April is National Poetry Month, and today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. To celebrate, I gave out poems today at the YMCA on behalf of the Portage County Literacy Council (I’m a volunteer tutor). The poems were chosen by librarians at UWSP and cleverly put together by students. I also printed out some children’s poems by Kenn Nesbitt.
When I heard about the opportunity to give out poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day, I thought, Yes! That is something I want to do! I volunteered and got all the stuff. This morning, I thought, Oh no! I have to talk to strangers. I have to put myself out there. As a shy introvert, this is very uncomfortable for me.
As people walked into the Y, they saw me and saw that I was offering something. They avoided eye contact with me. They tried to hurry past.
I said, “Can I offer you a poem?”
They stopped and looked at me funny. “A what?”
“A poem,” I said, holding out a small scroll of paper tied with a colorful ribbon. “It is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Would you like a poem?”
Their eyes shined with surprise and delight. “Yes!”
Delight. People were delighted to get a poem. It was fun! I’m glad I volunteered to share poetry today. If you would like to share a poem with a loved one, an acquaintance or a stranger today, the following links will give you some poems to choose from.
I’ll end this blog by sharing one of my own poems. You are welcome to print and read and share this poem with others. You are not welcome to sell or do anything with my poem to make money. I haven’t made any money off this poem, so it would be really unfair if you did.
Boys Pee on the Floor
by Elizabeth Caulfield FeltI am a wifeI am a mother of boysI should not have been surprisedI have a fatherI have two brothersMy husband taught my first son
“No matter how you wiggle and dancethe last drops always lands in your pants.” (or on the floor.)I listenedI laughedI taught my boys to pee standing up(because boys pee standing up)My first son was fivewhen I discovered:At night or first pee of the dayhe stands to pee (as he was taught)but he does not turn on the bathroom light.Second son was only twotoo tall for a stooltoo short withoutSo, a stoolHe's just learning, so wewait wait waitout pours the stream over the toilet bowl to the right of the upright seat against the wall and down to the floorMarried ten years Ibrush my teethwhile my husband pees
“Oops,” says he, “split stream.”I turn and see he missed.I see him see mesee himHe cleans the peeI wonderWould he clean the pee if I didn't see?If you are female and read this,you may wonder tooIf you are male,you know boys pee on the floor
For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is announced at the end of January.
This year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book. I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.
Well, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball. I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball. It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head. Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.
Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read. So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.
Today I’m welcoming Eileen Meyer to my series of author interviews. Eileen is the author of the recently released picture book Ballpark, for ages 4 to 8.
Q: Can you tell us about your new book?
A: Thank you for inviting me to take part in your author interviews, Elizabeth. I’m thrilled to see this sweet story become a picture book. Written in rhyme, Ballpark brings to life all the sights and sounds of the big game. A boy and his grandpa are heading to their first big league baseball game together. They’ll cheer on their team, keep an eye out for fly balls, eat some peanuts, and hopefully watch their team win the game! Illustrator Carlynn Whitt’s adorable characters showcase all the fun and action of a day at the ballpark. The book celebrates the simple joy of spending a day together.
Q: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?
A: This manuscript had a lengthy journey to become a published picture book. In its original form, it was a story about the two main characters and also focused on our five senses, incorporating the experience at the ballpark in what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell. After writing it, in 2008 I had submitted the story to a number of publishing houses with no success.
Then I attended the Illinois Prairie Writer’s Day Conference in November, 2010. There I heard a Marshall Cavendish editor express an interest in receiving sports-related picture book submissions – so I made a note to send the editor my manuscript, Ballpark.
Fast forward to Fall 2011. I received an email from the editor. The editorial team had reviewed my manuscript and they were interested in Ballpark, but the story would need some revisions. The editor wanted to play up the experience between the grandfather and grandson and eliminate the sensory focus. I was excited to revise the manuscript with that in mind. In fact, it was a nice challenge. It certainly helped that the fall baseball playoffs were underway and I sensed baseball fever all around.
The editor accepted my revised manuscript and offered me a contract in late 2011 for a spot on their spring 2014 list. Then, the publishing house experienced some corporate changes – Marshall Cavendish merged with Amazon Children’s Publishing, and some of the final paperwork took a bit longer. All told – I wrote the original manuscript in 2008 and six years later, I’m delighted to hold this colorful and beautiful picture book in my hands!
Q: Your book Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals will be coming out in spring of 2015. Can you tell us a little about this book?
A: I’m very excited about this new picture book; this bedtime story presents the varied sleep habits of 14 different animals. Each animal’s sleep habit is introduced with a short poem, followed by a brief factual paragraph, and all are linked with the story thread of a child settling in for the night and wishing “sweet dreams” to each animal.
Q: Your poetry was included in the poetry collection And the Crowd Goes Wild. What do you find the most fun and the most difficult about writing poetry for children?
A: I love writing poetry. I think the challenge of writing poetry (for me, at least) is the mental work I do before I sit down to write. I like to think about what I’m trying to achieve with the piece and find my way “in” – will the poem be humorous, should there be a punch line or a twist at the end, or is it lyrical in style, more informative, etc. Once I have an idea of where I would like to go with the poem, I like the creative challenge of achieving that goal and creating my best work.
One very rewarding aspect of my inclusion in the anthology And the Crowd Goes Wild has been the opportunity to continue to work with a number of Illinois poets. A few of us have created a wonderful sports poetry elementary school program and we’ve taken our show on the road to a number of schools this past year. Heidi Roemer, co-editor of the book, helped organize all of us and our team includes Michelle Schaub, Pat Cooley, Cathy Cronin, Patty Toht, and me. We’ve had loads of fun working with K-5th graders, presenting both auditorium programs and grade-level break-out sessions. We all wear our favorite sports jerseys, act out a number of skits for the students, and talk about one of our favorite topics – poetry!
Q: What is your writing process?
A: To boil it down to the most basic steps: I like to think about my project for quite a while and brainstorm ideas, then of course I write an awful first draft, revise – revise – revise, then polish the final draft. If it’s a nonfiction piece, of course there is a heavy research component in the early stages, and that is something I truly enjoy.
Q: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children? How does that work for you?
A: Yes – our young readers are such a key component to everything we do as we write books for their listening and reading enjoyment. My sons are in high school and college, so they’ve graduated well beyond the scope of what I write for young readers and listeners. I make a point of spending a lot of time with young children during my school and library programs. I enjoy the time together and young kids always make me laugh with their great comments! Most of all, I think you have to be young at heart. I love writing days when I can channel what a 6-year-old wants to read in one of my books. It’s a great day to spend time thinking like a 6-year-old!
Q: Enough about writing—tell us about yourself.
A: Thanks, Elizabeth. On the personal side, I’m a mom who is working herself out of a job, which is what we’re supposed to do! I have three sons – one is a sophomore in college, and I have twin sons who are seniors in high school about to graduate. We’re a big sports family –I’ve watched my sons play soccer since they were very young so I really enjoy going to their games. Next year I plan to travel quite a bit to watch their games at their various colleges. When I’m home, I enjoy spending time with my husband and sons. I walk outdoors each morning to start my day and it’s also a good time to do some thinking about projects; I’m also a devoted reader of books and newspapers, and I enjoy traveling, cooking and watching sports. I came to writing children’s books later in life; in college I studied business and then worked for a dozen years with software products and marketing programs. It’s been a rewarding journey.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s writers?
A: Of course, join SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And get involved in your state chapter – attend programs, serve as a volunteer, join a critique group and get to know the community of writers in your state. Not only will you learn a great deal, but you’ll also enjoy getting to know other writers and make close friends. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s wonderful to connect with other kindred spirits! I’m very close to a number of friends in my writing groups (two groups – one for all genres, one specifically for poetry) and they are very important to me.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Q: Pizza or salad?
A: I love salads, but can’t resist cheese pizza! So both.
Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: I love hearing the sound of the ocean. It’s always a thrill to vacation near the water
Q: Tree house or doll house?
A: Tree house – I’m a mom of all boys.
Q: Violin or piano?
Q: Comic story or learn-something story?
A: Learn-something story. I love to research interesting topics and weave the information into my books.
Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
A: Can’t decide – a tie. I read both series aloud to my kids when they were young, and they enjoyed both immensely.
As soon as I looked through book title poetry by Nina Katchadourian, I ran to my bookshelves to see what I could create. Working for about 10 minutes (because I’m supposed to be working on my novel today!), with only the books in one room, I came up with these three poems. I hope you like them.
(Click to make bigger.)
(First book is Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick.)
Now run to your bookshelves and put together your own poems!
Today I’m welcoming Victor Hugo to my series of author interviews. Victor is the French author, playwright and poet of many works, such as the plays Hernani and Ruy Blas, the novels, Les Misérables and Notre Dame de Paris (sometimes called The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and many collections of poetry, including Feuilles d’automne, Châtiments and des Contemplations.
Elizabeth: Welcome, Victor.
Victor: Thank you for having me.
Elizabeth: Your novel, Les Misérables, was converted more than twenty-five years ago into a very successful musical play and most recently into a movie. What do you think of these adaptations?
Victor: It’s an honor for my work to be sought out in this way. I feel that Les Misérables is one of my greatest achievements and for it to be brought to new generations is rewarding. I think it might have been more effective, though, if it had been done as a serious play. As many of your readers may know, I don’t care for music as an art form. Making my characters sing and dance creates an aura of superficiality and flightiness, making it seem as though these events could never have happened in real life, which is disappointing. It lessens the message of the novel.
Elizabeth: Did you realize that many who view the play Les Mis believe the stand at the barricades was a part of the French revolution?
Victor: Is this true? Pathetic. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But don’t quote ME on this. I’m not really the one who said it.
Elizabeth: Which authors do you see as having influenced your writing?
Victor: Goethe is the first name that comes to mind. He revolutionized what it meant to be a writer; he understood the depth of ideas and emotion that could be transferred through a written work. Who else? I’m quoted as saying, at age fourteen, “I must be Chateaubriand or nobody,” although I don’t remember saying it. I met Chateaubriand once. He was a belittling, arrogant man.
Elizabeth: You’ve written plays, poetry, novels and essays. Is there a format you prefer?
Victor: Not really. Each has a distinct purpose. A writer should know his purpose before writing and then choose the format that will help him accomplish it. A play has an immediacy not found in other genres; it creates a community of the audience who can be moved all together. A novel can create a depth of emotion difficult to sustain in other formats, and its ability to thoroughly express and share complicated ideas is unparalleled. I find, in my old age, that poetry most suits me now. I’m more reflective than I was in my youth, and I don’t feel the need to make grand, passionate statements that move a people to action. Through poetry I can thank God and my family for what I have and what I’ve learned about live. Hopefully others can read my poems and glean some small wisdom.
Elizabeth: If I may, I’d like to ask you some questions about your daughter.
Victor: Yes, of course. Léopoldine was perfection. I think I always recognized her as an angel, but I didn’t realize her time with us would be so short. I never fully recovered from her death.
Elizabeth: I didn’t mean Léopoldine. I want to ask you about Adèle.
Victor: Adèle? Who put you up to this? I refuse to talk about Adèle. In fact, you can consider this the end of —
Elizabeth: We don’t have to discuss Adèle; I’m sorry for bringing her up. In fact, I believe its time for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Victor: Coffee. Tea is for wimpy Englishmen.
Elizabeth: Forest or mountain?
Victor: Through forest I will walk, o’er mountain I will fly
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Victor: Hiking. I’m always telling my wife and daughters that they shop too much.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Victor: I’d rather silence.
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Victor: Fantasy. This may surprise you, but I wish that I’d written the Lord of the Rings. Perhaps in another life I am J.R.R. Tolkien.
Elizabeth: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Victor: In real life, the love scene; I’m working to avoid the death scene.
I’d like to thank Victor Hugo for joining me today.
Victor Hugo died on May 23, 1885. This isn’t a real interview: it is an April Fools’ Day interview!
Thanks for playing along. I hope you enjoyed meeting my Victor Hugo character. Although this interview was a piece of historical fiction, Victor did indeed write the books, plays and poems named above. He was the father of four children, all but one of whom he outlived. His “crazy” daughter Adèle stars in my novel, Syncopation.
I’ve been studying Victor Hugo and his work for several decades, and so for many of his answers I allowed myself to “channel” his thoughts. If you want accurate information about Victor Hugo, I suggest going somewhere more credible than a blog!
I recommend: Johanna Richardson’s Victor Hugo, published by St. Martin’s Press in 1976.
Leslie Smith Dow’s Adèle Hugo La Misérable published by Goose Lane Editions in 1993.
My favorite quick source for all things French is my Petit Larousee Illustré, 1987.
Thanks for joining me today and have a Happy April Fools’ Day!
Downtown Stevens Point is the home of the Fox Theater, which has not been in operation for the twelve years that I’ve lived in town (due to some local squabble about which I do not care). But now, thanks to the Haiku Marquee Project, poets can submit haiku and monthly winners will have their haiku posted to the theater’s marquee. Adult winners are on one side of the marquee and school-aged winners on the other side.
Both of my sons have submitted haiku, and I’m so proud of their poems that I got permission to post them here. If they win, I’ll post a picture of the marquee.
I was born to lead
people across this highway
It’s safe, please follow m–
–Thomas Felt, age 12
Stuck inside this box
Broken elevators stink
I need to go pee
I subscribe to the Writer’s Almanac. It’s a wonderful service which I recommend to everyone. The right poem can be like clean mountain air, like the almond-cherry memory-scent of your grandmother, like the throbbing orange embers of a dying fire. Beauty in the morning—why start a day any other way? Of course, I don’t connect with every poem, but the Writer’s Almanac nearly always presents some small diamond for me to ponder. Today’s jewel:
To write a poem you must first create a pen that will write what you want to say. — Jim Harrison
I’ve been thinking about this all day.
My family bought me a netbook as an early Christmas present, and I’ve been hoping it will be the “pen” that gets me writing more. At home, I don’t have an office or a private place of my own. I’ve always shared a computer and somehow manage to be last in precedence—by my own doing because it is easier to let someone else use the computer than to write.
But really, to create my pen, I need more than my own computer. I need privacy and a designated time to write. I don’t do spontaneity. If I suddenly have two hours alone at home with nothing to do, I should write—but I can’t (don’t?). I’m not ready. It’s like I need to talk with my characters ahead of time and let them know when I’m coming. I can’t just drop in. They won’t talk to me. Or if they do, it is only to mess up the story with anachronisms or dead-ends.
My pen is not a tool but a state-of-mind. Writing flows from me when I know I’ll have some time and privacy and have prepared for it.