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Mentorship model literary press The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective invites entries for the Emerging Poets Prize & Editor’s Choice Award. The prize aims to help nurture and bring out new poetic voices from India and the Indian diaspora and those that have a meaningful connection to India. Up to three manuscripts chosen for publication. Winners receive Rs. 15,000 (or equivalent in local currency), publication (minimum press run of 250), and 20 author copies, plus membership. Manuscripts must be in English. No translations. Deadline: May 30, 2016.
The Eden Mills Literary Contest is open for entries from new, aspiring and modestly published writers 16+. Categories: short story (2500 words max.), poetry (five poems max.). and creative nonfiction (2500 words max.) First prize in each category: $250. Winners invited to read a short selection from their work at the festival on Sunday, September 18, 2016. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: June 30, 2016.
PRISM International invites entries for the inaugural Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. First prize: $1500 grand prize ($600 runner-up, $400 2nd runner-up. Up to three poems per entry (100 lines max per poem). Entry fees: $35-$45 (includes subscription). Deadline: October 15, 2016.
Children’s publisher Annick Press (Canada) is seeking true stories of bravest moments for a YA non-fiction anthology. The format of the testimonial can be in one of many different mediums (prose, poetry, photography, illustration, etc.). Contact Robbie Patterson at email@example.com for full details.
The Cossack Review is looking for submissions of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, flash fiction and works in translation for their next print and online issues. Send 3-6 poems, one story, or one essay. Especially interested in thoughtful, diverse work.
Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction because it gives them a chance to immerse themselves in someone else's story. In fact, a recent study has shown that reading literary fiction helps improve readers' ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling (see this article in Scientific American).
Laura Shovan's novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is full of distinct voices that prompt us to think about different students' unique perspectives. It's one my students are enthusiastically recommending to one another.
Eighteen fifth graders keep poetry notebooks chronicling their year, letting readers peak into their thoughts, hopes and worries as the year progresses. Fifth grade is a momentous year for many students, as the finish elementary school and look ahead to all the changes that middle school brings. This year is particularly full of impending change for Ms. Hill's class because their school will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for a new supermarket.
Through these short poems, Shovan captures the distinct, unique voices of each student. The class is diverse in many ways--racially, ethnically, economically, and more. At first, I wondered if I would really get to know the different students since each page focused on a different child; however, as the story developed, I really did get a sense of each individual as well as the class as a whole. Shovan creates eighteen distinctive individuals--with personalities and backgrounds that we can relate to and envision. And these experiences shape how each individual reacts to the year.
I particularly love novels in verse because they allow readers a chance to see inside character's thoughts without bogging the narrative down in too much description. As researcher David Kidd said (in this Scientific American article), literary fiction prompts readers to think about characters: "we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations.” This is exactly what ends up being the strength of Laura Shovan's novel.
The funniest thing, for me personally, has been the shocked look of many of my students when I show them this cover. You see, our school is called Emerson Elementary School. "This is a real book?!?!" they say, incredulously. I know my students will particularly like the way these students protest the plans to demolish their school, bringing their protest to the school board.
As you can see in this preview on Google Books, this collection of poems slowly builds so readers get a sense of each student in Ms. Hill's fifth grade. The poetry feels authentic, never outshining what a fifth grader might write but always revealing what a fifth grader might really be thinking.
I highly recommend the audiobook for The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. The diverse cast of Recorded Books brings alive each character. This would make a great summer listen, or a great read-aloud for the beginning of the school year.
The review copy for the audiobook was purchased from Audible and for the print copy it was borrowed from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
hy were Christian theologians in the ancient and medieval worlds so fascinated by a text whose main theme was erotic love? The very fact that the 'Song of Songs', a biblical love poem that makes no reference to God or to Israelite religion, played an important role in pre-modern Christian discourse may seem surprising to those of us in the modern world.
From the promotional copy of The Language of Stars by Louise Hawes (McElderry, 2016): Sarah is forced to take a summer poetry class as penance for trashing the home of a famous poet in this fresh novel about finding your own voice. Sarah’s had her happy ending: she’s at the party of the year with the most popular boy in school. But when that boy turns out to be a troublemaker who decided to throw a party at a cottage museum dedicated to renowned poet Rufus Baylor, everything changes.
By the end of the party, the whole cottage is trashed—curtains up in flames, walls damaged, mementos smashed—and when the partygoers are caught, they’re all sentenced to take a summer class studying Rufus Baylor’s poetry…with Baylor as their teacher. For Sarah, Baylor is a revelation. Unlike her mother, who is obsessed with keeping up appearances, and her estranged father, for whom she can’t do anything right, Rufus Baylor listens to what she has to say, and appreciates her ear for language. Through his classes, Sarah starts to see her relationships and the world in a new light—and finds that maybe her happy ending is really only part of a much more interesting beginning. The Language of Stars is a gorgeous celebration of poetry, language, and love.
In 2008, I stumbled on a newspaper article about a group of Vermont teenagers who'd been caught throwing a party in the historically preserved summer home of Robert Frost. They'd vandalized and set fire to the place, but few of them were over eighteen.
A resourceful judge, who couldn't send them to jail, sentenced them to something some of them may have enjoyed even less—they had to take a course in Frost's poetry!
As soon as I read this, my writer's "what-if" machinery kicked in: what if, I asked myself, the poet in question weren't Robert Frost, but an equally famous, Pulitzer-prize winning, world-renowned Southern poet, someone who made his home in North Carolina, where I live? What if, unlike Frost, who'd been dead for decades when the vandalism happened, my fictional southern bard was still alive when young party-goers destroyed his house? And what if he decided to teach those kids himself? What if one of those students was a young girl who showed a natural ear for poetry?
What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?
It was a long gestation period! First, I needed to find my narrator, who turned out to be sixteen-year old Sarah Wheeler, a character who came to me almost immediately, but whose voice and interior life took me months of free writing to uncover.
Next, I read all the biographies on Robert Frost and everything he ever wrote (including some pretty awful plays modeled on seventeenth-century court masques!). After that, free writes helped me hear the voice of Rufus Baylor, my book's poet, who shares some life experiences, artistic convictions, and teaching approaches with Frost, but whose personality and poems are all his own.
Next, it was time to write a draft, submit it to my agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, and then tighten and re-think major aspects of the book. (No, great agents don't line edit; but yes, they do ask crucial questions about readership and story!)
When it was time to submit, I found out the hard way that a YA novel in which an octogenarian is a major character is not an easy sell! I also learned to treasure the judgement and eye of the brilliant editor (Karen Wojtoyla at Margaret McElderry) who trusted my book enough to acquire it and to ask me to rewrite it. Again?!
Seven years from inspiration to completion! Which may be why, in comparison, the year between signing and publication seems to have flown by!
What were the major challenges (research, craft, emotional, logistical) in bringing the book to life?
Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet
You've named the usual suspects, Cyn. Research and craft, as well as sustaining emotional and artistic investment through so many years, most of them without a contract—all of it was far from easy. But the thing I found most difficult and at the same time most rewarding, was combining the three formats I wanted the novel to include.
First, Stars is written mostly in prose; it's not a novel in verse. Second, of course, it also features poetry. I mean, hello? Most of the major characters in the book have chosen to study poetry rather than do hard time!
Lastly, because my narrator, Sarah, is a wannabe actress whose role model is Sarah Bernhardt, and because she and her mentor, Rufus, hear the whole world talk, talk, talking to them, I've also included play scripts that feature an on-going dialogue between things and people.
In the vibrant and highly auditory place Rufus and Sarah inhabit, grills sputter, furniture squeaks, sand crabs burrow, seagulls squeal—not just as background noise, but as active, contributing participants. Fun? Yes. But challenging to write!
Talk to us about your audition to read the audio edition of the book for Brookstone.
I have a theater background, so I asked my agent to write an author audition into the audio contract for Stars. After all, I reasoned, I had been a national finalist in the National Academy of Dramatic Arts competition; I had endured NYC audition rounds, portfolio in hand; and colleagues and students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts had listened attentively to my readings from each draft of Stars. Who was better suited to bring the audio book to life?
A lot of people, it turns out! Blackstone Audio required a short five-minute sample—a cinch, right? It took me days to come up with that recording, but it took the company's studio director exactly three hours to respond to my emailed mp3.
What he told me, kindly but firmly, was that audio listeners have well-developed tastes and high expectations, the least of which is that a teenage narrator's voice will sound as if she's between the ages of 14 and 20. To soften the blow, and because I did have prior recording experience, he asked if I would help him select our reader from among their final candidates.
Here's the humble pie part: the part where I tell you that any one of their top ten voice actors were about 900 billion times better qualified to read my book than I was!! Yes, I got to make the final call: Katie Schorr is a full-time actor, an all-round stage talent, and gives one of the most nuanced, sensitive readings I've ever listened to on audio. I can hardly wait for everyone to hear it!
What's new and next in your writing life?
A lot! Current works in progress include The Gospel of Salomé, YA historical fiction about the young woman the new testament credits with having danced off the head of John the Baptist; Love's Labor, an adult novel about an aging playwright; and Big Rig, a brand new middle-grade novel.
In addition to working on my own projects, I'm also cooking up another Four Sisters Playshop with my three sisters—a painter, a musician, and a film-maker. We'll be exploring a new theme in August 2017: Death, Cradle of Creativity. We hope to share writing, movement, music, sculpture and painting with participants, and in the process destroy a lot of stereotypes about death and aging!
The title is our first collaboration and Jeffery's publication debut. The book, which includes a detailed timeline and links to primary sources, connects to both the language arts and social studies curricula.
You Can Fly had a long incubation period. The egg may have been laid during a family trip to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. The earliest version of the text was for a picture book written in second person.
After I was unable to sell that manuscript, I sat on the egg for a few more years. Then I began re-envisioning and reshaping the manuscript as a poetry collection for middle grades-up. I switched the point of view to first person under the title "The Last Tuskegee Airmen Tells All." Still not satisfied, I changed to third person. Finally, I settled on second person.
Around that time, Jeffery came on board. During a summer internship in children's book illustration, he created digital art to accompany my poems. We sold the package, but just before the book was about to hatch, the flight got cancelled.
Carole & Jeffery in 2000
I began to wonder if the book would ever leave the nest. I continued to revise the manuscript and to add poems. Jeffery and I decided to scrap the digital art in favor of scratchboard illustrations.
Armed with a revised manuscript and sample drawings, we sold the package to Atheneum.
In the subsequent year, Jeffery completed the illustrations and I added a few new poems.
In mid-April, Jeffery and I received our comp copies.
Our first book together finally has wings.
Fly, little book, fly!
Author & Illustrator Interview
Jeffery and I recently interviewed each other about You Can Fly.
Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book?
Carole: The Tuskegee Airmen's saga moved me personally. It is powerful—historically, politically and emotionally. I thought the story begged for a poetic treatment.
Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did gaming influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?
Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies. I played everything from Halo to Call of Duty.
Jeffery: When did you first notice my artistic talent?
Carole: Your kindergarten teacher prodded you to finish coloring and work up to potential. By third grade, I was concerned that you were doodling planes, cars, weapons and anime characters in your notebook rather than paying attention.
Around middle school, I realized that your drawings were good. I put you in studio art classes, starting with cartooning. By high school, you were taking private art lessons with the assistant principal who became a mentor.
Carole: What is your favorite illustration from the book?
Jeffery: My favorite is of the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It's a closeup scene from their historic rematch.
Jeffery: What's yours?
Carole: The one where two planes on a mission have bombed an enemy aircraft. The explosion is so animated; like a comic book.
Jeffery: What is your favorite poem from the book?
Carole: It's "Head to the Sky," the first poem in the book and also the first that I wrote—early on when the project was envisioned as a picture book. "Head to the Sky" reflects the power of a dream fueled by self-determination.
Carole: Tell me about your first flight.
Jeffery: I had a window seat and was looking outside. As the plane sped down the runway, I said, "We're blasting off!"
Carole: That was hilarious. Well, your career as a children's book illustrator is off to a flying start. How did it feel when you first saw the printed book?
Jeffery: Like a child at Christmas.
From the promotional copy: I WANT YOU! says the poster of Uncle Sam. But if you’re a young black man in 1940, he doesn’t want you in the cockpit of a war plane. Yet you are determined not to let that stop your dream of flying. So when you hear of a civilian pilot training program at Tuskegee Institute, you leap at the chance. Soon you are learning engineering and mechanics, how to communicate in code, how to read a map. At last the day you’ve longed for is here: you are flying! From training days in Alabama to combat on the front lines in Europe, this is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the groundbreaking African-American pilots of World War II.
When I was young and learned my father served in the Naval Air Corps during WWII, I became a voracious reader of anything and everything about the war, including the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, Jackie Robinson, Rosie the Riveter, the WACs, and more. What I didn't find were stories about the Tuskegee Airmen. My young self would have been as thrilled as I am today with the release of an amazing poetry collection entitled You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford.
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen is a collaboration between award-winning children’s book author Carole Boston Weatherford and her son, debut illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford. They have woven poems and scratchboard illustrations into a history in verse inspired as much by World War II newsreels as by modern day graphic novels. The project was nearly ten years in the making. With starred reviews in Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, the book for middle grades is off to a flying start.
Here the mother-son/author-illustrator team interview each other.
Carole:When did you first hear about the Tuskegee Airmen?
Jeffery: I first heard about them when I was a young boy. We took family trips to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington and to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama where we toured exhibits about the Tuskegee University’s founder Booker T. Washington, botanist George Washington Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen. I always had dreams of flight.
Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book? Carole: I first learned of the Tuskegee Airmen in a magazine article in the 1980s. I was so moved by their story that I saved the magazine. My literary mission is to mine the past for family stories, fading traditions and forgotten struggles. The Airmen’s saga is historically and politically significant. As a children’s literature professor, I knew of at least one historical fiction picture book and of several informational books about the Tuskegee Airmen. I felt that the story would lend itself well to a poetic treatment.
Carole: Tell us about your family’s military ties?
Jeffery: My great great great grandfather Isaac Copper fought in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. He was one of 17 veterans who founded the town of Unionville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My mother’s father Joseph Boston Jr. served in World War II. He was a technical sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers in New Guinea and the Philippines. My grandmother still has his uniform and medals.
Jeffery: Which poem was most challenging to write?
Carole: “Operation Prove Them Wrong” was by far the toughest to write. It was like plotting scenes for a war movie. I had to boil down Operation Corkscrew and Operation Diadem to a few lines that captured the battles. It might have been easier if I were gamer like you or at least a World War II buff.
Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did your background as a gamer influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?
Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies.
Jeffery: What is your favorite illustration from the book? Carole: I like the one opposite the poem “Routines.” It shows a dogfight in which one plane gets bombed and explodes. The explosion is quite animated, like something out of a comic book. I almost want to add an action bubble: Boom! Carole: Describe your creative process. Jeffery: For inspiration, I viewed documentary photographs from the Library of Congress and National Archives collections. While researching picture references, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen. I also watched the movie Red Tails. For each illustration, I drew a graphite study to layout the composition. Once that was completed and approved by the publisher, I refined the image and transferred it to scratchboard. I used various nibs for different effects.
Jeffery with Airman portrait
Jeffery: What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Carole: I want them to be inspired by the courage and determination of the Tuskegee Airmen. I want them to understand that the sky is no limit if they are willing to prepare themselves, practice and persevere. The book aims to lift the ceiling off of young people’s dreams.
P-51 Mustangs flying in formation over Ramitelli, Italy.
The poems in this volume are moving, vivid, and packed with information. The poem in the Epilogue describes the race barrier breaking moments that came after the Tuskegee Airmen paved the way for integration of the U.S. military. The backmatter includes an author's note, timeline, and extensive list of additional resources and primary sources.
She received an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.
We all reach a point when writing doesn’t feel very fun. Maybe because we’ve read too many rejection letters. Or maybe because we’ve revised so much we can’t recognize our story. Or maybe because we’re under a deadline and the pressure to finish takes away all the enjoyment.
But remember why we started doing this? It wasn’t because we wanted to get rich quick. (Ha!) Or because it was the only job we could do. Or because anyone was making us write. It was because it was fun.
The art of creating story was fun. We became writers because we like telling stories—we like making up details, researching history and narrating events. All of that was fun.
Six years ago, I got serious about becoming a writer and applied to an MFA program. When I got a call from the admissions office saying, “Hey – we’re doing this intensive picture book semester and we have room for one more student. Would you like to try it?”
I thought, That could be fun. And I soon found myself immersed.
Six months of reading almost nothing but picture books. Dozens of picture books. Hundreds of picture books. Rhyming ones, silly ones, concept books, fairy tales. Biographies, bedtime stories, wordless books and—poetry.
The thing about sitting down at the library and reading through a knee-high stack of poetry books is that after reading a dozen, two dozen, I started to see really fast what makes a certain one good. I really liked the ones that were centered around a theme, with varied types of poetry and bonus little nonfiction facts sprinkled on top.
I should try to do that, I thought. Being enrolled in a class that expected me to produce many picture book drafts in a short period of time didn’t let me dwell on whether it was a good idea or not. It just demanded that I try it out. That I play with it.
And I did. It was fun to research shark breeds and learn about sharks I’d never heard of before. (Hello, cookie-cutter shark!)
I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching sharks swim and thinking about their rhythm and shape and how that would feed into a poem. It was fun to learn new stuff. And it was really fun to try my hand at writing all different types of poems.
To challenge myself to make sure the next one didn’t rhyme or the next one was a concrete poem or the next one was a haiku. Not all of the experimenting worked. But every bit of it was fun.
As writers we need to remember what drew us to this field to begin with and do whatever we can to find the fun again. Here are 4 quick ways you can find the fun in writing this week:
Be a spy. Go outside and find an animal or a plant and just sit and watch it for 10 minutes, writing down whatever comes to mind. See if you can take that and shape it into a poem when the time is up.
Play a game. Find a Mad Libs. Caption a funny photo.
Have fun with first lines. Opening sentences can be really fun to make up. Write a list of ten of them and then send the list out to your critique group. Let them vote on one that you’ll turn into a short story.
Write something that is completely out of your comfort zone. If you normally write YA contemporary, try writing a scene of a middle grade historical novel. Write the end of a story. Write in second person. Do something new and fresh that shakes it up a little in your routine.
It’s worth it to take a break from the WIP and play a little. Remembering what’s fun about writing will improve your energy level on your current project.
But that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it’s fun.
Only, I've been a little distracted. I skipped off to the city for my local SCBWI meeting - an art show, a lecture from book-wise and witty editors Mary Kate Castellani and Caroline Abbey, and then a consultation and workshop with art director, professor, and story genius Joy Chu.
This is the same Joy who guided me over the last two winters in visual storytelling classes through the UCSD online extension program.
I'm still reeling with inspiration. I could have listened for days. Months. Years.
Now I'm home, all bright and hopeful, waiting for my brain to shape so many beautiful tips and ideas into working order. Time to let the front thoughts simmer. Time to play with poetry.
We started with a poet-tree. The wildebeests and I cut out branchy trees and labeled each branch with simple word: sky, go, sea, etc. Next, we cut out dozens of leaves - in all flutters of color, because it just looks more exciting that way.
Each branch grew rhyming leaf words: sky = cry, my, pie, etc.
Because we like to make life even more thrilling, and sometimes complicated, I thought it might be fun for the older wildebeests to thread their leaves on yarn. Winnie added a button.
Pip used gold pen. She's really into gel pens lately.
And their finished masterpieces.
I'd love to meet a tree like this someday, shimmering with colors, yarns, and words! I think I'd move in.
I'll share more poetry play next time.
Until then, here are a few favorites:
A Kick in the Head, An Every Day Guide to Poetic Forms - compiled by Paul Janeczko, ill. by Chris Raschka
The Random House Book of Poetry - edited by Jack Prelutsky, ill. by Arnold Lobel
Switching on the Moon - collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Peters, ill. by G. Brian Karas
Chicken Soup With Rice - by Maurice Sendak
When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne, ill. by Ernest Shepard
Now We Are Six By A.A. Milne, ill. by Ernest Shepard
Did you know that Earth Day started way back in the 1970’s? For many it marks, as a website quotes, “the birth of the modern environmental movement.”
Way back in 1962, author Rachel Carson began the run up to concern for the environment with her New York Times bestseller, “Silent Spring.” It generated with its sale of 500,000 copies in 24 countries, a call for public awareness of concern for the gradation of the environment and by inference, its impact on public health.
Change is a hard thing to measure and it is usually only measurable AFTER it has occurred.
That is why the picture book’s value in its ability to both entertain and enlighten, is so underrated in some quarters in the sometimes headlong drive to get to the chapter book. So much is missed and discounted in what the picture book has offered in the past and continues to offer in the present. And Ms. Adams’ book is a perfect example.
Adrienne Adams is the winner of two Caldecott Honor books in 1960 and 1962 for “The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up” and “Houses From The Sun”. Both were done with text by Alice E. Goudey.
She is also the illustrator of ALA notable books for her Grimm’s Brothers versions of “The Shoemaker and the Elves, ”Jorinde and Joringel,” and “Thumbelina” by Hans Christian Andersen.
In “Poetry of the Earth,” Ms. Adams has chosen thirty-three poems from renowned poets such as Robert Frost, Randall Jarrell, Carl Sandburg, William Butler Yeats, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, celebrating everything from buffaloes to bats, snails to specks, sandhill cranes to squirrels and tiger lilies to tortoises.
Listen to this small sample from Robert Frost’s, “Dust of Snow”:
“The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree”
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.”
Young readers, once you get past their understanding of the word, “rued”, will certainly get the visceral feeling of how one single moment can change a day; one small second in time can change a minute from moody to merry. Kids do it all the time; it’s part of being a child!
And its impetus for them can be a poem, a line from a book, a hug, a smile, or a touch of the hand.
Let Earth Day this year, and books that echo both the shelter and nourishment it gives humanity, be the jumping off spot for a teachable moment with young readers. Share books with them that celebrate how wonderful and healing the earth can be; what a sacred space it is, and how much it is in our care.
Below is a link to 50 fun and engaging hands on Earth Day Activities for young ones.
Room Magazine is accepting entries for their annual Poetry and Fiction Contest. Prize in each genre: $1000 plus publication. Judged by Marilyn Dumont (poetry) and Doretta Lau (fiction). Room’s contests are open to women, trans*, two-spirited, and genderqueer people. Deadline: July 15, 2016.
Online journal Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing is accepting submissions of poetry, literary fiction, creative nonfiction, features, and artwork for the Fall 2016 issue. Deadline: August 15, 2016.
SAD Mag, a Vancouver based arts & culture publication, is seeking poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction pieces. Theme: Secrets (personal and political secrets, unconventional ideas and lives — writers are encouraged to interpret creatively and broadly). Length: 1,000 words max. Accepted pieces published online alongside an illustration; some published in the print issue. Particularly interested in works by queer and emerging writers. Deadline: May 15, 2016.
Poems in the Atticis a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.
In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?
Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words as possible. Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that. I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story. Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.
Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?
Start with word play. I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses. Take the word “lemon”, for instance. What is its shape, its scent, its color? Does it make a sound? Does it have a taste? How would you describe that sound, that taste? Where is a lemon to be found? What does it do or what can you do with it? In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.
Is there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?
There are a few answers to that question.
Read poetry voraciously. If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
Play. Build your vocabulary. Experiment with a variety of forms. For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default. But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry. It is merely one element of it. Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry. Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words. These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.
The book in its wonderful camel on wheels home #dada
In honor of the 100th birthday of the emergence of the Dada movement, we are sharing the unique artist book created by Rolf Lock embodying Hugo Ball’s Karawane. In full leather boards, the exquisite hand illustration and lettering was executed on sandpaper…because…it was. It is housed, as one would expect, in an olive wood camel, the book at rest forming its hump…because…it is.
The text of the Ball’s poem, written in 1916, is as follows:
“I’m interested in the collage form,” Balakian said. “I’m exploring, pushing the form of poetry, pushing it to have more stakes and more openness to the complexity of contemporary experience.”
He describes poetry as living in “the speech-tongue-voice syntax of language’s music.” That, he says, gives the form unique power. “Any time you’re in the domain of the poem, you’re dealing with the most compressed and nuanced language that can be made. I believe that this affords us the possibility of going into a deeper place than any other literary art — deeper places of psychic, cultural and social reality.”
From the book’s titular poem:
Bach’s cantata in B-flat minor in the cassette,
we lounged under the greenhouse-sky, the UVBs hacking
at the acids and oxides and then I could hear the difference
between an oboe and a bassoon
at the river’s edge under cover—
trees breathed in our respiration;
there was something on the other side of the river,
something both of us were itching toward—
radical bonds were broken, history became science.
We were never the same.
And, as the jacket description notes:
The title poem of Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal is a sequence of fifty-four short sections, each a poem in itself, recounting the speaker’s memory of excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert with a crew of television journalists in 2009. These memories spark others—the dissolution of his marriage, his life as a young single parent in Manhattan in the nineties, visits and conversations with a cousin dying of AIDS—creating a montage that has the feel of history as lived experience. Bookending this sequence are shorter lyrics that span times and locations, from Nairobi to the Native American villages of New Mexico. In the dynamic, sensual language of these poems, we are reminded that the history of atrocity, trauma, and forgetting is both global and ancient; but we are reminded, too, of the beauty and richness of culture and the resilience of love.