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 !

Advertisements

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?