Interview Wednesday: Janet Fagal

Please welcome Janet Fagal today.


Your Reading Life

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

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

Your Writing Life

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

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

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

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

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

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

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

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

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

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

MsMac: Why is poetry important?

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

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

Here he is reciting Litany by Billy Collins

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



Just for Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading.
Happy Poetry.



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.

Interview Wednesday: Five Questions About William Stafford

Today I am honored to have Kim Stafford answering five questions about his father, William Stafford. Kim has been instrumental in the preservation of his father’s writing. He is currently the Northwest Writing Institute, which I had the privilege in attending the summer institute in 1994.

MsMac: How did the cultural and physical landscape of the northwest influence your father’s work?
: William Stafford was born in Kansas, and the prairie was always his ideal landscape—lots of sky, and few obstacles to the long view. He once said that “Oregon’s alright—except the mountains and the trees get in the way of the scenery.” If you look at his poems, though, two very different kinds of landscape appear: the wild (forest, mountains, deserts, rivers, storms, nights, lonely outposts) and the suburban (neighbors, daily routines, local news, human connections like family and friends).

MsMac:Tell a story that defines your father’s role as a parent.
: We were driving somewhere. He started telling a story he had found in a novel, an old one—he couldn’t remember the title. The main character really wanted something. I can’t remember what it was, perhaps a partner, a kind of success. But he did not get what he wanted. The story went on, many detours, much wandering. Eventually, by unanticipated means, the main character achieved his goal. “Life can be like that,” my father said. Only much later did I suspect he made the whole thing up to teach me patience with the ways of destiny.

MsMac: What stance would/did your father use when working with children?
: He had a proverb: “Nothing’s too bad for the kiddies.” This meant the kids will get along one way or another. Of course, he loved us. He was devoted and engaged. But this love was not expressed by extravagance.

MsMac:Whenever I get stuck in my writing, I think about how your dad would give himself permission to “lower the standards.” Do you have a quote of his that you come back to again and again?
: Someone once asked my father, “What is your favorite thing you ever wrote?” His first response: “I love all my children.” But then he added, “I would trade everything I’ve ever written for the next thing.” To me, this says that loyalty to the next adventure of writing is more important than any kind of “success.” Real success is to sustain the sense of free and entrancing exploration of what lies ahead in writing.

MsMac: What do you notice as you look back on your father’s life?
: I have written a book in answer to this question: Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. He was by turns gregarious (teacher, friend, “life of the party”) and solitary (rising before dawn, writing alone daily, “the wanderer”). The thread that bound this variety was his attention to what he called “seeking,” which included close engagement with human life, and also devotion to something beyond.

MsMac: How has your father continued to live on?
: My father is gone, but he left word…left words…left 20,000 poems, and a legacy of welcome to everyone who wishes to try the way of the writer.

Thank you, Kim. By the way, readers, I highly encourage you to explore Kim’s work as well. Go explore “what lies ahead in writing”.

Interview Wednesday Part One: Meet Three CYBILS Poetry Panelists

Today I would like to introduce three of the CYBILS poetry panelists.  Next week, I will feature the other panelists.  We are all hard at work reading, reading, reading poetry books.

MsMac What is your day job?

Anastasia: I teach writing workshops (online) and write books for kids.

Mary Lee: My day job is 5th grade Language Arts teacher.

Carol: I am a literacy coach at a K-8 bilingual school in urban Denver.

MsMac: Who are your poetry mentors?

Anastasia: I love, love, love poetry by Valerie Worth, Lilian Moore, Margaret Wise Brown and Eve Merriam.

Mary Lee: My poetry mentors are Robert Frost and Kay Ryan; J. Patrick Lewis, Douglas Florian, Joyce Sidman, Jane Yolen, Heidi Mordhorst, and Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.

Carol: Not sure if they are mentors but I love (in no particular order:  Kristine O’Connell George,  Anna Grossnickle Hines, J. Patrick Lewis, Doug Florian, Valerie Worth, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, Mary Lee Hahn, Marilyn Singer, lots and lots more.

MsMac: What qualities are needed in a poetry book to make the finalist list?

Anastasia: As for the finalists, I’ll be wearing my writing teacher hat and look at the 6 traits of writing. I teach the 6 traits to my writers this way:

1. Ideas, organization, and voice are the big picture traits.

2. Word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions are the small details traits.

For the big picture, I want to see a book where all of the poems fit together in a logical way – they all need to be there for a reason, and the collection needs have a spine that carries the poems from beginning to end. The voice needs to be clear and poignant.

For the small details in a poem, it’s all about word choice and rhythm. How the words sound when they are read aloud, how the lines sound, where the line breaks are…all of that influences how the poem is experienced. Conventions, the spelling and punctuation, are important too, though I will say that I often write like e.e. cummings and use as few conventions as possible!

Mary Lee: To make the finalist list, the poetry should be accessible to the audience — KIDS! — and, of course, it should be well-written. To be a finalist, there should be some quality that sets the poems apart from others — innovation, creativity, etc.

Carol: Another hard question. Last year the finalists varied widely. REQUIEM, that eventually won, was historical fiction, dark and haunting and serious. It was definitely more appropriate for older kids, not a book for much below fifth grade. Several others that made the finals, or were personal favorites, combined science or nonfiction in unique and unusual ways, e.g. I loved, loved, loved COUSINS OF CLOUDS a book of poems and facts about elephants.  I want the poems to have strong language and be poems that kids will enjoy.

MsMac: What is your favorite chocolate?

Anastasia: I have a daily dose of dark chocolate. (I had given it up for a while but when I started enjoying it again, my blood pressure numbers went back down! Who knew?)

Mary Lee: I have a love/hate relationship with chocolate — I’m very sensitive to caffeine, so I have to time my doses carefully so I can sleep the night through. I love sweet and salty together, so my favorite chocolate is with peanuts or peanut butter.

Carol:  Nothing fancy! M and M’s? Three Musketeers?  I love pretty much any milk chocolate, I don’t like dark chocolate.

Thank you Anastasia, Mary Lee, and Carol for your answers and dedication in being a poetry panelist.

Happy Reading.


Poet Interview: Irene Latham

This month Irene Latham comes to visit here at Check It Out.  She’s been busy lately with writing, editing and her new book, Don’t Feed the Boy, coming out next week.  I love where she likes to read and write and I have to find out more about zentangling.

Your Reading Life

 MsMac: What books are on your night stand?

Irene: I have a book of poems on loan from a friend, APPROACHING ICE by Elizabeth Bradfield, and a stack of books I picked up last month at Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) trade show: LIFE AFTER LIFE by Jill McCorkle, DOES THIS CHURCH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? by Rhoda Janzen, HAPPILY EVER MADDER (Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl) by Stephanie McAfee, THE DARK UNWINDING by Sharon Cameron, THE WEDDING DRESS by Rachel Hauck

 MsMac: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult? What particular genre stands out?

Irene: Like many kids, I loved Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Also, the LITTLE HOUSE books and BLACK STALLION series. As I got older, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE MISTS OF AVALON. As an adult, my all-time favorite is THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton.

 MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

Irene: My bed!

MsMac: What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?

Irene: A few years ago I cleaned my house of about 3,000 books. I thought, what are these books doing here, just decorating the shelves? I decided that if I couldn’t remember the book, or if I hadn’t marked any pages, it needed to go on to live a happier life with some other reader. So the non-accumulation factor of ereaders really suits me. I also drive a lot, so I fill that time with audiobooks. But my favorite books? I need to see and feel the words on the page.

 MsMac: I agree with you about the need to see and feel the book.  I have yet to read a book on my IPad.  I have thinned my book collection and now use the library a lot.

 Your Writing Life

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

Irene:  I tend to write in spurts. When I’m drafting a new book I’ll work pretty intensively for 6 weeks – a morning session and an afternoon session – then I might not write at all for the next six weeks. My husband and I run a small business and we have three sons, so those intensive weeks are tough on everyone… and the non-writing weeks are essential!

 MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?  

Irene: My favorite part of the writing process is really the very beginning, when an idea first forms, and I’m so excited to discover if it really is viable.  I usually write 3 chapters right away, and I love that part. And then… it’s a struggle to keep going. I am always so proud when I get to “the end” of a first draft. And later, yes, it is so gratifying after the struggle through revisions to realize how much my story has grown.  It’s just all that in-between stuff that’s hard. J

 MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

Irene: My “office” is the corner of our dining room. But I actually write a lot while in bed and also in a recliner next to a window that overlooks our wooded backyard. I like to be able to doze in and out of writing… my brain solves story problems that way.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

Irene: I have another contemporary middle grade novel on submission, and I’m in the first draft stage of something so tender yet that I can’t risk sharing, as I am easily deflated when others don’t feel the same enthusiasm I do. So I have learned (the hard way) to let it grow and develop into something less fragile before going public. But I can tell you that I will soon start edits on my first collection of poems for children, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST. It’s set at an African water hole and will be released by Millbrook Press/Lerner in 2014.

MsMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age?
Irene: Go out and live a life worth writing about.

 MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?  Reading, scrapbooking, zentangling, quilting, taking a walk, taking a nap, carpooling, going to the movies, going to a play, going to an art festival, going to Walmart, going, going, going….


About Don’t Feed the Boy  

 MsMac: Where did you find the inspiration for Don’t Feed the Boy? Irene: Inspiration for this novel came from three primary sources:

My love of animals and history as a teen zoo volunteer – for a while I thought I’d like to be a zoo vet!

My past adventures growing up with 3 brothers.  (Thank goodness for that   sweet sister who softened everything.)

My current adventures parenting 3 sons.

 MsMac: What treasures did you discover in writing this book?

Irene: I discovered “escape” is a theme I return to again and again. Also, I discovered how freedom can be a complicated thing. Also, on a lighter note – who knew there was such a thing as monkey chow (like dog chow, but for monkeys) and that elephants like to eat it, too?!

MsMac: What do you hope readers take away?  

Irene: I hope readers enjoy Whit and Stella’s adventures in friendship and finding where they belong, and that readers enjoy discovering the behind-the-scenes world of the zoo.

  Just for Fun

 MsMac: Chocolate: Dark or milk?   

Irene: Dark

 MsMac: Coffee or tea?

Irene: Tea

 Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Irene: Tango

 Favorite Quote:

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” – Ray Bradbury

Happy Reading.


Interview Wednesday: Meet Joy Acey

This spring, I had the pleasure of sending Joy Acey a copy of my book, Solace in Nature. I received the nicest note back from her and discovered one of her poems had been incuded in the Poetry Friday Anthology. She is my guest today for Interview Wednesday.

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?


Joy: I have a nightstand that is one shelf, one drawer and then a flat surface on top—so there are a lot of books stacked there. On the bottom shelf at two texts on children’s literature and my condensed Princeton Guide to Poetic Terms. There is also a Nora Roberts that I need to get to the used book store.

There are three mysteries that my husband passed on to me that he thinks I’ll enjoy( one is the latest J. A. Jance) and two MG novels that I’m trying to catch up on. Adam Rex is an Arizona writer that recently signed a contract with Disney for his SMECK DAY MG novel, and so I’m trying to finish that one too. I’ve only lived in AZ for two years, so I’m trying to catch up on the AZ writers that I haven’t read. (There are some really good writers in this state and I want to be able to speak intelligently to the kids about them.) The funny thing about all these books is I’m not a person who reads in bed at night before I go to sleep. Put me in bed and I’m asleep in five minutes. It really irritates my husband that I can fall asleep so easily. I also multi-task by listening to books on CD’s in my car. Right now I’m listening to Allen Wolf’s THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT: Voices from the Titanic. It is a really brilliant poetry collection. I highly recommend it.


These are two of the important items on the top of my night stand. The flashlight is a black light. It makes scorpions look neon green in the dark. I have this great fear of stepping on a scorpion in the middle of the night when I get up to go pee. It is an Arizona thing. The other object is a writing pad that lights up when I remove the pen so I can make notes in the middle of the night. The perfect line or word for a poem is an elusive thing. I might remember the idea of the poem, but never the exact wording, so it is important to be able to quickly jot it down.

Ms Mac: What was your favorite book as a child?

First Grade

Joy: My reading as a child was rather strange. My mother, a single mom and teacher, thought books were really important. I can remember that we would go to the library every week to exchange the books we had selected. I also remember having to be interviewed before I could get my library card when I was five. You might think that would make me a great reader, but somehow I got stuck in picture books. I really loved them—the pictures, the text. I particularly enjoyed the rhyming verse. I must have read all the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books about triplet Scandinavian girls, and the boy’s version Snip, Snap, Snur. I thought Dr. Seuss was wonderful. I even memorized the first 40 lines of Horton Hatches An Egg when I was in 7th grade and we had to memorize 40 lines of poetry each quarter. I also memorized Charge of the Light Brigade that year. My mother gave my sister and I a book for each Christmas and I remember my sister got all the Bobsey Twin books, and I got Honey Bunch. But I pretty much stayed with picture books until the summer of 4th grade when my best friend Helen and I started raiding the adult sections of the library. I read Rebecca and Nine Coaches Waiting and several of the Zane Grey westerns that summer. I can remember in high school, I enjoyed reading the True Romance magazines and the magazines with the words to the popular records in them. My step father asked my mom about this, should they be worried. The next week I was reading Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report for the debate class I was taking. Mom said not to worry, as long as I was reading that was the important thing. She knew I’d find my way to the books I needed and the ones that filled that need for me. Anyway, I sort of skipped all the middle grade and young adult novels. Once I started writing for children, I had to go back and read all of those books. Thank goodness I had kids of my own that I could read those books to. My crazy reading habits as a kid were probably a good thing, because it let me be very lenient with my own kids when it came to their reading choices. I can remember my frustration with the school librarian who wanted to direct the boys reading. Jacob got hung up on the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. He devoured them. And I can remember one Christmas vacation, my youngest Kees, who was never much into reading (he’d rather be out playing with friends) read 13 of the Animalia books in five days. He also was a Goose Bumps reader. But the school librarian wanted them to be reading good literature, which really put them off reading.

MsMac: Wow Memorizing? I am not good at that. What is your favorite reading spot?
A big brown leather chair where I can tuck my feet under me and look out the window at the birds eating from the feeder.

MsMac: There are rapid changes in the world of publishing now that tablets/ereaders and such are in the market in a big way. What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader.

Joy:Yes, I have a Kindle, I’m actually on my third one—thank goodness they have a good replacement policy. I love my Kindle. It is wonderful for traveling and actually if there is a book I want to read immediately it is great. I belong to a book group and my Kindle has saved me several times when I’ve put the book on reserve at the library and it still hasn’t become available 3 days before the group meets.

Often the ebook is cheaper than the hardback and then there are epoetry books like Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s P’*Tag and Tag Time. David Harrison also has a wonderful ebook Goose Lake that I wouldn’t have been able to read without my ebook reader. I think the electronic books have given us so much more diversity and variety in the books that are available.

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

Joy: Oh boy, I wish I could say I have a routine, but honestly my day is really broken up with writing squeezed in. When my kids were young, I got in the habit of writing from 3 to 5 AM and I still do this.

I used to write in my closet on the floor, long hand on a bread board balanced on my knees. For me there is something about being connected with the earth, being low, that makes my writing work better. So even though I now have a room that is my office, I still like to get low when I’m struggling with the writing. I zip back to bed at 5, sleep until 6. Get up and walk with my husband for two miles every morning and then he goes off to his work and I get to start my day, I answer emails, read the paper and start a load of laundry. Then it is off to my father-in-law’s place to check up on him, or if he has a doctor’s appointment, I take him to that. He is 91 years old and broke his right hip a year ago, and we have just gotten him home from the re-hab hospital yesterday from breaking his left hip.

MsMac:What does your writing space look like?

Joy: Let’s see if I can give you a picture. I’ve got lots of books because I write poetry for children. Lots of picture books, reference books, and adult poetry books, books on writing, etc. And, I have lots of friends that have published books and so I have copies of their books. It really is quite messy. I also like to dabble with art. So I have an art table and a taboret with all my colored pencils, chalks, pastels,watercolors, and paint brushes. I’d include a picture, but the space really is too messy to share and I don’t want to take the time to clean it up now or I’ll never get this interview done.

MsMac: What are your current projects?
I’m trying to get better at marketing my work. I have several rhyming picture books that I’ve polished for years and I need to send them out. I also have an alphabet collection of desert animals. I’m working on taking a middle grade novel I wrote years ago and changing it into a novel in verse. Then I’m working on five different collections, one for each of the five senses. I have a draft of the sound one I’m polishing and am working on the other four. Then when I get those done, I want to try my hand at a poetry collection for picture book—so instead of a novel in verse, it would be a picture book in verse. I think that would be fun to try and it would let me work on character development—something you don’t get to do too often with each poem.

MsMac: How did your Poetry for Kids Joy blog get started? Joy: For a couple of years, I wanted a venue for sharing my poetry, and I wanted a blog but I couldn’t figure out what I’d put on one—then when I moved to AZ, I started looking to put together a new critique group. It was really hard finding children’s poets in AZ and in Tucson, but Bridget Magee called me and we decided that we’d be a group of 2 and look for some more people to join us. Bridget is an excellent children’s poet and she is really good at critiquing my poetry. Bridget had a blog Wee Words for Wee Ones, and I looked at her blog and said, “Hey, I can do that.” In talking to Bridget, I figured out that in order to post daily, you have to give yourself permission to write some bad poems. Often the poem that gets posted is a draft of a poem that I know I will go back later and play with some more. The key for me is my blog gives me a playground for having fun. It forces me to write a poem a day and as I have continued to post, my poetry has gotten better and I’ve learned a lot about myself and why I’m so drawn to poetry. It also makes me want to learn more, try my hand at writing in more forms, experimenting with line breaks. I don’t know how many times I’ve written a poem and then two days later I look at the poem and discover that the poem wants to be a concrete poem—and then the fun begins to shape the poem to fit the image I have in mind, and to add or take away language to fit the shape. It is a lot of fun. I do have a terrific critique group with Bridget, Charline Profiri, Sharon Landeen and Carolyn Hankel. They all make me a better poet. I also belong to an adult poetry group and an on-line children’s writing group. Each group keeps me busy and working. I do appreciate when I have an extra pair of eyes to look over my writing. I haven’t had any one look over this interview, so I’m sure there are probably spelling, verb-subject agreement and other problems in it, that editing would have helped.

MsMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age? Joy: First and foremost, have fun writing. Write about something you want to share with others. If rhyme doesn’t come naturally to you, try writing in free verse first. Work toward alliteration, consonance and assonance instead of rhyme. I guess the MOST important thing is to just get something down on paper.

MsMac:What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing? Joy: You might find me communing with nature and taking pictures. AZ has a totally different flora and fauna from North Carolina where I spent 27 years of my life. I’m having a grand time learning about all the animals and plants that live in this desert.

Odds and ends:

I love chocolate of any kind.

Coffee first thing in the morning. Tea in the afternoon and evening, Sweet tea in the summer. Chai in the winter. I also love hot chocolate.

Dancing? I’m a dancing fool. Love them all, I especially like line dancing because everybody can dance without a partner—but I have been accused of having two left feet, and since I’m left-handed, how can it be wrong?

My birthday poet is Theodore Roethke. So I’ve spent a lot of time with his poetry. He has a poem NIGHT CROW that every time I read it makes me wonder how I get this emotionally black image at the end.

I do love to travel and have been very fortunate to be able to travel to many distant locations. Next on my list is Africa, but I’ve never been to Alaska or any of the tropical islands (Bermuda, Jamaica, Aruba) off the Atlantic Coast. My husband is an immunologist and through his work I’ve gotten to live in England and Japan, been to Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Sweden, France, Germany, Puerto Rico, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, lots of places. I’ve eaten meals with 7 Nobel laureates. It is all a lot of fun and it gives me lots of ideas for writing. I recently returned from a two-week trip to Peru where we visited the Rainforest. I have several pictures and poems from that trip on my blog.

If you haven’t visited Joy’s blog, you should. It’s so fun to read. I love that she posts poems every day. It’s been great to get to know Joy a bit better. Because of her suggestion I read for J. A. Jance books this summer for a reading get away. Come back for Poetry Friday when I share one of Joy’s poems.

Happy Reading.



Interview Wednesday: Susan Taylor Brown

 Today I’m interviewing Susan Taylor Brown, author of Hugging the Rock. Susan regularly posts for Poetry Friday, participated in the March Poetry Madness and created different prompts for National Poetry Month.  She’s here today for Interview Wednesday.

Your Reading Life

 MsMac: What books are on your night stand?

 STB: I read so fast that this changes almost daily. Right now there’s a pretty tall stack on the floor by the bed including, Art of Bird Photography by Arthur Morris, A Little More About Me by Pam Houston, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Best American Essays 2011, New and Selected Poems, Volume One by Mary Oliver, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 – The Missing FAQ by Victoria Bampton,

Understanding Exposure and Understanding Shutter Speed, both by Bryan Peterson and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (A frequent reread for me.)

 MsMac: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult?  What particular genre stands out?

 STB: As a child I think my favorite book was The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. I wanted to be a part of a big family so much and I just loved how they seemed to work and love together no matter what. As a teen I went through my “in love with anything about the holocaust” period with The Diary of Ann Frank being a favorite, followed by a “I’m depressed and no one else has ever felt like I do period” with Lisa Bright and Dark being one I read over and over again which led me to falling in love with poetry and carrying around a copy of a Rod McKuen or e.e. cummings book everywhere I went.

 We didn’t have young adult fiction as a genre when I was young but I’m sure I would have been obsessed with it had it been around then. I don’t fall into one particular genre all the time. I tend to cycle, gorging on middle grade and young adult fiction, nibbling on poetry, feasting on non-fiction about plants and gardens and photography.

 MsMac:  I hear you about YA genre not being around when I was that age.  Where’s your favorite reading spot?

 STB: What time of day is it? During the day, out back on the patio where I can watch the birds and listen to the water. If it’s too hot or it’s wintertime, I’m in the rocker in my office. In the evenings I curl up in bed. Mid-day, I’m on the couch in my library, when it’s cold in there, I’m sitting by the fireplace.

 MsMac: There are rapid changes in the world of publishing now that tablets/ereaders and such are in the market in a big way? What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?

 STB: I don’t think we can ignore the idea of ereaders. They aren’t going anywhere and today’s kids are growing up much more technically savvy than previous generations. But I don’t think about the form of the story when I’m writing so I guess I don’t think about them much. I don’t have an ereader yet. Partly because I’m not interested- I love the feel of paper too much- and partly because I’m terrified of going broke because it would be too easy for me to click and buy too many books. I have little willpower when it comes to book buying.


 Your Writing Life

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

STB: I’m a bit of a social media junkie (way too many years working alone) so the first thing I do is check my email and check in on Facebook. A workday depends a lot on what I’m working on and what stage I’m at with the project. In the brainstorming stage I’ll usually wander around the house and yard with a notebook and a pen jotting down various ideas and playing around with them.

If I’m a bit further in the process, like with the YA verse novel I’m working on right now, I’ll park myself on the couch in the library with the laptop on my lap and power write on and off throughout the day.

It’s usually about 45 minutes of writing and then 10-15 minutes to get up, let the dog out, wander around the garden, come back in, and repeat.  That usually takes me from about 10am to about 4pm. Somewhere in the middle I take a longer break for lunch and catching up on emails. I’m often back at work after dinner but with lighter tasks like early revision or more brainstorming.

 My favorite time to write, especially when I am coming to the end of work on a novel, is really from about 2pm – 6pm with a second round from about 9-11pm.

 MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

STB: Revising! Oh how I hate the blank page. Getting started takes me forever but I love to revise and can spend hours reworking a single paragraph. I think the heart comes to the page with those initial writing bursts but beauty and clarity is found in the revision process.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?


STB: I love my office! It’s the second largest room in the house, next to our library. It’s split into two sections, one for writing and one for making art and has a wall of patio doors facing the backyard. No matter where I sit in I can always see at least one of the three water features the birds frequently visit. There are French doors leading from our library to my office. The room is furnished with an antiques including an oak teacher’s desk where I have my large monitor set up, an oak library table for art making, an old set of wood file cabinets and even an antique oak library cart which holds some of my art supplies.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

 STB: I’m working on a young adult verse novel inspired by the series of poems I wrote for National Poetry Month 2011. I have never known my father or much about him so I spent the month writing poems about how that affected me as a child. By the end of the month, with the help of a friend who does genealogy research, I was able to locate some of my father’s family. He was already dead but I got to talk to both of my aunts before they died and learned about my sister and two brothers as well. The book I’m working on is not our story but it is inspired by the emotional journey.

 You can read those father poems here:

I am also working on a middle grade prose novel about a boy learning about native plants while trying to work out his own peculiar family dynamics.

MsMac:  What advice do you have for poets of any age?

 STB: Read the kind of poetry you like to write. Then read the kind of poetry you don’t think you like because you might surprise yourself. Learn forms, not necessarily all of them, unless that intrigues you, but understanding of some poetic forms will help you build foundations for your poetry. Keep a list of metaphors. Beth Kephart advises writing five metaphors a day. I haven’t managed that consistently yet but I know that when I attempt it more regularly, my poems improve.

 If you’re having trouble getting started you can take a look at my series called Kick the Poetry Can’ts designed to help new or tentative poets of all ages start having fun writing poetry.

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

 STB: I’ll probably have a camera in my hand since I have fallen in love with taking photographs of my native garden and the many birds who come to visit. If I’m not taking photos, I might be puttering around in the garden. We took out the lawns and converted our small suburban yard to a California native garden wildife habitat which I have documented on my garden website.  I often work on one of the patios with the camera by my side.

 If I’m not taking photos or enjoying the garden I’m probably doing some kind of art. I’m a mixed-media artist with a special love of working in collage form.

          Just for Fun

 MsMac: Chocolate:  Dark or milk?

STB: Milk.

 MsMac: Coffee or tea?

STB: Coffee

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

STB: Tango

MsMac: Favorite Quote:

STB:  love quotes so I have scads of them on the computer, on the bulletin board, on my desk, and in journals. This one is a favorite I come back to again and again:

 “It always comes back to the same necessity:  go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.”  — May Sarton

 Oh to have a library and office like that.  So amazing!  On Friday, I wil share a poem by Susan Brown Taylor for Poetry Friday.  See you then. 

Interview Wednesday is Booktalking.

Happy Reading.


An Interview with Laura Purdie Salas

Today I have Laura Purdie Salas sharing about her reading and writing life as well her new poetry book, BookSpeak! Poems about Books. Welcome, Laura.

Your Reading Life

 MSMac: What books are on your night stand?

 LS: A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

The Innocent, by Harlan Coben.

Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins.

What’s Looking at You, Kid?, by J. Patrick Lewis.

Poets on Teaching: a sourcebook, edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson.

 MSMac: The Linda Sue Park book is on my TBR list. What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult? What particular genre stands out?

 LS: I haven’t ever had a favorite book. As a kid, I was a voracious reader and loved any book that took me in for a few hours. I did read Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile many, many times  (maybe that’s where my alligator phobia comes from?). In upper elementary school, I was especially into Agatha Christie and read every one my library had. Flowers for Algernon was a favorite of mine as a teen, and so were James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and the sequels. As an adult, I read mostly adult and children’s poetry, picture books, adult mysteries, and  nonfiction.

 MSMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

LS: I’m a traveling reader and can read anywhere, anytime! In my grey chair with a storm outside is my favorite reading setting, though I don’t get that often!

 MSMac: Yes, there’s nothing better than a good stormy day to read or a wonderful summer day outdoors to read. What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?


LS: I don’t have an e-reader, though I’ve read a few books on my iPhone. I’m not against e-readers, per se. I love being able to spend a few minutes before yoga class reading a poem or two on my phone, for instance. And it would be nice not to break my arms carrying luggage overweighted with books every time I travel. But a real book is so solid and dependable. It doesn’t run out of batteries. It doesn’t tempt me away from itself with emails and podcasts. It doesn’t suddenly go blank with no explanation. I expect I’ll get an e-reader soon, but I don’t plan on giving up paper books at all!


Your Writing Life


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

 LS: A day of work looks like me frantically pounding away on a keyboard. I only get to actually write for a few hours a week, if I’m lucky. Most of the time, I’m answering emails, working on promotional stuff, corresponding with editors, blogging, critiquing, etc. When I am going to get an hour of actual writing time, I love to do it first thing, right after the house empties out for the day. My brain is somewhat fresh then:>)

 MSMac:Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

LS: First draft—it’s so full of possibility!

MSMac: What does your writing space look like?

LS: I write everywhere. Lately, I’ve mostly been writing at the kitchen table, looking out the picture window into the backyard.

MSMac: What are your current projects?


LS:I’ve been working on three new prose picture book manuscripts—all funny (I hope). One features a cowboy who is NOT happy about an event he has to go to, one has farm animals setting very bad behavior examples when kids come to visit on a field trip, and the third has a giraffe with a long problem. And I have one poetry collection bubbling in my head, but I haven’t got a good handle on it yet.

MSMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age?

 LS: Read tons of poetry! Start writing. Don’t judge yourself.

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

LS: Reading.Being active—walking, yoga, zumba, etc. Volunteering with the Minnesota Brass drum corps (my husband and I both marched last year).Playing board games.Watching cooking shows (those who can’t, watch)

About BookSpeak! Poems about Books

MSMac: Tell me a bit about this book.  What was your process? Did you set out to    specifically write a set of  book poems or were they written over time?

LS: I wrote most of these in a space of a few weeks.

MSMac: What inspired you to create BookSpeak?

LS: I was invited to submit for an anthology, but none of my 13 poems was accepted. I was really bummed out. My agent looked them over and sent them to my editor at Clarion, and I was so thrilled when she said she wanted to make a book from them. Then I needed to write more poems and start the long revision process.

MSMac: What kind of input did you have with the illustrations and the layout? Did  you see your poems being arranged as they were when you wrote them with  the different fonts like in the poem, “Skywriting”? (which by the way, is one   of my favorites in the book)

LS: On the illustrations, basically, none. I did get to see early versions and offer feedback. There was one poem that was hard to follow because it’s for three voices (“The Middle’s Lament”), so the editor and wonderful artist, Josée Bisaillon, worked together to make it simpler for reading aloud. And there were a couple of poems that the editor asked if I could change line breaks a bit or the layout somewhat to work better with the illustrations. I was very open to that.

 There’s one illustration that, to me, doesn’t match the content/viewpoint of the poem, so that kind of bothered me. But they didn’t change that. And I’m actually not a big fan of different fonts (though that’s one of my favorite poems, too) within a poem. I expressed that, and my editor had some justification for it (which I honestly can’t remember). So that didn’t get changed, either. The illustrator’s goal was to make the best art she could to expand and illuminate the poems. And the editor’s goal was to make the best book possible, marrying my words and Josée’s art. Nobody’s goal was to make a book perfect for Laura or perfect for Josée, and that’s the way it should be.

Plus, I have to say that Josée Bisaillon’s art for BookSpeak is just fabulous! Colorful, whimsical, mysterious, playful…I love 99% of it, and I’m thrilled with that. In a true collaboration, which is what a picture book is, each person has to give in a little. I bet there were times when she said—probably in a lovely French accent, “Oooh, I wish Laura would have written sailboat instead of shark here,” or something like that. Some detail that might have worked better in her illustration. But we both went with the established process, and I think it came out wonderfully.

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

 LS:I hope they start to wonder what their favorite books (or the characters inside those books) might say. And I hope readers remember again the magic that words and pictures can create. And most of all, I hope they enjoy the moment of reading, without worrying about taking anything away at all. It’s always hard to know how any particular book will affect any one reader, but the reading itself unites all of us.

 Just for Fun

MSMac: Dark chocolate or mild chocolate?

LS:Milk chocolate.

MSMac: Coffee or tea?

 LS: Tea!

 MSMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

 LS:Ooh, can’t I do both?

MSMac: Favorite quote?

 LS: “All I can do is the best I can do.” That’s mine. It’s what I tell myself when I’m struggling with writing, an athletic activity, keeping up with various commitments, etc.

I love your quote, Laura.  Iti’s a good reminder for those days of struggles and doubts.

Thanks for sharing your reading and writing life with me.  I enjoyed BookSpeak! Poems about Books so much. 

For Poetry Friday I will feature a poem from BookSpeak! Poems about Books.

More great interviews are at The Flatt Perspective.

Happy Reading.




Poetic Conversations: Paul B. Janeczko

Paul B. Janeczko is  this year’s CYBILS’ Poetry Award winner for Requiem Poems of the Terezin Ghetto.  It’s a magnificent collection of poems about a very dark time in history. 

I am so please to share my interview with the blogosphere this morning as I kick off “Poetic Conversation, Interviews with Poets.”  Here’s our conversation:

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
Paul:  On my night stand I have poetry and fiction. Among the former are editions of WC Williams, Whitman, and Yeats as well as a book of poems by a friend of mine. My current fiction selection is Hoopla by Harry Stein, a novel about the Black Sox World Series scandal of 1919. For bedtime reading, I alternate between “literary fiction” and mysteries. I’m not sure what my next mystery will be, although I have been reading a lot of mysteries by European writers.

MsMac: Yeats is one of my favorites, What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult? Does any particular genre stand out?
Paul:  I’m not sure I can name a single favorite book when I was a kid, but you almost pick any of the Hardy Boys books. Because of what I was made to read in high school, those years are a reading blank. I spent a lot of time reading the sports page of the newspaper and the backs of baseball cards. As an adult, I was quite taken by Doctor Zhivago. And later, The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary. Beyond that, I’d hate to say. Books are like people we meet in life. And different points in your life, certain people are very important to you. But that often changes.

MsMac: I like that, “Books are like people we meet in life.” Where’s your favorite reading spot?
Paul: In the winter, I love reading in on the sofa in front of the wood stove. I’m up and about by 4:30 or so every morning. I come downstairs and get the fire roaring, make a cup of coffee, and sit back to read. My morning reading is nonfiction. Currently I’m reading Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg, (I’m a nut about art theft!) I just finished reading Hellfire by Nick Tosches, a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Talk about a wild ride!

 MsMac: There are rapid changes in the world of publishing now that tablets/ereaders and such are in the market in a big way? What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?

Paul: I own an iPad, and I’ve read one book on it, just to see what it was like. It was okay. But I’m a Book Person, and that means words on paper pages. I just like the feel of a book. I like the smell of a book. I like licking the tip of my finger to turn the page. I like paper bookmarks: old ball game tickets, a business card from a great restaurant, a small cockeyed picture that my daughter drew 15 years ago. For me, that’s all part of reading. Make no mistake. I get a kick out of my iPad, but it will never replace a book for me. Having said all that, I should report that my latest nonfiction book for Candlewick Press, The Dark Game: True Spy Stories will be an e-book in the fall. But it will also be paperback in the fall!

 MsMac: I agree about the feel of books in your hand. I just got an iPad so have yet to read a book from it. 

 Your Writing Life

 MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
PJ: As I said, I am up around 4:30 each morning and do my non-work-related nonfiction reading. I also use a bit of that time to catch up on my magazines, of which I subscribe to far too many. As part of my study of Buddhism, I will also do a little spiritual reading in the morning. Right now I am reading How to Train a Wild Elephant: and Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen teacher. By 9, I try to be in my office and ready to work. I try to do my project work in the morning, and save the more clerical work, like emails and arranging author visits at the end of the day.

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
Paul: Both have their joys. Although you can’t beat the enjoyment of starting on a new project, there’s a lot to be said about knowing that you are on the home stretch. Also, I understand that rewriting—and rewriting—is the only way to make my writing as good as it can be.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
Paul: Disorganized, unfortunately, although I seem to be able to find things that I need…eventually. My space has all the writer-ly tools you would expect, but I also surround myself with books on 2 of the walls. Also, lots of books stacked on the floor in front of my desk. I am also blessed to work in a room that has 3 large windows.

 MsMac: What are your current projects?
Paul: I’m writing the draft of a follow-up book to The Dark Game for Candlewick. This one is called Double Cross: Deception in Time of War and is great fun. The characters involved in deceptions are incredible. I’m reading the final version of World’s Greatest Hoaxes, which will be available in the fall through the Scholastic book clubs. Two editors are considering other nonfiction projects, mostly related to art crime.

MsMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age?
Paul: Read. Read. Read. Read poetry of all kinds, of course, but don’t let your reading stop there. And, of course, pay attention, take notes. Become a watcher. In between the reading and watching and note taking, write. Write. Write. Write. Make it your passion.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
 Paul: Reading. Walking, while listening to an audio book. Cooking. Missing my daughter, a college senior who in Bali (!!!) for her semester abroad. She returns in mid-May, graduates 2 weeks later.

 Your Reading Life

 MsMac: I was very surprised to learn about the Terezin Ghetto and how the  Nazi’s created a place for creative Jews.  Wow.  Where did you find the inspiration for Requiem Poems of the Terezin Ghetto?

Paul:  I got the idea for the book in 1993, when I read an article in a classical music magazine about the town. Like you, I had no idea of its history. I photocopied the article and stuck in a file. Over the years, I noticed that name popping up now and again. Then I read a collection of poems and drawings created by the children of Terezin, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. So it was about then that I started thinking about giving voice to the victims of Terezin. In 2008, I had the great joy as a visiting poet at the American School in Warsaw for a week, and when my work at the school was completed, I flew to Prague for the weekend and spent one full day at the camp, just taking pictures and picking up the vibe of the place.

 MsMac: The first time I read the book, I paid attention to those voices with a number attached to them.  The second time, I paid attention to the small poems which seem to be the voice of Miklos.   He seems to be the observer of the Terezin Ghetto. How did that come about?
Paul: Miklos is the observer of the madness. I wanted him in the book for that reason, but also because he was a young voice and most of the poems are about adults. And structurally, his short poems sort of stitch the book together.

MsMac: In your afterward, you explained that Izk Posselberg’s poem is just twenty-   five words based on the postcards the Nazi’s allowed the Jews to write.      Were you able to read some of the poems?
Paul: I read some excerpts from a few of the postcards, and it seemed that the challenge of writing a poem in 25 words was too good to pass up. In the slide show that I use when I visiting schools or read the poems to adults there is an example of one of the postcards, complete with a stamp with Hitler’s image on it. The Nazis gave these postcards to the inmates when they arrived. They were to write to relatives, telling them they are okay.

 MsMac: What did you discover about the people of Terezin Ghetto in your research and by visiting there?  What is the place like today?
Paul: Many of them were extraordinarily talented and creative. And, for many of the inmates, it was that spirit of creativity that sustained them through incredibly painful times that nearly always ended horribly.

 The town of Terezin is a very pleasant village. There are two or three museums commemorating the history of the Jews of Terezin. Other than that, you would have no idea of the horrors that walked those streets. Many of the barracks that saw so much suffering, disease, and death have been refurbished and painted in lovely pastel colors. That was one of the most startling things about the town, that jarring contrast between how lovely it was when I was there in ’08 and death was in the air 60 years ago.

 MsMac: There are illustrations in the book with art credits listed in the back.  What can you tell me about the illustrations and the people who drew them?
Paul: The illustrations were created by the inmates, most of who wound up at Auschwitz. Most of the drawings were smuggled out of the camp. Others were hidden until the Russians liberated the camp.

 MsMac: Where there any challenges during the writing of the book?
Paul: The biggest challenge was writing a book that was totally dark. When I wrote Worlds Afire, I was able to lighten things up a bit with characters or situations. I couldn’t do that with this book. So, living with that darkness was one challenge. Another one was writing the poems from the point of view of the Nazis because I had to put myself in the mind of a monster.

MsMac: What surprised you about writing these poems?
Paul: It surprised me what we do each other as soon as we separate the world into Us and Them. At the same time, it surprised me what we do for each other when we are only Us.

Paul: In addition to the historical lessons of the Holocaust, I hope young readers see Requiem as the ultimate horrifying bullying book. It’s about labeling people. The label’s not as important as the act of labeling. All labels are really Us and Them. That’s unhealthy, and, as we’ve seen countless times, from the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming to the acts of the immigration vigilantes to the Holocaust, the consequences are always tragic.

MsMac: How did you find out that you had won the CYBILS award for Poetry?
Paul: This may sound dumb, but I don’t remember! I think it was someone from Candlewick, but I couldn’t swear to that. I had been aware of the award, of course, and knew I’d made the shortlist. I do remember noticing the stiff competition on the shortlist, and that a number of the poets are my friends. It was wonderful to win, no matter how I found out!

 Just for Fun

MsMac: Chocolate:  Dark or milk?
Paul: 1%, just for my tea and cereal.

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
Paul: Coffee, most of the time, although winter is more of a tea season for me.

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Paul: No question: tango!

 MsMac: Favorite Quote:
Paul: Like a favorite book, it changes the more you read, but two of my favorites: 1) from The Princess Bride–“True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. This one seems to have stood the test of time with me. Which reminds me, you can add the Goldman book to my adult favorites.

2) from The Horse’s Mouth. At the end of the novel, the protagonist, a painter named Gully Jimson, is dying. The nurse attending him has told him that he’s seriously ill. “Not so serious as you’re well,” he tells her. “I should laugh all round my neck at this minute if my shirt wasn’t a bit on the tight side.” She replies, “It would be better for you to pray.” “Same thing, mother.” Okay, so it more of a “scene” that a quote. It’s still delicious.

Thank you, Paul for a great interview. “Paul Janeczko is available for school visits and Skype visits. You can find more information about visits on his website:”

Come back on Poetry Friday for a poem from Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto. 

Interview Wednesday is being held at Perogies and Gyoga (

Happy Reading.