Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Marilyn Singer: Poetry Interview

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The Poetry of
Marilyn Singer
Looking for some funny verse to share with your students? Want to round out a science unit on the elements? Need to show your students how to become keen observers of the world? Look no further than Marilyn Singer's poetry. Your students will enjoy this peek into a master poet's creative process!
What’s your process for writing a poem?
Poems are funny things.  No two are alike--and the process for writing them isn't the same either.  Sometimes I'm inspired to write a poem by a scene, a thought, a question ( a critic wrote that my poems are "poems of inquiry."  I love that phrase!  I wouldn't say that all of them are, but a lot fit that description), which inspire a line, phrase or image.  Other times, I know I want to write a specific poem about...say...sandals or a food fight or a turtle in July, usually because I have an assignment from an editor or I've given myself the assignment.  In any case, I study the thing I'm writing about, using as many senses as I can, and I think hard about it to come up with a fresh way of viewing it.  There are almost always fresh angles!  This different way of seeing leads to the above-mentioned lines, phrases, or images.

    I spend a lot of time searching for the best words, too--which means plenty of rewriting.  I keep my thesaurus and rhyming dictionaries handy.  They're very helpful for finding those good words.  I also keep a pad handy so I can write anywhere--and I do, including on long walks, at restaurants, and on the subway.  Sometimes I have to get out of bed to write down a line--but that's because I don't want to turn on the light and wake up my husband!  I often read my stuff to him when he is awake.  He says he doesn’t know much about poetry, but I still find him a good critic.  I also get critiques from several friends who are poets.  They’re blunt, too, and I appreciate that.  I do more rewriting based on their comments.  Finally, I show the poems to my editors (and maybe rewrite some more).  It sounds like a lengthy process, but poetry is my favorite thing to write and doesn’t take as long as writing a novel!

 What advice would you give to young poets?

 Whenever I’m asked to give advice, I say the same thing:  Read a lot, write a lot, observe a lot.  Use all of your senses and look for those fresh angles.  If you haven’t already done so, fall in love with words.  Expand your vocabulary.   Never be afraid to go wild (you can always tone down things).  And always be willing to rewrite.

Why do you think poetry isn’t as popular as fiction or picture books?

Whew, that is a tough question to answer.  Frankly, I think most of all LOVE poetry when we’re kids.  But then it gets overanalyzed in school and it becomes “uncool.”  Teens start to dislike it (although more and more are finding the pleasures of poetry); teachers don’t know how to deal with it; parents don’t read it themselves or to their children and they don’t buy it for their kids either.  To increase the popularity of poetry, we have to see it as fun and also as wondrous—we have to allow for the delight and surprise aspects.   We have to let ourselves see what poetry can do that novels and picture books can’t.  If we create a generation of real poetry lovers, they may grow up to produce their own generation, and so on and so on.

What poets do you turn to for inspiration?

  I guess I’ve been most influenced by classic poets—Shakespeare above all, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins,John Donne, etc.—and by Asian styles (Chinese poetry and Japanese haiku).  Since I’ve started co-hosting poetry readings, I’ve read more works by children’s poets and some contemporary adult writers as well.  Everything has an effect.  I don’t know that I deliberately turn to poets for inspiration so much as call up all the influences when I’m writing.

What are you working on next?

 I’m working on two collections of poetry right now, both of which I’ve been asked to do (usually I come up with my own ideas, but I enjoy assignments as well):  poems about shoes and poems about school.   As a reward, I bought myself new shoes! 

Thank You! We look forward to many more poetry titles!