Poetry Friday: “Friends & Anemones” #BookBirthday!

It’s finally here, in all its 70-page glory!!

All images © 2020 The Writers Loft Press, all rights reserved; cover design by Jodie Apeseche

Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children, created by members of The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, Massachusetts, is officially available for sale!

Filled with poems and illustrations by more than 60 New England-based authors and illustrators, including Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Peter H. Reynolds, Josh Funk, Lynda Mullaly-Hunt, Kip Wilson, Suwin Chan, and Yours Truly, the book has been a true labor of love to create, and I’m very happy to not only share another one of my poems here, but to welcome editors Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly here to the ol’ Triple-R to celebrate.

Matt:  First of all, thanks for joining me today! It’s so exciting to be celebrating a book birthday together. This is the third anthology published by The Writers Loft but the first one I’ve been involved with, so I was wondering…once you decided on oceans as a theme, what were your next steps? Was the process any different for this book than the others?

Heather:  Thanks Matt, for having us!

Kristen: The big difference this time was that we suspected we would have many more submissions than we did for An Assortment of Animals, so we decided to find judges to help us make the calls on which poems were the strongest. And that’s how we were lucky enough to find you and Kip Wilson to help us out! Also, we had a lot more people this time. So the communication was more complicated. More moving parts. Also we had an intern last fall, Penelope McDonald, and she was a great help in keeping us organized!

Matt: You both have stated elsewhere that you’ve learned from previous anthologies the necessity of soft deadlines – especially with regards to the coronavirus upending everyone’s schedules! (Kristen even mentions this in her Editor’s Note in the book) So now that you’re old pros at this (ha!), was there anything that surprised you?

Kristen: I was surprised at the artists’ reaction to the lockdown and the pandemic in general, in that some of them used the time to draw and paint and be creative, and all the quiet time at home made them ultra-productive. And others found it paralyzing and couldn’t work at all.

Heather: I learn something new each time I work in collaboration. I think it’s why I love it so much. My role is different from Kristen’s in that she has the dream for these anthologies and their outcomes in her mind. I just shut my eyes, say yes, and have faith that Kristen’s dream will turn out amazing. And you know what? IT ALWAYS DOES.

I focus on helping everyone on the project learn at each step–learn about drafting, revising, working with editors and art directors, meeting deadlines, building online presences, marketing, doing author/illustrator events, and creating multiple revenue paths. I believe in Kristen and her dreams without question. Even though I can’t see exactly where we’re going, I know it will be somewhere much better than I’ve ever been before. I’m always deliciously surprised and amazed at the outcome. So THANK YOU KRISTEN, for bringing me on this journey! 

My “Goblin Shark” pantoum, side-by-side with Jane Yolen’s “The Slime Eel,” © 2020 The Writers Loft Press. (click to enlarge)

Matt: I have to say, I really enjoyed judging all the poems with Kip! Writers submitted the poems to you folks, and then Kip and I judged them as to whether they were ready for inclusion or needed some revision. But how did you determine which illustrators were paired with which poems, and what problems did you encounter, if any?

Kristen: I find this part really fun. We were lucky enough to set up a meeting with the artists just before the pandemic took over the United States–I think it was late February. We printed out all the poems (without poets’ names) and put them on a big board, organized loosely by subject. And we let the artists just read the poems and choose what moved them.

Most of them found a few poems they liked, and some even started sketching that day how they would combine multiple poems on a page. Many of them seemed interested in sort of scary or fierce ocean creatures so we recruited more poets (Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, in fact!) to write more of those.

Matt:  What was the most rewarding aspect of creating this book? Any surprises along the way?

Heather: I always find the most rewarding part of creating books like this to be the ability to say YES to illustrators and authors who are hearing NO most of the time. And to see how when we work in collaboration, the end product is far and beyond more spectacular than it would ever have been if we were working alone.

My favorite part by far is when the artwork starts coming in. Even the rough sketches. There is MAGIC that happens when words are illustrated. I am forever indebted to the illustrators for this! And, boy, did Jodie Apeseche blow me away with this cover!

Matt: I do want to make sure readers are aware that there is a charitable aspect of this book. What is the Rozalia Project, and how did they come to be the beneficiaries of this project?

Kristen: To do my own part in decreasing ocean trash and single-use plastic in general, I started researching companies that use sustainable packaging. I bought shampoo that is a bar of soap and laundry detergent that comes in little dried-up soap sheets, and beeswax wraps.

One of the beeswax wrap companies is a part of 1% for the Planet, and had links to environmental non-profits on their website. And Rozalia Project was one of them! So I clicked it, saw that it is a New England ocean clean up and education group, and that they do free events for kids all over the New England coast, and I thought…perfect.

Heather: At this point, we decided to gift the first month’s profits to the Rozalia Project. And then when we met Ashley Sullivan, the Executive Director at the Rozalia Project, and were thrilled. Hearing first-hand about all the education and clean-up they do along the coast of New England, we knew it was a perfect match. And the thought of being able to meet up and help out when they sail down to Boston on the American Promise clinched our happiness over the partnership!

Please check them out at https://rozaliaproject.org/about and email us a picture of your own promise to the ocean using the coloring page at the end of Friends & Anemones!

Matt:  The Writers Loft really is an incredible group, in part because of its diversity of talent, from best-selling authors & illustrators to pre-published folks working up the ranks. Can you tell readers a little bit about how it was first created, and any upcoming events/plans?

Kristen: I’m going to let Heather answer most of this, but I’ll just say, for me it was serendipity. Back in late 2012 I decided I needed some kind of writing community because I was so lonely as a writer. So I started blogging, and I met a few people but they were mostly thousands of miles away. Then one day, one blogger got us all together in person in Cambridge. That night I met Heather and Anna Stanizewski–and a few weeks later Heather started the Writers’ Loft. Which was exactly what I needed!      

The Writers Loft, Sherborn, MA

Heather: When I first started the Writers’ Loft in 2013, I didn’t know what it would be, I just knew it needed to BE. The road to publication can be a lonely one, fraught with rejection and disappointment. But I thought, maybe it doesn’t have to be! Maybe we write better, illustrate better, learn better, and understand better when we do it together. And that tenant holds true–in much bigger ways than I ever imagined. We all find the shortest path between where we are now and where we want to go when we share knowledge, resources, and support.

At the Writers’ Loft, we help all kinds of writers and author/illustrators achieve success through critique groups, classes, workshops, meetings with agents/editors, self-publishing support, and publications like this anthology. When the pandemic hit, we moved all our supports and programs online and built on the 500+ local Lofters to embrace serious authors and illustrators from around the world! Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit. We create better books when we do it together! Join us: www.thewritersloft.org

Matt: Well, congratulations again, and thanks so much for asking me to be a part of this incredible book!

Heather: Matt, thank you so much for hosting us, and thank you for being a judge and for your support along the way for this project – we are richer because of your involvement!

Purchase “Friends & Anemones” at Peter H. Reynolds’ The Blue Bunny!


Want to see a little bit more of Friends & Anemones? Need more poetry, in general? Then head over to Teacher Dance, where Linda Baie is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup with her review of our book!


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18 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Friends & Anemones” #BookBirthday!

  1. authoryvonafast

    The Writer’s Loft sounds like an amazing community! The Rozalia project sounds amazing – and so does the book! I have rarely been to the ocean but ocean cleanup and reducing plastics are so important.


  2. Mitchell Linda

    Hooray! This new anthology looks beautiful and necessary and joyful. I can’t wait to share with my middle-grade students. They need poetry that’s complex and yet accessible and the two poems in your photo really are for them. Kudos to you, Matt for keeping company with the great Jane Yolen. Well done, all of you. Thank you for a peek at the inside of the making of this book.


    1. Thanks so much, Linda! I really feel like it’s a book that both younger kids and mg readers can all enjoy. Jane & I have known each other for probably at least 8 or 9 years, and when I told her our spread was probably the most disgusting spread in the book (in a good way!), she said, yes – and the likely the most popular!


  3. Wonderful interview and book! Besides details about the process of creating this book, it’s always helpful to hear ways to support the oceans reinforced and informal about . Thanks for sharing this and info about the writer’s loft as well.


  4. Matt, I enjoyed your interview post. The anthology is an amazing compilation of noteworthy poems and illustrations. I had a wonderful time at the virtual book launch party and plan a writing a post about the book and the party. This thought from the interview resonated with me: “And to see how when we work in collaboration, the end product is far and beyond more spectacular than it would ever have been if we were working alone.” I think that sums up a message for the masses today. Collaboration Counts with a new twist: virtually!


  5. lindabaie

    I love reading more about the book’s beginning, Matt, and about the connection to the Rozalia Project, the process everyone followed and about Writer’s Loft. Thank you! And I’m happy to be sharing this wonderful new anthology today! Have a special weekend and Thanksgiving!


  6. What a huge project! Thanks for some background info. I love that illustrators were drawn to the scary poems. It reminds me of when we watch Portrait Artist of the Year; if the sitter is a youngish beautiful woman, the artists are always disappointed. No character. Nothing to latch onto. Nothing distinctive enough. I love beautiful poems, not just fierce or scary ones, but it’s interesting insight into the illustrator process! Love your goblin shark poem!


  7. PS Imposter syndrome–tell me about it! Not sure it ever really goes away. Especially since you can be doing really great work (as any kind of artist) but not getting either the recognition or money you think others are getting (and they might or might not be getting the money part, anyhow). I think there’s a bit of imposter in all of us!


    1. Thanks for that, too, Laura. I don’t know if it’s because we creatives perceive our own value within our creations or if it’s because we’re just less money-motivated (although I do appreciate money). and more soul-motivated…who knows. And I know some Hollywood actors who’ve said similar things. I can tell you I’m eager to see if it ever goes away, ha!


  8. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Using friends’ children’s poetry books in the (home school) classroom – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

  9. Pingback: Poetry Friday: The ROUNDUP is here – and we’re celebrating one whole year of Friends & Anemones! – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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