Poetically Speaking with Liz from Consumed by Books

poeticallyspeaking2Liz is a librarian who also can be found blogging at Consumed by Books or saying smart and bookish things on twitter where she is @lizpatanders.

Today Liz is sharing her thoughts on Things I Have to Tell You.

I’ve been a writer and reader of poetry since middle school, but despite my enjoyment of it, I always find it a trickier medium to regularly engage with. I tend to only want to read one poem at a time for fear that they’ll bleed together in my mind and I won’t appreciate individual poems by themselves. Sometimes I’ll start a poetry anthology with the hope that I’ll read a poem each night before bed, but in reality, this lasts about two nights.

I was a regular library user as a teenager—I often went because I just loved picking out new books, and I’d usually peruse the new non-fiction for teens. Things I Have to Tell You stuck out to me one day because of its title and cover. I believe I was around fifteen years old when I first discovered it. Even at the time I knew I might grow bored with it and not read all of the pieces in the book. Instead I went home, opened the book, and didn’t stop until I’d read all 63 pages.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest that was largely populated by upper middle class white people, with some exceptions. My teenage self knew she was smart, bookish, loved to run, and wanted to attend a small liberal arts college with study abroad options. I attended a young writers program one summer because I wanted to. I had a lot of friends who had academic interests and were involved with local youth groups. In terms of appearance, I wasn’t a particularly confident person—I felt like my body was the wrong shape or I couldn’t get a flattering haircut, I looked weird in pictures, my glasses didn’t look the way I wanted them too. Most guys that caught my attention didn’t seem to know I existed, something I wasn’t terribly pleased about.

Picking up a book where young women wrote honestly about the things that were happening in their lives gave me a lot of new perspectives to think about. The topics of these poems varied—they were about feeling sexy, having such a bad hair day that a guy wouldn’t talk to you, drugs, society’s expectations. Each poem or writing varied in tone or style, yet I found one commonality in all of them—these weren’t things girls at my school were talking about. All of these subjects felt taboo. How was I supposed to say how sexy I did or didn’t feel when sexy wasn’t a word that came up often in conversation? How was I supposed to know how drugs felt, as someone who never tried them and didn’t want to? Although these topics felt off limits in daily conversation, I knew that these poems were about everyday experiences. They just weren’t my experiences.

Feminism is a word I thought about in high school, but wasn’t fully ready to explore. Society taught me a lot of messed up things, some of which young girls are still learning today. It taught me to worry about how fat I am and to judge my female peers for their choices. It made me ask myself questions like how the length of a girl’s skirt affected whether or not she was assaulted.

Things I Have to Tell You showed me that I wasn’t listening. I was too busy examining the choices of my peers to see what could be affecting their lives. It was hard for me to see why some girls felt ready for sex when I wasn’t, or how the adults that surround a young person shape him or her. I thought I was just reading great poetry. I didn’t realize that this book was touching my life for the better. I like to think I am not as judgmental today, and that I am a feminist, but I know there are moments when I still slip.

Although this anthology was published in 2001, I am still awed by the talent, writing, and emotion that fills it. Teen girls today still have so much to tell us about their lives, their schools, their parents, their hopes and dreams, and how society could be screwing them up. As adults, there will be one thing we can always do: listen.

Thank you to Liz for this great post.

If you want to see more of her writing, be sure to check out her blog: http://www.consumedbybooks.com

Poetically Speaking with Kat Ellis

poeticallyspeaking1Kat Ellis is the author of Blackfin Sky–a debut fantasy with an eerie circus and lots of fun–which is on Yalsa’s 2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list of Mysteries: Murder, Mayhem and Other Misadventures. Kat’s next novel Breaker will be released in Spring 2016.

Today Kat is talking about how Ted Hughes’s ‘The Thought-Fox’ taught her to think like a writer.

The Thought-Fox and Me

(You can also read The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes in its entirety here.)

I remember the first time I came across The Thought-Fox, sitting in class when I was around 10 years old, listening to the teacher read it aloud. From the first line, it stopped me in my tracks (I was most likely carving my initials into the desk or doing something equally productive at the time), and suddenly I was imagining the dark forest, the ticking clock, the writer hunched over a blank page. I’d felt that way before about stories – snared, sucked in by the words – but a poem had never grabbed me like that.

Back then I never read poetry outside of class, and I didn’t know why this poem in particular captured my imagination. Looking back, I wonder if it was because the poem is about writing (even then, I liked to write), and because it so beautifully captures that sensation of a wild thought made tangible through words.

Years later, when I got to study poetry-writing in university, the tutor asked everyone in the group to talk about a poem that inspired them. Even after so long, this was the poem that sprang to my mind. I will admit there was some eye-rolling from the rest of the group – this poem is widely studied in the UK, and everyone else was naming obscure German poets, spoken-word poems about Heavy Subjects, and other things that I still can’t really muster much enthusiasm for. What can I say? I’m mainstream.

But I stood my ground, because The Thought-Fox stirred more feelings in me than any of the others, and still does. Maybe it’s just because I’m a writer. Maybe it’s because a fox jumped out of my head that one time. Or maybe it’s because it’s a bloody good poem.

Thank you again to Kat for this delightful post.

If you’d like to learn more about Kat and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://katelliswrites.blogspot.com

You can also find my review of Blackfin Sky (and my interview with Kat) here on the blog.

Poetically Speaking with Sarah Beth Durst

poeticallyspeaking2Sarah Beth Durst is the award winning novelist of numerous fantasy novels for children, teens and adults. She was awarded the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013 for her novel Vessel. Sarah’s latest novel for young adults, Chasing Power, was published in 2014. Her new middle grade novel, The Girl Who Could Not Dream will be released in Fall 2015. Sarah is one of my favorite authors to read and also to interview here on the blog as well as a generally delightful person at all of her author events.

Today Sarah is here to share her thoughts on poetry that breaks rules and her lifelong love of Emily Dickinson’s groundbreaking work

I have a photo of me, age two, looking at a book called BOW WOW! MEOW! as if I am in complete and utter shock that books are for more than just chewing on. Technically, I believe this was my first encounter with poetry.

But my first vivid memory of my experience with poetry dates to about age six. I had a babysitter who loved to play school. She’d set up my desk and her teacher’s desk using pillows and tray tables. Line up the pencils. Find a stack of scrap paper. This particular afternoon’s assignment was: write a poem.

And so I did, carefully crafting it in my best handwriting, filling an entire sheet of paper and then decorating it with roses that climbed all around the words. I’m guessing it was a poem about flowers, but for all I know it could have full of existential musings on the ephemeral nature of life… Okay, no, probably flowers. I do remember very clearly how proud I was of that poem.

I trotted over to my babysitter, my masterpiece clutched in my little hands, turned it in, and waited for the praise to flow. Instead, she took a red pen and changed the first letter of every line into a capital letter, because, she said with all the complete self-assurance that a girl a few grades older can possess, in a poem, every line always starts with a capital letter. Always.

But the thing I clearly remember thinking… and keep in mind that I was very much an obey-the-rules goody-two-shoes girl who hated conflict… was that my reaction was: NO.

I don’t think I said it out loud. But I know I felt it loudly, in every bone. No. You’re wrong. Poetry doesn’t have to follow your rules.

I think that’s why, years later, one of my most treasured books was THE COLLECTED POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON. It was one of my few hardcovers at the time, white with roses on it, and I loved it for the way her poems both shaped and broke rules.

I especially loved looking at her original poems in her scrawled handwriting, full of dashes and line breaks and seemingly arbitrary capitalization, without rhyme or any discernible pattern. Yet within this nearly-illegible scrawl were lines that sang in your heart:

Hope is the thing with feathers…

Her poems always felt to me like little gifts, delivered in secret, maybe in a basket with some homemade raspberry jam. Sometimes sad, sometimes soaring, but always heartfelt.

Later, in college, I took a few poetry classes and discovered there’s also beauty in poetry that adheres to rules, such as the villanelle, which has 19 lines and specific rules for repeating rhymes and refrains. But there’s something in the purity of an Emily Dickinson poem that continues to speak to me.

And I believe there’s a lesson in it too, for me as a writer: that writing is a constant mix of using rules and breaking them in order to deliver your heart as a secret little gift to whoever reads your words.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul…

Thank you again to Sarah for this amazing post.

If you’d like to learn more about Sarah and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://www.sarahbethdurst.com

You can also find my reviews of Enchanted Ivy, Drink, Slay, Love, Vessel, Conjured, The Lost and Chasing Power here on the blog along with several of my interviews with Sarah.

Poetically Speaking with Lisa Ann Sandell

poeticallyspeaking1Lisa Ann Sandell is the author of The Weight of the Sky and Song of the Sparrow, two lyrical verse novels, as well as the resonant coming of age story A Map of the Known World. Song of the Sparrow is one of my most favorite verse novels and one of the books that inspired me to dedicate April on my blog to National Poetry Month each year.

Lisa is here today to talk about her own discovery of verse novels including Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

When I was in college, I found myself drawn to the poetry of religion and love and the day-to-day of the medieval and Renaissance English canon. If I had to pinpoint exactly what it was about John Donne and Thomas Mallory, Christopher Marlowe and Geoffrey Chaucer that spoke to me, I would say it was the use of language to subvert the norms of the poets’ respective days, and the way they used language so effectively to tell stories that communicated so much feeling and passion and so much wisdom about what it means to be human. And that their words traveled across the ages and still resonated? Well, all the more impressive and meaningful. The sexiness of Donne’s The Flea – yet how chaste by today’s standards! – was shocking to this eighteen-year-old, whose knowledge of sixteenth century life was minimal at best. But it opened my eyes to the fact that people who lived and wrote and thought and loved four centuries earlier weren’t really any different from people of the twentieth or twenty-first century.

Then, a few years later, when a dear friend and poet in his own right recommended I read Anne Carson’s work, I found it beautiful and challenging. It didn’t speak to me quite so well as Donne and Marlowe had. Still I deeply appreciated the ambition of The Autobiography of Red ­– a whole novel in verse! And then I came to Sharon Creech and Love That Dog and Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, both of which are intended for a much younger reader than I was at the time. But wow, did I love those books. Particularly Love That Dog. Both books are truly stunning and emotionally gripping. But something about the simplicity of Love That Dog, the starkness of so few words on the page and the power of the emotional punch they pack – the words just leaped out of the book and wrapped themselves around my heart. In Love That Dog, Ms. Creech depicts a young boy’s coming to terms with his emotions, with loss, as well with as his feelings about poetry so elegantly, so poignantly…I was deeply moved, frequently to tears. And I was amazed at how using language so economically could be so incredibly powerful.

Which led me to think about how I wanted to write a story that I had been living with for a few years. My first novel, The Weight of the Sky, was loosely based on my own experiences during a summer spent volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel. I had written some bits and pieces — sketches, really — but they were in verse, and I couldn’t imagine linking them together to form a cohesive and coherent story, much less a whole book. But after reading Love That Dog and Out of the Dust, I was inspired to try. The way I knew best to capture the colors and smells and all the sensations that I had felt and wanted to explore through a novel came out in poems. So, once I let go of my fears and inhibitions, I managed to craft a story, which I think hangs together, using the economy of language that verse affords. And then when I sat down to write my second novel, Song of the Sparrow, which is an adaptation of a corner of Arthurian legend, I felt much more comfortable following in the footsteps of my first efforts. And I also liked that some of the earliest tales of Arthur were epic poems; the notion of writing into a tradition or trope was, while perhaps arrogant on some level, truly exciting.

These days, I am busy raising two small children and working full-time, but even now, when I’m harried and exhausted, I look to poetry to ground me, to remind me of all that is real and important in life. I can’t wait to read Love That Dog with my kids.

Thank you again to Lisa for this thoughtful post.

If you’d like to learn more about Lisa and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://lisaannsandell.com

You can also find my reviews of A Map of the Known World and Song of the Sparrow here on the blog.

Poetically Speaking with Janet S. Wong

poeticallyspeaking2Janet S. Wong is the author of numerous picture books and poetry collections for children including This Next New Year. She is also a poet, speaker and publisher.

Today Janet shares some tips to get your writing into shape with poetry.

Get in Shape with Poetry

Any athlete knows: you don’t just play the game. You train and you cross-train. You stretch, you sprint, you do sit-ups, you run, you shoot hoops, you swim, you dance. It’s the same advice I would give to any writer: train and cross-train.

Novelists: Poems are your sit-ups. Write one in the morning and read one at night.

Picture book writers: Double that.

Poets: Practice writing in meter. Learn different forms. And read, read, READ! Scarf poems down. Inhale anthologies. Myra Cohn Livingston—more on my mentor below—told me I wasn’t reading enough when I first started. “I’m reading 10 books a week,” I said. She replied, “Read fifty.” Read collections and anthologies. Read novels, graphic novels, nonfiction, song lyrics, and cereal boxes. What you remember a week later: that’s how you need to write.


Twenty-three years ago I quit my job as Director of Labor Relations at Universal Studios Hollywood. My parents were so disappointed. Co-workers thought I was crazy. After all, I had my name on a parking spot! The pressure was on—to get published quickly and show everyone I wasn’t nuts.

I read dozens of “how to get published” books, went to SCBWI events, took UCLA Extension writing classes, and submitted picture book manuscripts weekly while I revised a middle grade novel and tried to ignore the steady flow of rejection letters. Then it hit me: maybe I should study poetry. Not to become a poet, but to sharpen my prose. Maybe learning about rhyme, repetition, and rhythm was the ticket to publication.

Lucky for me, I was able to study with Myra Cohn Livingston in her legendary Master Class on poetry an invitation-only class that honed and shaped the writing of poets such as Alice Schertle, Tony Johnston, April Halprin Wayland, Joan Bransfield Graham, Ann Whitford Paul, Kristine O’Connell George, Sonya Sones, Deborah Chandra, Ruth Bornstein, Hope Anita Smith, and Monica Gunning. Myra died in 1996. April Halprin Wayland has honored her legacy with a poetry-infused UCLA Extension class on picture book writing, while several of us teach poetry at schools and conferences.

No one is mentoring poets quite the way Myra did in her Master Class, but a number of poets are now teaching via online courses and email. Here’s a sampling of the best.

  • Renée M. LaTulippe: The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry
    An online course consisting of 20 lessons (5 weeks; 30 minutes per day), with personal daily feedback from Renée. To get a sense of Renée’s own writing, take a look at “These Hands” or “Opening Night” in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (an NCTE Poetry Notable). Renée’s No Water River blog is an essential part of the children’s poetry scene, with video readings by dozens of award-winning poets.
  • Lesléa Newman
    Lesléa Newman is the author of sixty-five books for children, teens, and adults, including the groundbreaking, Heather Has Two Mommies, reissued last month with new illustrations; October Mourning; A Song for Matthew Shepard, a teen novel-in-verse which received an American Library Association Stonewall Honor; and I Carry My Mother, a book-length cycle of poems that explores a daughter’s journey through her mother’s illness and death and her own grief. She offers a mentoring service with distinguished participants, alums, and mentees.
  • Heidi Bee Roemer
    Heidi Bee Roemer (hroemer@hotmail.com) is a much-anthologized poet, magazine contributor, and the author of Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems. You can read about her here, which is where I learned about her self-paced correspondence course in writing poetry, “The ABC’s of Children’s Poetry,” a 4-day class with materials available for long-distance students.
  • Laura Purdie Salas: Mentors for Rent™
    Mentors for Rent™ is a consulting/coaching/critiquing service run by poet Laura Purdie Salas and picture book writer/novelist Lisa Bullard. If you need an overview of the children’s poetry business or feedback on your poetry collection or rhyming picture book, Laura is one of the most knowledgeable poets you’ll find, with a wide range of writing credits, publishing experience, speaking gigs, blog activity, and leadership in literacy organizations.

I’m proud to say that all four of these poets are contributors to The Poetry Friday Anthology series published by Sylvia Vardell and me, a series containing over 700 poems by 150 poets. But those 150 participating poets are not limited to “just poets only”; Linda Sue Park, Gail Carson Levine, Grace Lin, and a dozen other writers known for their novels and picture books are included among our contributors. Whoever you are, whatever you write: poetry can fit into your writing life.

Are you ready?

Thank you again to Janet for this info-packed post.

If you’d like to learn more about Janet and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://www.janetwong.com

Poetically Speaking with Amy from Beastbrarian

poeticallyspeaking1Amy is a YA Librarian who blogs as Beastbrarian. She can also be found on twitter @amydieg.

Amy is here today to talk about the ways in which fandoms, especially Tumblr, have embraced poets and poetry.

An Unconventional Venue

When we think about poetry, many if not most of us imagine some level of traditional sophistication. Museums, libraries, tweed-clad professors, dimly lit cafes. But it isn’t the reality, at least not the whole reality. Similarly, when we think about poetry and teens, the best-case scenario is usually some morose, greasy goth scribbling awful rhymes about their tortured souls. There is one place, at least, where no one might think to look, that you can find teenagers (and adults) engaging actively with poetry: Tumblr.

Though I can’t speak for all users, the presence of poetry, both original and referenced, on Tumblr has been impossible for me to miss. There are, of course, the common and well-loved quotes, posted and reblogged as just that – quotes that stand alone, perhaps with an author citation. More fascinating to me, though has been the way poetry is transformed and created on the social media site so commonly used by people across countries, age ranges, and interests.

There are many original poetry tumblrs in existence, and some are even well-known and loved within the tumblr world. It isn’t wholly uncommon to see a poem, carefully formatted in the frame of the rigid tumblr text post box, and signed (often with a set of initials) by someone you’ve never heard of before. Depending on the quality (perceived or otherwise) it’s tempting to believe that this is a published poet’s work that has been transcribed and poorly accredited by some teenager or other who doesn’t really understand the importance of intellectual property. This was actually how I found out about tumblr’s original poetry scene. After some failed googling and eventual backtracking to the original post, a reader may very well find that the piece was written by a tumblr user and published directly to their blog. There are even tumblrs related solely to reblogging these types of poems, or of posting anonymous ones written and sent to them.

Particularly I find this movement interesting in the realm of teenagers. It is a common joke to talk about teenagers writing bad poetry in their journals, but it does come from a place of truth. Poetry is, in terms of writing privately, an accessible way to explore writing and process feelings. For kids who do get into writing poetry it seems only reasonable that the modern convention so central to their lives – social media – would become part of that. Additionally, depending on the age and community of the user, Tumblr is often a place where one can exercise an interesting version of privacy. Because there is no requirement for providing real names or photos, many people operate with at least some level of anonymity. You can have a tumblr that none of your classmates or family members have any real knowledge of. So even though you may have tons of followers, you are insulated (to a point) from a certain kind of exposure.

What does this have to do with poetry? Poetry is often a very emotional, private medium. It is also one that is hard to judge, especially when looking at one’s own work. So, despite the likelihood of teens writing poetry, most of them will be hesitant to show it to family or peers. There is also the concern that, in general, teens are not taken seriously. But a teen who shares their poems on a tumblr can feel comforted that it may be shared or read without any knowledge of the author’s age, sexual orientation, gender, etc. The risk in seeking praise, validation, or simply a space to share is thus greatly lowered.

In terms of actually engaging with poetry, I want to use the example of a particular poet. The poetry of Richard Siken has been hugely and dynamically embraced by fandoms and the tumblr community. In addition to the simple sharing and appreciating of his work, users have engaged with Siken’s poetry much in the way they do with other content. They incorporate it into fanart, photoshopped graphics for movies and television, even create original graphics and music playlists for the work itself. There is even an annual celebration within the fandom for the show Supernatural called Siken Week (http://sikenweek.tumblr.com), in which fans create media that directly combines the content.

Siken’s poetry, it is worth noting, often has themes of love between two men. There is also an element of subversion often present in fandom, particularly on tumblr. There are lots of interesting discussions about things like the long time prevalence of ‘slash’ (homosexual relationships) and smut (sexually explicit content) in fanfiction. For the above mentioned reasons relating to anonymity, these online spaces are often used to explore ‘taboo’ ideas. Siken’s poetry, then, fits right in. The Supernatural fandom has presumably taken so strongly to it because the two romantic relationships most commonly associated with the fandom (though not necessarily within the show itself) are both male/male. A significant portion of the fanbase is also interested in what is known as ‘wincest’ – the romantic/sexualization possibilities and implications within the largely dysfunctional and codependent relationship between the show’s main character who are brothers.

It is not Supernatural alone, however. A quick search of recent posts on tumblr tagged with the word ‘siken‘ yields fan creations for everything from Orphan Black to The Hobbit.

Not only are these modern audiences aware of and enjoying poetry, but they are actively engaged with it. The same teens who may be groaning over Emerson reading assignments at school are spending hours in front of their computers interpreting, changing, layering, and dissecting other poetry.

There are a lot of questions that come up when we think through these things. For me, though, the most important thing to take is a realization: poetry shouldn’t live on a pedestal. I’m sure more than one stodgy old professor would be HORRIFIED to see a classic poem photoshopped over a scene from Teen Wolf, but me? I think it’s absolutely beautiful.

Thank you to Amy for this insightful post! I definitely have a lot of new poetry to explore now!

If you want to see more of her, be sure to check out her blog: http://amydieg.wordpress.com

Week in Review: April 19 (Poetically Speaking Week Three)

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

  • Tessa Gratton (author of The Lost Sun, The Strange Maid and more) talks about Gloria Anzaldua, the poet who taught her to listen and transform
  • Jenny Hubbard (author of Paper Covers Rock and And We Stay) details what Emily Dickinson taught her in this post called “Dresses with Pockets”
  • I (Miss Print) talk about my love for villanelles and particularly “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
  • Justina Chen (author of A Blind Spot For Boys and more) interviews poets Janet S. Wong and Sylvia Vardell about their poetry anthologies
  • Molly from Wrapped Up in Books discusses poetry in translation specifically Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Eden from Blogging Between the Lines shows you how to start your own poetry workshop with young people



You can see the full schedule for Poetically Speaking by clicking the image below!


How was your week?