Poetry Friday: “I’m Feeling Blue, Too!” interview

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of inviting Marjorie Maddox to the ol’ Triple-R as a guest blogger to promote her new book, Inside Out (Kelsay Books). Today, I’m very happy to welcome Marjorie back for a brief interview about her newest book, I’m Feeling Blue, Too! (Resource Publications) and the process behind the craft of putting it together.

Welcome back, Marjorie! It’s so nice to chat with you about a book that’s so different from the one we spotlighted in April. Unlike most picture books, the illustrations for Blue were done first…can you explain the genesis for the project and how you came to be a part of it?

My collaborator, illustrator Philip Huber, began the book I’m Feeling Blue, Too! while in college. (To give you a sense of time, he just retired from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, where I also teach.) Over the years, Philip kept returning to and revising this series that focuses on the color blue.

Now fast forward forty years. As university colleagues, Philip and I had already worked together to help produce the student literary and arts journal. We also had already published our children’s book on collective nouns A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (Boyds Mills Press, 2008; reprinted Wipf & Stock, 2019), which followed a similar process of illustrations first, poetry second.

Marjorie Maddox

Having returned to his Blue project, Philip again was on the lookout for text to complement his artwork. Whereas our earlier A Crossing of Zebras called for a narrative for each spread, I’m Feeling Blue, Too! necessitated not only a poem per illustration, but also an overarching story for the book. You guessed it—he called me, the poet-in-residence and a creative writing professor at the university!

And I’m so glad he did. It turns out, I’m Feeling Blue, Too! is the first in a colorful trilogy. In addition, Philip has rendered reflections on yellow and on red. As Philip sees it, the trilogy is focused on opposites: “Blue is sad, so [the character] is happy. Yellow [suggests being] frightened, so [the character] exhibits enormous bravery. Red is rage so that character will be calm.” So, yes, although Philip’s first sketches began decades ago, we both see the series continuing into the future!

How long did it take to figure out how you wanted to approach the manuscript, insofar as deciding on a loose narrative and how you wanted to organize the text?

The opening illustration is of a boy and his dog Blue, readying for the day. This was the first poem that I wrote (in fact the poems were written rather quickly in order of the illustrations), and it set the tone for everything to come. I interpreted the scene as a call to wake up, to get going, to get out into the world and explore all aspects of the color blue! I also took it as a play on the word blue (including the connotations of depression or feeling stuck inside—as in the current pandemic). Symbolically, I wanted to fit the poem into a ray of light. And, thus, these words broke through:

(All images © 2020 Resource Publications, all rights reserved, used with permission of the author)

In the last line, I set up the concept of riddles—ways to discover the color blue during one boy’s journey from morning to night.

Philip Huber’s scratchboard illustrations harken back to a more classic style of illustration than we often see today…was there a reason he chose that medium, and do you feel that made a difference in how you responded?

I love Philip’s illustrations, a scratchboard technique that he has developed and refined over the years. It’s a sophisticated, layered (and very time-intensive) version of the crayon-and-ink pictures many of us created in grade school. To me, it’s a bit nostalgic. In addition, the process of scratching off the ink to reveal the beautiful colors beneath— well, it’s perfect for the subject matter of I’m Feeling Blue, Too!

The Trampoline, Flower, and Building Blocks spreads are great examples of the simultaneous energy/action and thoughtfulness that this book offers. Can you tell me your process for writing these three spreads?

Yes. One of the traits that so attracted me to these illustrations is that the boy character is multidimensional. At times full of energy and exuberance, he also loves to contemplate the world around him, as well as create entirely new worlds through his imagination.

Through the artwork, you can certainly experience the joy of jumping on a trampoline, trying so desperately to grab a piece of blue sky. I wanted the poem to capture this sense of elation, of bouncing up and down, of taking off like a rocket ship into the deep blue of possibility. And so I included a poetic countdown with words that jump on the page, grow larger and larger, and eventually “blast off” into adventure.

A concrete/shaped poem emphasizes the boy’s love of flowers. For this spread, I created a poem within a poem, all shaped like a petal. The “outer” layer alphabetically lists the “official” names of blue flowers (a nod to the scientific). The “inner” layer—PETALS POLLINATE PERIWINKLE AND ASTORS OF AZURE, SO MANY FLOWERS, SO MANY BLUES!— highlights a deep appreciation for the natural world, as well as the discoveries that come through contemplation.

(click to enlarge)

One of my favorite poems in I’m Feeling Blue, Too! narrates our protagonist carefully building a tower of blocks, an action that takes precision, patience, choices, and—of course—imagination and dreams. To me, the power of the imagination—to observe, respond, create, paint, move, write, perform stories—is the crux of I’m Feeling Blue, Too! It’s the light that takes us from those “can’t do nothin’ blues” and brings us into a larger world of creation, a world full of (if we dream it!) colorful possibility.

(click to enlarge)

What surprised you most about doing this project?

How easily one ekphrastic response led to another adventure in color, with Philip’s illustrations as map and guide. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of revisions—there were—but the overall narrative came out in a rush of discovery.

Finally, the question that all writers need to ask themselves before (and while) they are working on a book: Why did this book need to be written?

Philip’s artwork called out for the story behind the illustrations, a narrative that would pull the images even more tightly together. That was the original catalyst. However, since this book was so long in the making, these days I believe it begs another question: Why does it need to be read now?

And I think the answer stems from these strange times in which we live: the need to escape the sometimes suffocating experience of being stuck inside with those “can’t do nothin’ blues,” but also the joy of freedom that creativity can bring: to encourage, to learn, to teach, to grow, to make something beautiful, and strong, and powerful even, or especially, in the midst of troubled times.

Thanks so much for visiting, Marjorie – what do you have coming up next?

Because I write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature, I always have something on the burner! I’m currently co-editing a 20th anniversary edition of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, which will include all new poems and a teaching guide. In addition, my book of poems (for adults), Begin with a Question, is forthcoming in 2021 from Paraclete Press and addresses issues of faith, as well as a series of poems written during the pandemic.

My circulating poetry manuscript, Seeing Things, explores the ways that we distort or preserve memory, define or alter reality, and see or don’t see those around us on both a personal and national level. Woven throughout the collection is a series of odes.

And, of course, there’s always that trilogy of colors to continue with Philip!

Well, thank you so much for visiting again, Marjorie – and best wishes with Blue and all your upcoming projects!

A little bit about Marjorie Maddox: As Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie has published 11 collections of poetry including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist); Local News from Someplace Else;Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the story collection What She Was Saying (FomitePress); four children’s and YA books—including  Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Readiing Poems with Insider Exercises (Finalist Children’s Educational Category 2020 International Book Awards), A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry ; Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems; and I’m Feeling Blue, Too!Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); Presence (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Her book Begin with a Question is forthcoming from Paraclete Press in 2021. She was the chair of the jury of judges for the 2020 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Book Award. For more information visit www.marjoriemaddox.com.

Jama Rattigan, who recently also spotlighted Marjorie’s book, is celebrating autumn by hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at Jama’s Alphabet Soup – with with apples, blue jays, and donuts!

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I’ve teamed up with several children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year – and there are a LOT of them! Here’s what you can look forward to seeing this month.

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Coming March 2, 2021! Pre-orders are available!

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I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun with it. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.

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Ordering personalized signed copies online? Oh, yes, you can!

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Click any of the following covers to order!

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, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)

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Thank you to everyone for your support!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day) . Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Inside Out” with Marjorie Maddox

When Marjorie Maddox first approached me about spotlighting her new book, Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Kelsay Books), I told her I couldn’t possibly say no!

In fact, given that we already had so many interconnections, I had to yes:  we were both friends of the late Lee Bennett Hopkins and Paul Janeczko; she had recently been featured on the Poetry for Children blog of Sylvia Vardell, who along with Janet Wong have been publishing the Poetry Friday series of poetry anthologies; and she is also a friend of Charles Ghigna, with whom I co-authored Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books), coming out this August.

Add to all this the fact that Marjorie is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University in PA (right near where my ancestors settled back in the mid-1800’s!) and I simply could not deny this alignment of stars.

Inside Out is a collection of original poems, but it’s much more than that; it’s a learning tool that shines a light on everything and anything a poet would ever want to know, from how to write a villanelle, sonnet, or acrostic to how to effectively use metaphor, alliteration, and just about every other poetic device out there.

Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize, Marjorie has published 11 books of poetry and knows the craft…well, inside and out! Because her book is so rich with guidance, ideas, and suggestions – a perfect book for anyone who wants to learn more about the craft and art of poetry – I thought I would ask her ONE question – the most important question a writer needs to ask when writing a book – and let her take it from there as a guest post.

That question, of course, is…

“Why did this book need to be written?” (The all-important question!) Take it away, Marjorie!

Thanks, Matt. Why was this book written? Because of YOU, Dear Reader!

This is a book about playing with words—fun, pure and simple! Welcome to Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises! Just out from Kelsay Books, Inside Out is geared toward a YA and MG audience—plus their teachers and parents. But you’ll find no restrictions on age or experience here. If you gobble poems for breakfast or are a little hesitant about that first bite, this book is for you.

Inside Out grew out of my more than 30 years of teaching poetry at the college, high school, and elementary levels, of seeing kids of all ages fall in love with metaphors, puns, rhyme, and images. How? By actually stepping into the poem and playing around with metaphors, puns, rhyme, and images.

I begin by inviting readers to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and befriend a poem. No social distancing here when it comes to poetry! Take a listen:

(click to enlarge)

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And for those a little nervous about even the words “poem,” or “poetry,” this book defuses the fear and opens up a safe space to experiment with ideas—as in the following:
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Befriending a Poem

Invite him home for dinner,
but don’t insist on rhyme;

he may be as tired and as overworked
as his distant cousin Cliché.

Best to offer intriguing conversation
that’s light on analysis.

Allow for silences and spontaneity.
Most importantly, like any good friend,

be faithful and patient;
remember to listen.

Sometimes he’s shy
and just needs a little time and coaxing.

Much of what he has to say
lies between the lines.

In a series of poems on poetic techniques, I then welcome the reader to step inside a poem about that same technique. Similes, onomatopoeia, paradox, alliteration, eye rhymes. Get the picture? With such tools, you can become anyone from any place. During these times of restricted travel, here’s your free ticket to trekking through time or cruising new sites—right from your own room.

Dramatic Monologue

Step into the words and become
a prince, a pauper, a piece of popcorn,
a philosophical panda, a paranoid piano.
Slip forwards or backwards in time
as Cleopatra or the president of Mars.

No one will interrupt.
The podium is yours.
Go ahead and pontificate.

Inside Inside Out is also a great place to experiment with new forms of poetry. While you and your loved ones are staying home and safe, why not chat with personification, dance with iambic, fish for sestinas, and text with a triolet?

What’s more, there are poems here on penning villanelles (“How to Write a Villanelle”), on scribing English sonnets, (“How to Write an English Sonnet”), on drafting clerihews (“How to Write a Clerihew”), on impersonating personification (“The Frankenstein Poem”)—plus nine lively “magic trick” exercises (connected to the poems) to keep you thinking and creating. Here’s one to try:
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How to Text a Triolet

If you all want to write a triolet,
it really is no secret what to do.
First concentrate on what you have to say
and if you want to write. A triolet,
says what you said before; it’s déjà vu
though you can always change a word or two
if you all want. To write a triolet,
it really is no secret what to do.
.

A great new way to communicate with friends, right?

Thanks, dear readers, for coming along on this poetic ride. I hope to see you again very soon, inside the poem!

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Thanks so much, Marjorie! 

Wow, you can sense the enthusiasm, can’t you?? I hope you’ll check out Marjorie’s book – it really is a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. I also hope you’ll check out Wondering and Wandering, where Christie Wyman is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup!

By the way, in addition to her 11 books of poetry, Marjorie Maddox has published 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. She’s the great-grandniece of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball. The chair of the jury of judges for the 2020 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Book Award, she gives readings and workshops around the country. For more information, visit www.marjoriemaddox.com.

Coming Soon!

  A Crossing of Zebras

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I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun doing so. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.

=========================================================

The 2020 Progressive Poem continues…

The annual Progressive Poem, begun several years ago by poet/author/blogger Irene Latham, is a way for the Poetry Friday family and other kidlit bloggers to join together and create a crowd-sourced poem for National Poetry Month. One person writes one line, then another adds another line, until a completed poem appears on April 30. Here’s where you can follow along and find all the contributors:

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1 Donna Smith at Mainely Write
2 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem
3 Jone MacCulloch, at deo writer
4 Liz Steinglass at Elizabeth Steinglass
6 Kay McGriff at A Journey Through The Pages
7 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
8 Tara Smith at Going to Walden
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme
11 Janet Fagel hosted at Reflections on the Teche
12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
13 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
14 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
15 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
16 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
17 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
18 Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
20 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
21 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
22 Julieanne Harmatz at To Read, To Write, To Be
24 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering
25 Amy at The Poem Farm
26 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work That Matters
27 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
28 Jessica Big at TBD
29 Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces
30 Michelle Kogan at Michelle Kogan

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What is Talkabook? Details coming soon!

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Pre-orders are available now!

In stores Aug. 18, 2020!

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I’ve teamed up with several other children’s authors to promote our upcoming books this year – and there are a LOT of them, too! In addition to April’s two releases, there are new books out from folks like Diana Murray, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lori Degman, Michelle Schaub, and many others. I’m very proud to be part of this group of dedicated, talented writers.

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Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!


     

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

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, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)

=========================================================

Thank you to everyone for your support!

=========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and SoundCloud!