Wow, it seems like everyone I know has new poetry collections out this fall! Last month, I featured my friend Michelle Schaub and her new book, and this week I get to spotlight the incredibly talented Marilyn Singer, whose new book, Wild in the Streets (Quarto Publishing) came out on the exact same day, Sept. 17!
Marilyn has published over one hundred books for children and young adults, from poetry to picture books to novels, and has received nearly as many awards, including the 2015 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t invited her here yet, so I thought it was about high time I did so!
First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You just celebrated the big day yesterday, and so I’m grateful you had the time to stop by and chat. When I realized I had never featured any of your books here, I decided I needed to fix that immediately! I’m thrilled that we get to talk about two of my favorite subjects: animals and poetry.
Thank YOU, Matt, for inviting me! I love animals and poetry, too.
It’s a beautiful book – in both text and visuals! People always ask me, “How did you get the idea for this book?” or, “What made you want to write this book?” But just ‘getting’ an idea is not as important as the more crucial question: Why did you feel you needed to write this book?
That is an interesting question. If need comes out of desire, then that’s how I end up writing books. I find that I have such a desire to learn about a subject, to tell a story, to explore aspects of a topic, etc., that I need to write a book. Sometimes I need to write it in prose, other times in verse.
As far as Wild in the Streets goes, my desire to write it started quite a long time ago. I am interested in pretty much all the things that animals do. One of those major things is adaptation to environments. I wrote a previous poetry book entitled A Strange Place to Call Home (Chronicle, 2015), illustrated by Ed Young, about animals living in risky habitats. One of the poems in it is about foxes in the city. That reignited my desire to do an entire book about urban animals.
We humans who live in urban environments often don’t realize which non-human beings are our neighbors and how our expansion into their habitats has caused them to live in ours. I’m usually on the side of animals, so when folks talk about pests in the city or about strange neighbors, I feel the need to get people to learn about these critters and to see how we’re responsible for them living there.
The book includes not only free verse poems, but more structured forms like haiku, a villanelle, a cinquain, even a sonnet. So how do you approach the writing process? That is, when you started out, did you know how you wanted the book to be organized, that you wanted to include multiple poetic forms, non-fiction sidebars, etc.?
Originally, I was going to write a prose nonfiction book about animals in American cities. An editor suggested I go global, which struck me as a good idea. But that was before the internet, and it was really difficult doing research. There were few books and articles I was able to find and snail mailing people in cities around the world for information was a slow process. When the internet became widely available, it was much easier to find this material.
Because I love to write poetry, I eventually realized that poems featuring these animals would make the book fun to create, as well as unique. A Strange Place to Call Home included a variety of poetry forms and I felt that that would be a good way to go in this book. I enjoy challenging myself to write in these different forms and I know that teachers and librarians like books that feature them. I did not plan out which critter would be featured in which form — I just let that happen after doing the research and choosing the animal.
From the start, I intended to include prose sidebars (although I initially thought they’d be back matter) to give more information on each animal and city, as well as a bibliography/webography, a glossary, and an introduction. Again, I believe that these are really important tools for educators, and I think readers appreciate them, too.
I noticed you just couldn’t resist including a reverso! Of course, butterflies were a perfect subject for that form, considering their symmetry. Having mastered the form, do you feel reversos are easier to write than when you first started creating them?
Nope, they aren’t easier to write now. Well, some may be easier — and some a lot harder. It depends on the topic and whether or not I’m in a games-playing head because writing reversos is like playing and solving a game. As some people may know, a reverso is one poem with two halves. The second half reverses the lines of the first, with changes in just punctuation and capitalization. But that’s not the only thing a reverso must do. That second half has to say something different from the first half.
I just finished a collection of reversos based on classic children’s books, which I hope will be published, and it was not easy to write at all! I not only had to revisit all the books and think about what I wanted each poem to say about them, but I had to ensure that the second half did indeed say something different from the first half. Whew!
When most of us think of wild animals roaming a city, we tend to think of things like honeybees, snakes, and opossums – all of which are included in your book. But some of the animals you feature, like wild boars and monitor lizards, were a bit of a shock! What surprised you while you were writing this?
I knew about the boars a while ago and I can’t remember when I found out about the monitor lizards, but I was surprised by a number of the city animals I later came across, especially the river crabs under Trajan’s Forum in Rome, the hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia, and — although lots of folks already knew about them before I did — the Sika deer roaming the streets of Nara, Japan. I really enjoyed the surprises!
As anyone who writes poetry knows, a collection always starts out with a poem or two that for various reasons don’t end up in the book. Can you share with us a poem you wanted to include that didn’t make the cut?
Actually, only one poem didn’t make the cut. My publisher felt that folks wouldn’t want to read about squirrels and rats. I set the poem in NYC, where I live, but switched to peregrine falcons here for the final draft. Here’s the poem that got axed:
Well, as much as I like squirrels, peregrine falcons are one of my favorite birds, so no complaints here! Marilyn, you are one of the most prolific children’s poets out there these days; what is your writing routine (if you have one), and what other projects are you working on?
I don’t have a set routine. I generally write or think about writing most days, except the weekends. When I’m in the thick of a project, especially poetry, I can work on stuff all day (and night). Other times, I go shopping. 😉
I have two other books coming out this fall: Gulp, Gobble (Simon Spotlight), illustrated by Kathryn Durst, a short rhymed book about how animals eat, and Who Named Their Pony Macaroni? Poems about Pets in the White House (Disney-Hyperion), illustrated by Ryan McAmis. Next spring, Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration, and Cake (Dial), illustrated by Marjorie Priceman will be out, as well as Bug Dipping, Bug Sipping (Simon Spotlight), illustrated by Lucy Semple. And next fall, I have a picture book, Best Day Ever!, about a dog and a kid, coming out from Clarion and illustrated by Leah Nixon Fitzgerald.
Right now, I’m working on a middle-grade novel—a ghost story—and the aforementioned reversos. And I’m judging a dog writers’ contest!
(And that right there, friends, is how one defines “prolific!”) Well, good luck with this book, as well as everything you have upcoming! And thank you so much for spending a few minutes chatting!
Many thanks for these great questions, as well as your wonderful writing!
Thank you, Marilyn! I always appreciate your kind words and support – in fact, I have an unusual animal-themed collection I’m subbing right now, so if it gets picked up, you’ll be one of the first to know! By the way, will I see you at NCTE this year?
I won’t be at NCTE this year. I am working on an idea for a panel for 2020. Wish me luck!
Good luck, indeed! I’m sure the NCTE folks will love to hear what you have planned. Thanks again, Marilyn, and have a great weekend!
It’s Poetry Friday, which means there are a lot more poetry-related posts throughout the kidlitosphere! Be sure to head over to Library Matters, where Cheriee Weichel is hosting today’s complete roundup.
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Amazon “Best Books of the Month,” Sept. 2017
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness
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