is only 5-7-5–it didn’t always go down well (see “Poetry Friday–What Is Haiku? And Who Decides on the Definition?” ). I’ve backed off a little over the years, however, I will never back off the idea that haiku SHOULD NOT be a “let’s learn about syllables” lesson. Teachers, please explore syllables using some other poetic form. (Like a cinquain or an Etheree, or better yet, make one up.)

Eventually I got into the three posts a week routine. Sunday = Happy Haiga Day! Tuesday = Haiku Sticky Friday = Poetry Friday. It works well for me, although, some of the haiku I post on Tuesdays probably shouldn’t have been posted! Not everything done in a hurry should be published!

For those who don’t know, haiga is, for lack of a better term, illustrated haiku. I really enjoy illustrating my poems. I had been a picture book writer, and I believe that the words and pictures must work together. Either could be read/viewed separately, but together, they form a complete work. Haiga allows me to be both writer and artist (I use that term loosely).

I started with haiga in January 2010, after I had gotten a little digital camera, and, I discovered the free photo editing program, Picnik (since bought out by Google and eliminated). I now use Picmonkey.com. It is free, but I pay for added features. After 4 years, I think I’m getting pretty good at manipulating photos and what-have-you, and, I’m still discovering things I hadn’t known were available.

I purchased Photoshop Elements a while back, because I wanted to do more. Elements didn’t cost the big bucks like Photoshop does, and didn’t require a class to learn how to use it! Or so I thought. I haven’t devoted the time to learn Elements, but it’s on my “to-do” list.

I still remain a haiku poet, but, currently I’m venturing into free-verse poetry, almost all of it very short. I have a special love for ekphrasis (art, in this case poems, about art). Actually, back at a conference in 2001, I heard someone speak on ekphrastic haiku, and I was intrigued by it, so, I guess it’s no surprise that I’m writing ekphrastic poetry now.

I don’t know that any of this has answered your question. In one sentence: I started the blog because I wanted a place to share. And, it’s way easier than the torture of the submission process!

Jone: I read your post regarding the haiku definition. Everyone certainly has different view on the matter.
I’ve been writing haiku most of my life. I was taught the 5-7-5 and it’s only in the last couple of years that I have been until training myself.
What’s your haiku history?

Diane: I think it was back in the mid 1990s that I found haiku. I had heard about it earlier, in school, and was taught the 5-7-5 in three lines rule. I’m not sure what sparked the re-interest, but I soon learned out about the Haiku Society of America. I also read that they were holding a quarterly meeting at Smith College in September 1998, which, as the crows flies, is only about 1 1/2 hours from me. I attended, and although I was definitely not on the same level as the other attendees, I felt welcomed and had a pleasant experience. Also, in September of 1998, my first haiku was published in the Christian Science Monitor. Beginner’s luck! (It was a 5-7-5 poem, which I have since revised to eliminate 2 totally unnecessary syllables.) Over the next few years I read a LOT of haiku. I had to buy a lot of books, because the libraries around here didn’t have much in the way of haiku books. I wrote quite a bit too. I had some haiku published in the anthology, Stories from Where We Live: The North Atlantic Coast (Milkweed Editions, 2000). That too, I believed was a fluke.

I attended the Haiku North America conference when it was held in Boston in the summer of 2001. I was way out of my element there, and didn’t participate as I should have, but by that time, I knew how unschooled I was! So, I continued to read and write. I wrote a haiku book for kids, which made it as far as acquisitions at one publisher. It was ultimately turned down because it wasn’t 5-7-5, and that was “what is being taught in the schools.” Ah, well. I had too much respect for my haiku to rewrite them, so the book remains somewhere in my files. I even had an article published in 2002 in The Writer, a now-defunct magazine, titled, “Too Busy to Write? Keep in Writing Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku.” I thought I was a pretty good haiku writer, however, I never submitted to a legitimate haiku journal. I never had the confidence to face “real haiku poets.” (It’s amazing, what we do to ourselves!) It was when I hit 60 that I decided it was now or never. I started submitting to haiku journals. It was much easier to submit, since most were now online! I always hated to send something off by mail and wait, sometimes forever, for it to be rejected, or, accepted. Several of my haiku and haiga, and even a few tanka, were accepted and published, so I met that goal.

I’ve decided, however, that it is too much work keeping track of things, so I now publish my poetry on my blog, and other people’s blogs. I will admit to wanting to have a non-haiku/tanka poem published in a legitimate journal for “real poets,” but, I’m not going out of my way to explore that avenue. I’m especially interested in getting something accepted for a children’s poetry anthology, so if you hear of a call for poetry, please, let me know! (Where does one find these calls?)

Jone: Good question about the call for anthologies, I wonder that myself. But I will let you know if I hear something and you do the same, okay?

Diane: Will do!

Jone: It’s difficult breaking the 5-7-5. I’m attempting to teach students that haiku is more about capturing nature in three lines than counting syllables. Any tips for them?

Diane: I think the best tip is to have them read contemporary English language haiku–lots of it. Print out a page of haiku you have selected. (You can probably fit 20 poems on a page, but more white space is better). Have students read the poems at least twice. Or, you can read each one aloud while the students keep their eyes closed; read it twice. Then talk about the poem. Can they see a picture? Can they relate to it at all? How does the poem make them feel? If the kids think a poem is “stupid” or “doesn’t make any sense,” discuss why they think this is so. (Believe, me, there are many haiku that I’ve read that have left me scratching my head!) Which poem is their favorite? Why? This poem, by Raymond Roseliep, is my favorite for illustrating that an image can be produced with an absolute minimum of syllables:

snow
all’s
new

(If you have a single kid who doesn’t understand this, let me know, and I’ll stop promoting it!)

As for writing: you might begin with a quick lesson in the concept of “show, don’t tell.” Tell the students the ultimate goal should be to end up with 17 syllables, or, preferably fewer, but to forget that for now. Start by using as many words as it takes to present a picture–a complete picture in a sentence or two. From there, turn it into a game–how many words can be eliminated and still have it make sense? Explain how “freezing cold” is redundant!

It’s a good way to study vocab, too! Ask the kids to find substitute words. For example, “freezing cold” (3 syllables): words like “frigid,” “chilly,” or ” icy” have one less syllable and their substitution may present a stronger/different image. Give them a list of junk words that can be eliminated: very, some, so, only, really, even, still. (Actually, this is what they should do in regular writing, too! Junk words are my big bugaboo and the hardest thing for me to eliminate in my own writing.)

Explain the use of “kigo,” which are seasonal words that those of us with a common background immediately understand. Pumpkin implies autumn, snow = winter, nest = spring. If they’re writing “the spring” and “nest” in the same sentence, then “the spring” can be removed.

When they’ve got a sentence as tight as they can get it, then try to format it into three lines (the middle line may be longer). Now count the syllables. If there are 15 or more, have them look at it again. Collaboration is good at this point. A new set of eyes often sees what is unnecessary or what may be missing. Strong language is primary. Counting syllables is secondary. (Suggestion: find a published 17 syllable haiku and, as a group, try to eliminate syllables. I found that Richard Wright’s book of haiku, Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright, published a few years ago, has haiku that would lend themselves to this exercise.)

Explain that the writer has to give the reader the opportunity to make leaps. If a poem uses “pumpkin,” the writer doesn’t have to also include October, cooler weather, Halloween, falling leaves. The reader can supply all this from his/her own experience.

You may explain about the lack of capitals and punctuation, and introduce the idea of symbols that indicate a pause (ellipses, dashes, etc.). However, it’s difficult to get across the idea of three lines composed of a phrase and a fragment, so I wouldn’t get into that initially (the astute ones will probably pick it up as they read more haiku). The same goes with the celebrated “twist;” forget it for now. Concentrate on presenting a strong image, if they can do that, then you’ve been successful.

What grade students are you working with? The complexity of a lesson, as I have outlined above, will probably be too much for 5th grade or younger. The older the student, the better. I think the best exposure for the younger grades is simply reading haiku. I don’t believe kids have to imitate every form of writing! Read widely! Read widely–then write.

Jone: Have you considered culling a collection of your haiga and then self publishing? Or putting some of your haigas on cards?

Diane: Many of my haiga can only be reproduced clearly on a computer because of the low resolution of the images! So, I could possibly look at an ebook. But, no.

Jone: I am out of my practice of writing a haiku a day. I don’t know if it’s the school or the weather but I am out of synch. What’s your haiku practice?

Diane: No practice. I write on the weekends, and days off, almost exclusively. I don’t do much on the weekends except write. If I think of something at work, or while I’m out somewhere, I’ll write it on a sticky note, stash it in a pocket, and hope that it’ll all make sense later! For two or three years I wrote a haiku or poem a day. I have 4 online files corresponding to each quarter of a year. They’re labeled, for instance, “2010 challenge first quarter.” I continue to set up the challenge files for myself, but I no longer force myself to add a poem each day. I like challenges, so if a blogger, like Laura Salas or Laura Shovan issues one, I try to participate. Laura Shovan’s holding a “Pantone Poetry Project” this month and I’m loving it!

Jone: Yes, I really like challenges to push me. I haven’t tried Laura Shovan’s yet. Looks intriguing. I like participating in the Shiki Kukai Monthly because I get feedback through voting.

Diane: I’ve been participating in the Shiki Kukai since at least 2009. Most times I get one or two points, sometimes no points. It doesn’t matter, really. I know when I’ve sent in something that doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote! Most times my entries are thrown together at the last moment.

I’ve only “won” once, back in June 2010, when I tied for first with this:

stifling heat –
his mother finally sees
the tattoo

The kigo was “nakedness”! This was sort of based on experience. My son got a tattoo in high school and didn’t tell anyone. He left it up to chance for us to discover it, which we did!

Jone: What are your favorite haiku books?

Diane: My all-time favorite haiku book, and one that everyone interested in haiku should read is The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Any edition is worth reading! I also like Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball, also edited by van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.

My favorite haiku how-to book is by Jane Reichhold, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide. A good how-to volume for kids is Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids by Patricia Donegan.

Something a bit out of the ordinary is Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem: A Film by Tazuo Yamaguchi. It comes packed as a set with an anthology and a DVD. (http://brooksbookshaiku.com/)

Jone: I have both Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-On Guide and Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids. Such great books. Will look into the other titles you suggested.Thank you for this conversation, Diane. Too bad we live on opposite coasts and couldn’t have discussed mor over tea or coffee.

Diane will be back on Friday with a haiku or haiga.