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?

Poetically Speaking with Eden from Blogging Between the Lines

poeticallyspeaking2Eden is a Teen Librarian and YA Lit reviewer. You can find her on Twitter –@edynjean– and Blogging Between the Lines. Eden also contributes to Teen Services Underground and YA Books Central.

Eden is here today to share her suggestions for leading a poetry workshop for young people.

Running a poetry workshop or writing group for teens and pre-teens can be a very fun and rewarding experience. Teens have a wealth of creativity, and you can show them ways to tame their wild imaginations.

You want to show the participants that creative writing takes work and that creative work can be fun. As the instructor, you are the fun generator. You are the one teasing out their creativity into tangible words and lines – helping these kids make something completely new and original (at least to them!). Keep that in mind if you feel frustrated or stifled during the workshop.

There are a million different ways to run a poetry workshop for kids and teens, so I’m just going to go over some of my favorite creativity-generating activities. I always start my workshops with idea-generators, weird activities to get the participants thinking in new and strange ways. It keeps them thinking, gets their brains active, and helps them create outside the lines they’ve placed around themselves.

Fun strategies for generating poem ideas:

  • Post a list of numbered words on the wall and roll dice to choose words to use.
  • Purchase Sobe drinks for the participants and write the sayings on the insides of the bottle caps on a whiteboard or easel, then use those phrases in a poem.
    • For a challenge, construct a poem just out of the Sobe cap phrases.
  • For a descriptive poem, challenge the participants to write about another person in the room, without using any anatomical terms.
  • Free write based on sound or images put together in a slide show.

Another important thing to get across when working on poetry with pre-teens and teens, whether in a classroom, library, or home setting is that writing is always a work in progress. The words will not spill out of your hand and onto the blank page fully formed into perfect prose. It takes time, effort, and many revisions before a poem is completed. In some cases, a poem may be constantly revised – never finished.

Emphasize the concept that writing is a process, it takes work and thought and effort, and that the teens should not expect to write a final piece in one sitting.

Techniques & activities for revising poetry:

  • Play vocabulary musical chairs: give everyone a word, play the music, and when you stop pair everyone up and create a compound word that you write on a whiteboard or easel.
    • This shows the teens creative use of words that wouldn’t normally belong together.
  • Rewrite the poem backwards and think about how the meaning changes. Encourage the teen to move lines around – the poem is more like a puzzle than a script.
  • Rewrite the poem onto a new sheet of paper, changing a single thing (word choice, word order, punctuation, etc) per line.
  • Read poems aloud. Hearing a poem aloud is very different from hearing it only inside your own head.
    • If the teen doesn’t like public speaking, read poems anonymously, or have the instructor read them all.

Whether the workshop is run in a school, library, home, community center, or youth group, the instructor should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to create and have fun. Those are both equally important goals of the workshop!

Recommended Reading:

Empowering Young Writers: The “Writers Matter” Approach by Deborah S. Yost, Robert Vogel & Kimberly E. Lewinski

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire by Tom Romano

Don’t Forget to Write — for the Secondary Grades: 50 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons by Jennifer Traig

Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing by Karen Benke

Thank you to Eden for this instructive post!

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

Poetically Speaking with Molly from Wrapped Up in Books

poeticallyspeaking1Molly is a collection development librarian specializing in graphic novels and young adult literature. She also blogs about teen librarianship and books at  Wrapped Up in Books.

She’s here today to talk about poetry in translation, specifically Federico Garcia Lorca.

I remember the first time I ever read a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca. It was a cool September day my freshman year of college, and the windows to my Spanish 111 class were open to welcome a breeze. Every class had a cultural lesson to accompany whatever vocabulary and conjugations we were studying, and on that day, we were reading Lorca’s most famous poem, “Sleepwalking Ballad”:

Green I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship on the sea
and the horse upon the hill.
With her waist wrapped in shadow
she dreams on her veranda,
green flesh, green hair,
with eyes of frozen silver.
Green I want you green.
Beneath the gypsy moon,
things keep watching her,
and she cannot see them.

Before I discovered Spanish poetry, studying the language had always been a burden. But as soon as I started reading Lorca, I wanted to unravel the mysteries of his words. Studying dual language editions of poetry taught me more about the importance of accent marks and verb tenses and helped me understand the subtle effects of different word choice than any drills or worksheets ever did.

I went on to read lots of poetry in translation: Lope de Vega, Miguel de Unamuno, Jorge Manrique, Pablo Neruda, Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Antonio Machado, Rafael Alberti, Pedro Salinas. But Lorca remains my favorite.

federicogarcialorcaLorca was born in Granada, Spain just before the dawn of the twentieth century and came of age in Madrid, where he studied alongside men who would become some of the most influential Spanish artists of their time, such as Salvador Dali and Manuel de Falla. Though he wrote about poverty in America and traveled extensively in Latin America, he, and most of his work, embodied the south of Spain, the Mediterranean coast, and the history of his people and their connection to the land.

There’s a reason why Lorca is my favorite: most of his poetry is about sex or death, with imagery expressed with startling and private metaphors. The spine of my Collected Poems is worn because I often pause when passing my bookshelf to pull it off and read a few stanzas. His poetry is visceral, magical, haunting. It tugs at your soul and speaks of the secrets of the universe.

my lorca library

Lorca wrote in a variety of forms, from traditional sonnets and suites, to more experimental styles, like the prose-poem “In the Garden of Lunar Grapefruits” (“In the Forest of Lunar Grapefruits” is also great) or surrealist dramatic poetry like “Trip to the Moon.” In addition to writing poetry, Lorca produced several celebrated plays, from his first A Butterfly’s Evil Spell, to his most famous, Blood Wedding. He also wrote essays, especially on duende, the heightened emotional state where true, authentic art emerges.

Some of his most startling works are from his time in New York, where he witnessed the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. He became critical of capitalism and materialism. He advocated for the marginalized and his poems speak of race relations in New York.

lorca exhibit nypl

In fact, in 2013 I had the chance to view an exhibit at the New York Public Library that offered an intimate glimpse into Lorca’s life and shed light on the many ways the city influenced his work. There were photographs, artifacts, drawings, and letters. The most gut-wrenching item in the collection is a handwritten note Lorca left atop the Poet in New York manuscript at his editor’s desk. “Back tomorrow,” it said. But he never did come back. He was called to the countryside, then taken from his family’s home, and murdered by Franco’s regime more because of his sexuality than his politics.

Readers interested in learning more about Lorca’s life and work should check out two definitive biographies: Federico García Lorca: A Life by by Ian Gibson and Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stanton. You could start with Selected Verse if the huge Collected Poems is intimidating, but really, it’s nice to have it all. I’d also recommend the fictionalized movie of Federico García Lorca’s relationship with Salvador Dalí in the movie Little Ashes.

Poetry is the arrangement of language where sound is as important as meaning. Learning the sounds of words through reciting poetry was the only way I ever enjoyed the process of learning a language. Even after going six semesters of Spanish in college and going to grad school for Latin American Studies, I have only a basic listening and speaking skills, but because of my time spent reading poetry, I read pretty well. But, when pouring over Lorca’s poetry, feel a kinship with him, for he never mastered English, but still appreciated the rhythm and beauty of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”.

Thank you to Molly for this great post and reminding me how much I loved reading Lorca’s poetry in high school!

If you want to see more of her, be sure to check out her blog: http://wrappedupinbooks.org

Poetically Speaking with Justina Chen

poeticallyspeaking2Justina Chen is the award winning author of numerous novels for young adults including North of Beautiful which was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus and Barnes & Noble. Her most recent novel, A Blind Spot for Boys, was published in 2014. Justina is also an author I have followed since her debut Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) which is one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog.

Justina is here today with an interview with Janet S. Wong and Sylvia Vardell about their poetry anthologies.

As National Poetry Month rolls around, I think not just about my favorite poem—Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou—but about the women in my life who are phenomenal. Phenomenal in the way they live—fierce and full. Phenomenal in the way they love—with passion and loyalty. And phenomenal in the way they create—with honesty and courage.

One of my mentors, Janet Wong, is one such phenomenal woman and poet. She’s a former lawyer who has become one of the most acclaimed children’s poets, writing 30 books for children and teens on a wide variety of subjects. When I was first starting to write, she swooped over to me, reading, critiquing, and editing my manuscripts. Introducing me to editors. And then launching my career when I was published by spearheading my first massive book tour alongside herself and Grace Lin. Appropriately, we called that tour, Hi-YAH! Asian American authors speak out!

What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than to shine a spotlight on not one, but two phenomenal and poetic forces of nature? Janet, in collaboration with Professor Sylvia Vardell, has created a number of much-loved poetry anthologies. I was so delighted to interview them for Miss Print’s readers.

Justina Chen: Why is poetry important today?

Sylvia Vardell: People are pressed for time, today more than ever. Kids are stressed out—parents and teachers, too. Poetry is short. Poetry is cleansing. Thirty seconds and you feel better. Whatever you need, there’s a poem.

Janet S. Wong: If not, it takes just 5 minutes to write a first draft of one (maybe not the perfect poem, but one that will help get your mind in the right place). Whether you’re a listener, a reader, or a writer, a poem offers a snapshot that sticks in your mind with words that also touch the heart.

Justina: Why do you think there’s been such an enthusiastic embracing of your poetry anthologies?

Janet: We make it easy to teach poetry—and to use poetry to teach other content areas like science and social studies. Many teachers feel like they are being buried under the Common Core and state standards. A ton to teach and not enough time.

Sylvia: Suppose you’re a middle school teacher and you’re teaching irony tomorrow. You can use a three-page essay or you can use “Texas, Out Driving” by Naomi Shihab Nye from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (with a simple five-step “Take 5!” mini-lesson). Naomi’s poem, of course! Suppose you’re a student who needs to learn about irony. Which one would you rather read? Poetry is a win-win for both teachers and students. We provide a framework for infusing skills (like teaching alliteration, metaphor, and form) while celebrating the fun of poetry, too.

Justina: How have schools used your poetry anthologies?

Janet: One neat thing that schools are doing is taking advantage of the weekly themes in our books. In the first three books—The Poetry Friday Anthology (K-5), The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (K-5)—a whole school can read a poem on the same theme each week.

Sylvia: This is especially great if kids read poems during morning announcements; everyone can get excited about animal poems or food poems or weather poems at the same time. It helps build a sense of community while showcasing beautiful language and promoting literacy learning.

Justina: What has been the most surprising or most unexpected outcomes from creating your poetry anthologies?

Sylvia: We’ve heard from so many teachers and librarians who have said: “I’ve been avoiding poetry for 20 years because I didn’t know how to teach it—but now I do!”

Janet: We’ve had standing-room-only conference sessions where only a handful of people know the names of any poets. There are plenty of outstanding poetry books for people who love poetry.

Sylvia: Our books are for people who don’t love it—yet! We like to think we’re putting the “try” back into “poetry!”

Justina: What are you working on next?

Janet: The newest book is The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, 156 holiday poems in English (with the same poems presented in Spanish). It just came out a few weeks ago, in a Teacher/Librarian edition and also an illustrated children’s edition.

Sylvia: Now that the book is finished, we’re building a bunch of transmedia projects to enhance the book. In the next few months, we hope to:

  1. Post videos of poets reading poems online at PoetryCelebrations.com
  2. Give kids Pocket Poems™cards to print and trade
  3. Put together Poetry Celebration kits
  4. Maybe even make temporary Poetry Tattoos!

Justina: How can we support your efforts?

Sylvia: Visit PoetryCelebrations.com and start a Poetry Party at your school or library.

Janet: Tell your favorite bookseller that the Children’s Book Council is including Pomelo Books in its program for National Children’s Book Week (May 4-10) with an event kit for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Booksellers can download all kinds of neat things in this event kit at the CBC website (cbcbooks.org). So get set to celebrate!

  • Sylvia Vardell is Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University and has taught graduate courses in children’s and young adult literature at various universities since 1981. Vardell has published extensively, including five books on literature for children, as well as over 25 book chapters and 100 journal articles. Her current work focuses on poetry for children, including a regular blog, PoetryforChildren, since 2006.
  • Janet Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who switched careers and became a children’s poet. Her dramatic career change has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other shows. She is the author of 30 books for children and teens on a wide variety of subjects.
  • Together they are the team behind Pomelo Books and The Poetry Friday Anthology series (PomeloBooks.com).

Thank you again to Justina for this amazing post.

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

You can also find my reviews of Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies), Girl Overboard and North of Beautiful here on the blog.

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print)


For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about my love for villanelles and particularly “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was fourteen. I knew poetry could be free verse thanks to poems like “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost. I knew poetry didn’t have to rhyme thanks to poems like “Lines for the Fortune Cookies” by Frank O’Hara. But I also knew that rhyming could be cool after I read “Resume” by Dorothy Parker and “Annabelle Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. I even knew that capital letters weren’t always required because of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. And, of course, I knew that poems could tell stories like “The Making of Dragons” by Jane Yolen. (Related: Ask me about the lengthy free verse story I wrote about fairies when I was a teenager!)

What I didn’t realize until I got to college and started taking courses for my creative writing concentration (English major, obviously) is that poems could also take different forms. I knew a bit about rhyme scheme and line structure but things like tritinas, sonnets and haiku were still very foreign concepts.

One of my favorite forms to write and to read is the villanelle. Villanelles are a very structured form where lines alternate and certain refrains repeat after each stanza. Writing a villanelle is part creative endeavor and part construction. Although villanelles have no set meter or rhyme scheme they are pretty easy to recognize because they always have a specific lilt to them.

One of the most well-known villanelles is “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

The fascinating thing about a villanelle is that the framework for the poem is immediately visible. You don’t need to track meter or rhyme–it’s just a matter of following lines. When I want to sit down and write a villanelle I don’t need to look at a structure cheat sheet because I can just look up a poem instead.

Villanelles also bring more attention to individual lines thanks to the repetition. One of my favorite things about this form is that you can bend the meaning behind lines (or refrains in the case of the those repeating final phrases in some stanzas) and subtly shift the entire concept of the poem.

This form speaks to me on a very basic level. It was a structure I was trying to create in my own work before I even knew it had a name. In college I took an advanced poetry writing course where we worked with different forms and poems throughout the semester. I submitted an older poem, one I had written in high school. It was a poem I had been tweaking and re-reading for a long time by that point without making any significant chances. Something was missing but I didn’t know what.

Then my professor returned the poem with feedback and he asked me if maybe the poem was meant to be a villanelle. After researching the form I realized that of course it was. I pared down the lines in my original poem and reworked it within the villanelle framework. Like Bishop in “One Art” I experimented with breaking the strict repetition in the final line. I changed a few words here and there until a final version started to take shape.

And finally (finally!) after that last round of revisions I had a poem that really was finished and saying exactly what I wanted it to say exactly how I wanted to say it. In shaping lines and refrains into a very specific structure, I was also able to unearth an even deeper meaning within my poem. That is the beauty of the villanelle.

Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic forms in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.

Poetically Speaking with Jenny Hubbard

poeticallyspeaking2Jenny Hubbard is the author of Paper Covers Rock, a 2012 finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, and And We Stay which was an honor book for The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2015. Both of Jenny’s novels are currently being taught in high schools and colleges nationally and internationally.

Today Jenny details what Emily Dickinson taught her over the course of writing And We Stay.

Dresses with Pockets

Once I sent And We Stay off to be published, never to be touched again by me, I was bereft. I missed being with Emily Dickinson. Having spent two years with her words, she had become that friend in English or science class who seems to know more than the teacher knows—or who at least is able to articulate it much more clearly than the teacher can. Suffice it to say that I could never elucidate all that I learned from this petite, shy nineteenth-century poet with a big, gutsy voice. But here are three of them.

  1. Wear dresses with pockets.

    Emily Dickinson kept a pencil and scraps of paper in hers. How many times has a line of poetry, or an image, come to me that I haven’t had a piece of paper or writing utensil at hand? Countless, I tell you. And, yes, it is true that when I shop for dresses, I jump for joy when the designer has thought to add a nifty little pocket.

    And here’s another thing: she often wrote on the back of envelopes or fragments of envelopes, which might have something to do with the fact that her poems are so small and neat, so economical. Why use more words when fewer will do? And, anyway, who has room in a dress for a legal pad?

    Side note: Dickinson wrote for herself, a fact that, if you’re a poet, you’ll want to keep in mind. She wasn’t envisioning an audience, which (I think) accounts for her more confounding stanzas. They made sense to her, but if you intend to send your poems out to the universe, you’ll want to be clear, understood by your readers. Don’t confuse ambiguity with obscurity.

  2. Go there.

    As in, dare to go where no other writer has gone before. I’m still working on this one. No matter how many times you announce to readers that your work is fiction, at least one of them will refuse to believe you and will search for all kinds of juicy parallels between your life and the life of your characters. This should not deter you from excavating your brain and your heart. Emily Elizabeth Dickinson did. She wrote for herself; she wrote to put order to the chaos of her wonderings. She was not afraid to imagine what it was like to be buried in the cold ground; she did not stop herself from pushing that imagination to its limits. I give her a whole lot of credit for being this brave because when I think about the world going on without me, I cut my brain off at the pass.

    On that note, any female American poet writing today owes Dickinson a great debt. Although she was probably not the first American woman to write about things other than flowers and birds and romance, she was the first to make it to widespread publication, an achievement indeed given the patriarchal, puritanical, God-centered world in which she lived.

  3. Plant a garden.

    Now that I have done so, I have no doubt whatsoever that Emily Dickinson preferred time in her garden to time at her desk, though she clearly loved both, which makes sense. Gardening and writing are similar tasks. Gardens can get very messy very fast, just like poems can. You don’t want every color and variety under the sun because then the garden confuses people. (Is this a garden or a Home Depot?) You want to edit, which sometimes means moving plants around to show them to their best advantage. If your garden is mostly shaded, as mine is, then you have an even greater challenge to find the space where a particular blossom is going to thrive.

    And of course, your garden needs water: attention after the seeds and bulbs have been planted. Rain is a seasoned poet sprinkling sage advice—very friendly—but with rain come weeds, which are not friendly. Weeds are like all those extra words and ideas you don’t need, which bring us full circle to the corner of envelope, the economy of language. Plant too many flowers, and before you know it, they are fighting for the sunlight above and the nutrients below and cancelling each other out.

Emily Dickinson taught me that less is more. Not every writer chants this mantra, but so far I’ve yet to meet a reader who wants to be clunked over the head with redundant explanation. If you’ve put in the time, rewritten and revised and attended to the details—in other words, if you’ve done your job—then you shouldn’t need any frills. Just a pocket in your dress big enough to hold a pencil, a paper scrap, and a pack of seeds.

Thank you again to Jenny for this beautiful post.

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

You can also find my review of And We Stay here on the blog (where it also made an appearance on my best of 2014 booklist because it’s fabulous).