Monday coffee: Creatives in their Summer Shoes

Childe Hassam - Summer Sunlight (Isles of Shoals) - Google Art ProjectWow, it’s summer. One minute I’m putting away New Years’ party hats, and the next minute Spring has one foot out the door and that foot’s in a sparkly, beach-worthy sandal. Posted word counts on a favorite writers’ groups are rising as if reaching for the sun; Facebook and Twitter are filled with exuberant verses about newly-fledged orange-throated finches, nights of stars and cicadas, and tip-toes rushing over hot sand.

Eudocimus Ruber Wading KL

InOurBooks is also jumping into summer. We’ve got a special event for the Brighter Light challenge participants. Wednesday connections are in the works; we’ll be posting info on places to send work over the summer. AND we’re fortunate enough to have some unbelievably fun interviews with writers including novelist and Stanford teacher Ellen Sussman and writer Joan Hamilton, courtesy of guest blogger Margaret Young (@MargaretYWrites on Twitter).

But most of all:  we’d love to hear about what you’re planning for your creative life this summer; we’d want to blog about what’s most on your summer-mind. Our poll is below, so put on your favorite summer shoes (even if that’s no shoes!) and let us know what’s upcoming for you! ~ ina

" 12 - ITALY - Ice Coffee 2

Longer days, brighter lights

La Rebeyrolle, (Creuse, Fr), sur le chemin de St.jacquesAbout six months ago, visitors to (and bloggers on) this blog were writing away at the Brighter Light poetry challenge designed and provided by my co-blogger, Andrea. It was a lot of fun, and I met some of the most amazing poets, adult and not-yet-adult, and read some incredible, creative, interesting work.

The challenge has been on my mind because of something my spouse pointed out to me recently.

My son, K.,  (and I) dropped out of the Brighter Light contest early on. He was going through some Stuff at school and didn’t have energy to think about words. But then, about a month ago,  I was putting away dishes and realized I was hearing his little voice from the livingroom. I came out of the kitchen, and there he was, reading a short poem by Michael Dickman to himself, out of a New Yorker that my husband had left on the table. It was kind of…eerie.

The light over the lighthouse (5001033535)When K. was done, he read it aloud again, asked me about some of the phrases, and then went into a rather thoughtful silence. 

Apparently, this was the start of something.Each day, K’s taken a little time to read poems out loud to me (or my spouse) or (mostly) to himself. The floor is littered with random books of poetry, opened and upside down. He’ll recite some Jack Prelutsky or Spike Milligan (he’s memorized one about a baboon that sends him into fits of giggles). He’s grabbed me a couple of times and asked me to type “a poem I’m about to make up,” and the poems are (trying to put on my objective, non-mom, hat) interesting. This is a part of a recent one:

your colors melt and mix
until they make one red stripe
across the long screen

I didn’t have a theory about why this was happening until my husband looked up from his computer and said, appropos of nothing, that it usually takes K. about six months to really process anything he’s been thinking about (which drives his teachers absolutely bats). And then he asked me what K and I had been doing about six months ago.

Ah ha.

Maybe the challenge did illuminate the world of words for K.  I realized I got a lot out of the challenge too, as I get a lot out of all of the challenges I read and/or enter. I get to ingest a lot of amazing poetry. I see new ways of looking at a single picture. I am reminded that I like a much wider variety of poetry than I usually read. In Andrea’s challenge, I got a very visceral reminder of why artistic coaches tell you to “reach for your inner child:” there wasn’t a young person involved who didn’t bring his or her own light to the writing.

Gdansk-RobertStadlerSo, friendly readers, now I’m curious: what do you get out of challenges and contests that go beyond the obvious? If you and a young person in your life participated in the Brighter Light challenge, what came out of it for your young person ? if you are a young person who was involved in the challenge, what did you find out about yourself, about the adults in your life, about writing, and poetry, and life?

Monday Coffee: A little wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes

Almost from the moment of its first national publication, “Calvin and Hobbes,” the comic strip about a little boy and his “stuffed but very real” tiger had a huge fan base. Part of its popularity was the really thoughtful access to childhood that Watterson provided to his readers, no matter how far back our childhoods were. But part of the comic’s popularity, I suspect, was its insight. Hobbes, stuffed tiger or not, got to the heart of matters simply and plainly (as when Calvin chides him for his lack of ambition and Hobbes points out that while Calvin is annoyed, Hobbes is happy in the sunshine). Sometimes Calvin plays that role – sad that adults can’t see that in tearing down forests to build human homes the animals in the forest lose theirs, or suddenly aware of how playing “war” is, in the end, kind of boring.

Cappucino

by Ashleee

So it’s unsurprising that any graduation address Watterson would give would be something special. As the lovely article at BrainPickings reminds us, in their brief overview of Watterson’s graduation speech to the Kenyon College class of 1990. Much of Watterson’s advice is advice that artists, especially those of us in the “budding” stage of our artistic careers, could use. The whole article is here, but I’ll leave you with a quote from the man who took five years of rejections before being offered a chance to publish one of the best comic stripes in the English.

“Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn’t in the money; it was in the work.”

The fun…is in the work. A good thought for Monday, I think.

~ Ina

Monday coffee: A Little Jack Prelutsky this morning

Cappuchino latte art

By Blanka Novotná

My son loves Jack Prelutsky. I can’t blame him – I love Jack Prelutsky, too. One of my top five of his poems is “My Dog May Be A Genius.” If you don’t know it, you might want to go and borrow or buy the book of the same name (if you’re embarrassed to buy a kids’ poetry book for yourself please feel free to tell the clerk it’s for my kid 😀 ). So in honor of National Poetry Month and the man who, after Shel Silverstein, has done so much in recent decades to keep poetry alive for kids, I give you my off-the-cuff poem about Spot.

My Cat Is Not a Genius
After Jack Prelutsky’s My Dog May Be a Genius
SpotHelpsMom
My cat is not a genius;
of that there’s little doubt.
As soon as I have let him in,
he wants to go back out.

He has fresh food right in his bowl
but prefers all human cheeses,
even though he throws them up
and emits such nether breezes.

He sheds black fur on my white shirt
and white fur on black jeans.
He won’t attack his knit toy mouse
but bats stray coffee beans. ‘

But when he sits upon my lap
and covers me with fur
I can’t help merely loving him
just for his rumbling purr.

So, yes, he sheds insanely
and he makes an awful mess,
but we love him very dearly
though he’ll never master chess.

Happy Poetry Month, friends – Love from ina

Monday coffee: Writing “happy”

Mahlzeit für einen Binturong

By 4028mdk09 CC-BY-SA-3.0

This silly looking beast is a Southeast Asian Bear-Cat. Otherwise known as a binturong.

Binturongs are distant relatives of civets. They walk low to the ground, have prehensile tails and are the size of a very large dog. They waddle like raccoons, except when they leap straight up in the air (all four paws off the ground) to jump on ducks. No, not kidding. I had the pleasure of meeting one at the San Diego Zoo – he was one of their “Animal Ambassadors.” He did, as binturongs are reputed to do, smell exactly like Fritos.

20130311-150354.jpgI often hope that Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) got to meet a binturong. With their funny tufty ears, their habit of hanging upside down from tree branches to sleep, and their spray of whiskers, they are as close to a Dr. Seuss animal come to life as anything on Earth.

Our friend, Linda, is having a terrific contest in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The contest ends on the 16th of March. If you haven’t joined in yet, please do – even if you’re not “a real poet.” Dr. Seuss is for everyone.

I haven’t, myself, written a poem for the contest yet. My six year old has, but I haven’t been able to. Why? Partly because I’ve been overworked, but mostly because I’ve been a bit blue – a delayed effect of a lot of kind of yucky stuff from the past couple of months finally sitting down on my head.

Young pet bear cat in Taman Negara Malaysia

By Bart Van den Bosch CC-BY-SA-2.5

Until today, I have been waiting to “feel happier” before trying to write my Seussian poem. Which is why I ended up looking up pictures of binturongs. And it was when I found this little guy that I realized that…as a writer, you can’t always wait to be happy before you write. Because sometimes it’s the act of writing, the being at one with your creative nature, that is happiness. I’m happy when I’m writing – even when I’m grumpy about what I’m writing or even just bored. So instead of waiting to write until I am happy, or trying to jolly myself into happiness, I’m going to write myself happy. In fact, I’m going to do it now. This post is just by way of thank you to Linda H., and all the other writers I know (at PA friends, and HMPDYWT, and Posted Asides), for reminding me, however indirectly, that to be happy, writers…we write.

Monday coffee: Glorious words, or The Secret Life of Twitter

Blue Dacnis, Dacnis cayana - Flickr - Lip Kee (1)

by Lip Kee cc2.0

First, a note, and then, a sort of confession. The note: Linda, one of our writing friends, posted a great question (as in, really great question) for those of us who participated or followed along in the Brighter Light Challenge. Please stop by so we can share our experiences!

And  now, pleasant duty over, it’s time for that little confession. For someone who lives right in the heart of Silicon Valley – like 10 minutes north of Adobe and 15 minutes south of Facebook – I was very slow to create a Twitter account. I just could not see the point of it. Sometimes, people described Twitter in a way that made it seem like being mute witness to lonely shipwrecked folk helplessly throwing messages in bottles out to sea from millions of individual deserted islands. Other times, I imagined that it was like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station yelling at every passing patron while each of them yells their thoughts into the big, echoing chamber as we passed one another. Either way, it sounded less than appealing.

What finally forced me to get a Twitter account was an acceptance of a  poem by an online magazine that asked authors to include in the bio 1) a web address and 2) Twitter “handle” (what you’re called on Twitter). Well, then. So I gritted my teeth and did it.

And…like most things I balk at, I am enjoying Twitter immensely (this willingness to balk at enjoyable things is, I’m told by those who know, related to my astrological sun sign). There is lots of great get-started advice for writers on creating a Twitter platform for yourself (among the ones I can recommend: Robert Lee Brewer’s starter advice, Debbie Ohi’s writer’s guides, Nathan Branford’s how-to which makes me wish he was still with a lit agency so I could write something he’d want to agent). But what can get lost in all the technicalities (though all 3 blogs mention it) is how RELAXING Twitter is.

Déferlement St-TugenRelaxing? Yes, actually When I first created my Twitter account, I found people I love to read (Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Richard Blanco, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry  to name a few) and signed up for their tweets. And now, when I need a break, I just log onto Twitter and read. It’s not like being overwhelmed by random people yelling at you. It’s more like standing at the edge of a cool ocean of WORDS as the tide’s coming in, feeling clean air and fresh, blue water, washing over you. These are people I chose, for their wit, intelligence, and vocabularies, with interests and causes and I get to just…listen. As Humpty Dumpty says, “That’s Glory for you.” And it is – it’s glorious. It’s like a private word-concert. If you’re on twitter, or if you’re about to give it a try, and if you are/do please let me know – I’d love to follow your wonderful words, too.

In which we reappear

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, magician poster, 1899

Of all the illusions professional magicians proffer to their public, I still fall hardest for the gosh-darned rabbit trick. You know, bunny goes onto some kind of  fancy plate, someone puts a large domed cover over her, and Hey, Presto! The cover is lifted and no bunny! And yet, ten minutes later, a wand waves over the magician’s hat, and he pulls out the same bunny, looking slightly apologetic, but none the worse for her illusory adventure.

I’m feeling a bit like the bunny, emerging from a dusty, black, shiny hat. Both Andrea and I have had  a few of Those Sorts of Weeks, but that’s (knock wood) done and we’re getting ready to get back to our writing lives.

I wanted to say thank you to all the friends who checked in through FB and Twitter to make sure that our brief disappearance from the blogosphere was just that and that Andrea and I were fine.

Rabbit 0068And to all the participants in the Brighter Light challenge who’ve been waiting so patiently for the outcome, the results are ready!  In fact, they would be announced immediately except that Andrea’s beautiful island has been hit by a power and internet outage (yikes!) which means she can’t access our blog. Andrea will be back with us in about a week. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep us all entertained with some cute animal pics or a little soft-shoe. Gosh, it’s good to be back and to “see” all of you !

All Agog, or “how we didn’t forget”

I first saw the phrase “I’m all agog” in an old children’s book, in a poem about a man named John Gilpin.  I was eight and fell in love Asian Elephant and Babywith the word the way only an eight year old can – I even loved the way the word “agog” looked like a pair of starting, staring, amazed eyes. In my teens, “agog” got tangled up in my mind with a term of affectionate mockery used in Scotland centuries ago to describe an oversized mountain of a man: “Tha’ great lumping Gog,” they would exclaim. “You elephant.” In my mental web of meanings and ideas, to be agog became the experience of a great, huge gallump of anticipation – to stare up at a great mountain of excitement .

Many of you, like me, have been all agog to hear the results of the Brighter Light challenge of January. Every poem posted is pretty amazing, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for Andrea  to decide between  all these bright lights.

Andrea was very much hoping that she would have the results of the contest for us by now, but it’s taking more time than she thought. I’m not surprised – too many amazing pieces of work here. She wanted to let you know that we haven’t forgotten and the results will be posted as soon as ever we can along with the prizes. Just like the storybook elephants, InOurBooks didn’t forget.

This evening, my child (and Brighter Light co-author) and I finally looked up “agog” in the dictionary. To be agog is to be: highly excited by eagerness, curiosity and anticipation. It turns out that my labyrinth of meaning wasn’t that far off. So really…we’re all agog, and I’ll post more about the challenge when we are closer to the results ~ InaGo Elephants, The YMCA is Not a White Elephant - geograph.org.uk - 940795

Friday Surprise: How To Be A Young Writer

2013-01-25 00 11 48 (3)

This is my desk. I blame the elves.

This year,  I gave myself a birthday present: the time to read all I want this month. I promised myself that I wouldn’t get mad if the dishes are not “done” every evening or the tax forms languish. Admittedly, it looks like my desk was attacked by demented elves, but I refuse to worry about it until February.

I have read all the poems that have been posted in the Brighter Light contest so far. And then I started thinking about other poems by writers under the age of 20 – young writers. I read through copies of “Stone Soup” and Highlights for Children.” I found more kids’ poetry in collections from the library and our books at home.

What struck me was the originality of these poems. I found myself saying, Wow I would never have thought of that, over and over. Take this poem:

Cheetah

A cheetah has metal girder teeth
it goes hurling down through the jungle
throwing out its fear*

Panthera leo -zoo -yawning-8aNow, I have heard cat’s teeth compared to many things: lions teeth to daggers, tigers’ to sabers, kittens’ teeth to needles. But cheetahs’ teeth and metal building girders! How wonderful to think of that!

Or take this stanza from Sylviya’s poem (she’s the young writer in the Yellow Ninja team) about hair:

Black is shiny like the blouse
my mommy never wears.
Shiny, glossy, smooth
like our kitten’s fur
when I squeeze her
to get some kisses.

I have all the usual associations with black: knights, stallions, nighttime, sadness. Sylvi on the other hand thinks of an unworn blouse – this says so much, so specifically, about how she feels about her mother, and their relationship, and beauty, that feel as if I am standing with her as she sees her mother’s hair.

5984380533_2816ee14a5_bAdult writers spend a lot of time trying to peek around the edges of all the rules we’ve learned and ways we’ve been taught to think. We have heard the overused metaphors, memorized the tens of thousands of rules of plotting, and tried every poetic form…until we have forgotten what the world looks like to us.  Adults envy young writers, I think; we are so used to comparing happiness to a warm puppy that we forget that happiness can also be a new Band-Aid, or a herd of manta rays, or a battered leather jacket with a broken zipper.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that poets shouldn’t read other poets, that essayists should never read novels, or that fiction writers should live in huts in the woods with no windows or visitors. We can learn a lot about how language works, how form works, what structures can work for stories, by reading and experiencing many things. But how do we do this and still keep our fresh perspective – our own voices?

What we can do is…write. A lot.

Ggb in soap bubble 1If you’re a younger writer, writing now means that you’ve started a thread that will connect you to the writer you will be as an adult. For an adult, writing a lot gets the “junk” out of our systems, so we can uncover the pure shimmering connections to our former selves. We can write ourselves into to the world in which it’s fun to pop glass bubbles, where spiders’s legs are as fine as spun glass and tap dance skitter-skatter, where there’s beauty in wearing our helmets and where bicycles have invisible wings, where birdhouses are farms or fairy homes or as safe as warmth, and where dragons love rocks and pebbles make our planet, where we are both ourselves and baby turtles,and where adults and children are connected by words, and birds, and love.**

So, I say, go to it.  Go, you yourself, and write ~ ina

*by Darren Coyles, aged 7, first published in Children as Writers:21st Year 1979, republished in Beauty of the Beast, ed. Jack Prelutsky, Knopf, 1997

**All of these images came from the Brighter Light challenge entries. There are many more than I could list and each one is as wonderful.

Friday surprise: Music Made Of Words

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This blog post started out as something for our younger readers and writers. But then I had a conversation with my “DS” (darling son), while we were sitting at the kitchen table having a snack.

Me [ina]: I’m kind of freaking out trying to write a blog post for the kids who read In Our Books. I don’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. I don’t even remember how I learned about poetry. I don’t remember anything these days! I hate getting old! Argh!

DS [looking toward ceiling]: Hm. You don’t remember what it’s like.

Me: I don’t. And I don’t even know how to introduce people to poetry. I mean, what is  a poem? Argh!

DS : You want to be helpful. [closes eyes and hums thoughtfully for several moments] Kids like what grown ups like [wanders to the sink to get a glass of water]. By the way, Mommy, a poem is just music made of words.

So now, this is  not a post for kids. This is  a post for everyone.

Calliope, the wonderful operonicon or steam car of the muses, advertising poster, 1874Every place and culture has music. Different people like different kinds of music; some people make music, others listen to it. Like poems – they are everywhere, and each of us hears them differently.

Some poems, like some music, have constant, repeated “meter” and “rhyme.” The meter is the rhythm of the poetry; rhymes are words that sound the same. Many poems in English have a repeated, steady rhythm:

de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM//
de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM

Kenyan dancers

These poems sometimes have end-rhymes at the end of lines. End-rhymes are when later parts of the words sound the same. Those same-sounding words come at the ends of lines. For example:

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

[by Ogden Nash, “The Cow,” Free Wheeling, 1931]
If this is a kind of poetry you like, there are many poets who wrote poems like this:

  • Jack Prelutsky (he writes lots of books of poems, but one of my favorites is My Dog May Be A Genius)
  • Shel Silverstein (many people love Where The Sidewalk Ends)
  • For more old-fashioned poems (though with a lower silliness quotient), the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote the first set of poems I happened to memorize as a child myself, A Child’s Garden of Verses
  • Spot, our Bustopher Jones

    Spot, our Bustopher Jones

    My DS’s favorite book of poems is by a poet who wrote almost nothing for children. TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is so well-loved that it has been made into a musical play called “Cats.” One of my favorite poems is about a cat named Bustopher Jones, mostly because we have a cat just like him

There are other poets who wrote rhymed and metered poems for kids but who are loved by people of all ages; look for Dr. Seuss, Charlotte Zolotow, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Rudyard Kipling.

Hamakoi Dance Festival 2009 at the Yokohama Sogo department storeSome poems are more “free-form” – people call this “less structured.” Many poems “for adults” and many poems written by poets who usually write for adults are poems that just need a listening ear – whether that ear is young or old, big or small, for the flow of the song to become obvious.

Some places to start might be:

    • The great American poet William Carlos Williams, who was also a doctor and wrote many of his best poems on the pads in which he could give medicine prescriptions for his patients. A favorite: The Red Wheelbarrow. When you read this, how does it sound? What does it remind you of? How does it make you feel inside?
    • Valerie Worth’s Animal Poems are for everyone. She writes about little things like crickets in a way that makes us understand how big those little things are
    • Ted Hughes was known as a poet for adults, but he did write many poems for children which have been made into a book, Collected Poems for Children

Here’s another lovely poem by Hughes:

If you’d like to try reading several different poets, to find out what sorts of poems you like, there are some wonderful English-language collections to try:

800px-Childart11Slovakia5Why am I spending so much time talking about poems to read? Perhaps it is because I learned to write – to find my own songs – by reading the songs of others. But I will stop here, and I hope that all our fellow writers, young and old, will tell us : what poems would you want to share with other writers? which poets would you recommend for people starting out their poem-ing life?