Friday, April 29, 2011

Joan Bransfield Graham, April Halprin Wayland and Janet Wong on the Writing Process

Hats off to The Opposite of Indifference for hosting today's Poetry Friday Round-Up, and offering such irresistible bookmarks (I have a soft spot for sock monkeys).

As promised, I'm posting Part 2 of my Q and A with noted poets (and fellow Children's Authors Network members) Joan Bransfield Graham, April Halprin Wayland, and Janet Wong.

Q: Using one of your poems as an example, could you briefly describe your writing process- from idea to finished product?

Joan: For my "Sun" poem in FLICKER FLASH I decided to speak as the sun itself--a mask poem. Sometimes the sun would shine down the hallway in my house, hitting me in the face like a big alarm clock--that was my inspiration. The sun, of course, would be loud; it would "shout," "bounce," and "solar power" to create a "dynamite, ring-a-ding day." The letters b, d, p, and t are "plosives" and their sounds add to the impact. It was fun to slip in a bit of scientific information. Then I played with the shape, experimenting with different fonts to achieve the best roundness. Ease of reading is always a consideration. There's a lot going on in two sentences. I read all my poems aloud many times and revise accordingly. I've enjoyed breaking this up and doing it in call-and-response with students. When I ask, "Who needs to be solar powered out of bed in the morning?" a lot of hands shoot up, especially the teachers!

Sun

"From
93,000,000
miles away I bring
you this dynamite, ring-
a-ding day. I'll shout in
your window and bounce
near your head to solar
power you out of
your bed."

--(c) Joan Bransfield Graham



Janet: One good example is "Scute," a poem that I wrote for PoetryTagTime, the eBook anthology that I compiled with Sylvia Vardell. In this book, 30 poets "play tag," writing poems that connect to one another. I was tagged by Mary Ann Hoberman, who wrote a poem about turtles, tortoises, and terrapins--so I knew that I had to write about some aspect of those T creatures. Since I was the last poet, I also wanted to link to the first poet, Jack Prelutsky, who wrote about the moon. Joseph Bruchac's Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back popped into my mind; you can see what I did with that, below. I wrote over a dozen drafts but could not choose a favorite. Here are the three finalists that I chose to send to a few poet-friends. Take a look and see which you'd choose:

Scute #1

Every once in a while
a word sinks deep
into my mind
and I find myself
thinking about it
in the strangest places.
Today’s word: scute.
It’s a cute word--
or even if it isn’t,
I tell myself it is,
so I’ll remember
how to say it.
Scute.

In school we learned
some people see
thirteen moons
in the big scutes
on a turtle’s back.
I can see moons there,
sure--
but scutes actually
remind me more of
Mom’s cinnamon rolls
squished together
in her favorite oval pan.

And I see
an old tortoise scute
in Grandma’s
kitchen chopping block,
a thick slice of
meat-stained oak
that shows thirty years
of rings.


Scutes everywhere,
even where
you don’t expect
to find them.

Grandpa’s scaly tough
toenails: scutes--
and not-so-cute ones!

All these scute-thoughts
have got me thinking:
time to shed the old
and grow
a fresh new shell.

Scute #2

In school we learned
some people see thirteen moons
in the big scutes on a turtle’s back.
I can see moons there, sure--

but scutes actually remind me more
of Mom’s cinnamon rolls
squished together
in her favorite oval pan.

And I see an old tortoise scute
in Grandma’s kitchen chopping block,
a thick slice of meat-stained oak
that shows thirty years of rings.

Scutes everywhere, even where
you don’t expect to find them:
Grandpa, I think it’s time to shed
a few layers of toenails, don’t you?

Scute #3

Every once in a while
a word digs itself deep
into my mind
and I find it everywhere.

In school we learned
some people see thirteen moons
in the big scutes on a turtle’s back.
I can see moons in the scutes,
but turtle scutes remind me more
of Mom’s cinnamon rolls
squished together
in her favorite oval pan.
I see an old tortoise scute
in our kitchen chopping block,
which is one thick slice of oak
showing fifty years of rings.
Grandpa’s scaly tough toenails:
scutes--and not-so-cute ones!

Tonight all these scute-thoughts
have got me thinking:
time to shed the old
and grow a fresh new shell.


Their opinions were all over the map, of course! Most of the praise was for #2, but despite the praise—or maybe because I wasn't able to "accept" it easily—I kept questioning myself. One poet-friend asked if I could tinker further with the toenail section. After she said that, I knew instantly that this was what I needed to do. You can read the final draft in PoetryTagTime (our 99-cent eBook) or at www.poetrysuitcase.com (in the Poems section, connected to the turtle prop).

April:I just posted MIDNIGHT CAT on my Poetry Month blog.

I wanted to write a mask poem--a poem from the point of view of my cat. She sneaks into the house each night, tiptoes around my sleeping dog, Eli, and sleeps next to me all night long. In the morning before anyone's up, she sneaks back outside.

I love with working with the online Thesaurus.com and several online rhyming dictionaries, including Rhymezone.com. With this poem, I simply slid inside the mind of our cat (whose name, if you must know, is Snot), and then played with rhymes. And played and played and played. I wanted to limit the number of sounds I used in the poem and I wanted to get the 'tude of Snot and how she feels about our dog. Sometimes writing a poem takes a very long time and sometimes it feels like I'm splashing in a mud puddle. This one felt like I was deep in that delicious mud!

A bouquet of thanks to Joan, April and Janet!

May all your months be filled with poetry.
Part One of this interview was posted last Friday.

3 comments:

  1. And thanks to you, Michelle, for doing what you do so well! (I couldn't resist one last rhyme...) And of course what you do is write (oh, your books are awesome), teach, and interview, among other things. Wowsa!

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