Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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Archive for the tag “writing”

National Poetry Month: Interview with Margarita Engle

National-Poetry-Month-Logo (2015)

I’m very excited to share another interview today – not just because it’s National Poetry Month, but because it’s with a woman whose writing I truly admire: Margarita Engle.

MargaritaA Cuban-American living in central California, Margarita was the winner of the very first Newbery Honor awarded to a Latino. Her award-winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the prestigious PEN USA Award.

I first came to learn of Margarita’s work about 5 years ago, when I stumbled upon her historical novel-in-verse, Hurricane Dancers, about the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck. It was the first novel-in-verse I ever read, and I was captivated by the way she used poems from the perspective of each character to move the story.

I’m honored to have Margarita join me today:

First of all, thank you for taking the time for this interview, Margarita – you’re so busy, I can’t imagine how you find any time to write! Three books published in just the past 2 months with more on the way is rather prolific! Seriously, how do you find the time??

Thank you for the invitation to explain that when three picture books are released within a few weeks of each other, it doesn’t mean they were written at the same time. Actually, they were started years apart, but some took longer to be accepted, edited, and illustrated. Release dates for Orangutanka, Drum Dream Girl, and The Sky Painter just happened to coincide, after following widely divergent publishing pathways! As far as finding the time to write, I try to stick to a calm, quiet routine of scribbling a few pages each day.

Well, certainly, publishing is an up-and-down, stop-and-go kind of industry – a book you write today might get picked up and released next year, while one you wrote 5 years ago may still in production! But finding the time to write is only part of the battle…how do you find your topics? Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you know if a potential story idea has what it takes to be publishable?

My historical verse novel topics generally emerge from a combination of reading, travel and daydreaming. Picture books are a bit different. They usually don’t require years of research. Orangutanka, for instance, was already writing itself in my mind even while I was standing in the rain forest, watching wild orangutans at a refuge in Borneo. Drum Dream Girl just danced right into my head after I read about Millo (Castro Zaldarriaga, see below) in a book by her sister.

The Sky Painter was more like a verse novel. I’m a botanist, agronomist, and birdwatcher, so I love writing about great Latino naturalists who have been forgotten by history. However, this one required a lot of research, and was difficult to find a publisher willing to accept a book about someone who was not already “famous enough.”

The problem with the industry’s general prejudice against biographies of people who aren’t famous is that women and minorities were left out of history books. If their accomplishments are ever going to be recognized, we have to start telling their stories now.

OrangutankaDD GirlSky Painter

The follow-up question then has to be, how do you decide what form the story should take – picture book, verse novel, picture book-in-verse, etc.?

Thankfully, that is rarely a struggle. It’s actually one of the truly satisfying stages in the process. I love to experiment, try it this way, try it that way, and ultimately allow the characters to decide. Their voices and the events in their lives offer a certain rhythm. When it feels natural, I proceed.

I need to ask a question that I think only fellow writers will truly understand: do you feel that winning the Newbery helped you gain more confidence in your writing…or did it have the opposite effect, by making you feel the pressure to maintain that level of writing? (If it was me, I think I’d be so nervous about writing my next book I’d never get it done!)

It’s a mixture.  I alternate between days of confidence and months of timidity. The truth is I write best when I’m convinced that my work is unpublishable, and no one will ever read or judge it.  That gives me complete freedom to experiment!

Good point. Nothing is more freeing than knowing you have nothing to lose.

We write well when we don’t worry about being judged. My creative writing professor, Tomás Rivera, told me to write in the moment, for myself, rather than thinking ahead toward publication, something that comes much later, if at all.

Speaking of publication, you’ve become well-known for your verse novels – Hurricane Dancers was the first of that genre I’d ever read, and I was blow away! – but you also apply that format to some of your picture books. Hurricane dancersHow do you go about finding those nuggets of gold you need to craft the individual poems, in order to tell the larger story?

Thank you! Hurricane Dancers is my most complex verse novel. For a simple picture book made of linked poems, I’m generally writing a biographical story. Each poem is a different stage in the character’s life. I don’t know any other way to carry him/her gracefully through time, without adding a lot of clunky facts and figures that I’d rather omit.

Orangutanka is a bit more lighthearted than some of your other books. What was your process for deciding its tone and structure?

I actually love lighthearted picture books, but most of them never find publishers. I have drawers filled with collections of poems on cheerful themes, but in the U.S., there seems to be an expectation that all my work has to be serious. (Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish is doing very well in Japan – maybe I should move!)

Orangutanka came out in the form of tanka because it’s the form I often use as a travel diary. Visiting a wildlife refuge in Borneo was so profoundly moving, I needed a sensitive form, but also playful, like young orangutans.

Your other new book that just came out is Drum Dream Girl, a biographical picture book about a real-life Chinese-African-Cuban girl, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who wanted to be a drummer at a time when that sot of thing was frowned upon. How is writing this type of book different from writing a verse novel? (Some people would say shorter means it’s easier – but anyone who writes for a living will tell you shorter is often much harder!)

Drum Dream Girl is more of an “inspired by” story than a true biography. I didn’t want to load it with facts and figures. I just wanted to evoke the spirit of Millo’s courage, as a ten-year-old girl defying Cuba’s taboo against female drummers. I wanted to avoid discussing the taboo itself in any detail, because it’s part of an extremely complex West African religious tradition that would be confusing for young children.

Many of my picture book manuscripts are extremely short, but sometimes an editor asks me to add detail, and then they have to grow. Fortunately, this one stayed in its original form, leaving plenty of room for Rafael López’ spectacular artwork!

Surrender TreeSilver peopleLightning DreamerPoet Slave

What would you say is the most important consideration a writer needs to make when crafting a verse novel, as opposed to another genre?

The heart is the most important consideration. The heart of the story, the heart of each poem, the heart of each character. I love the verse novel format because like a haiku, it has room for universal emotions, without all the clutter of too many facts and figures. However, I do need to research my subject thoroughly. I need to know those facts and figures, and then I need to choose which ones are truly important to me. The rest can be left out completely, or distilled into a brief prose historical note at the end.

Please tell us about your upcoming new book, The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. What drew you to this particular person?

I love writing about great Latinos who have been forgotten by history, and I love writing about people who are independent thinkers, willing to try something new. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, instead of killing them like Audubon. I think that’s a creative approach that will inspire children! Just because someone is taught to do something destructive, that doesn’t mean he/she can’t figure out a better way to accomplish the same goal.

Ornithologists consider Fuertes to be the best bird artist who ever lived, and he was also a great conservationist at a time when women still wore whole birds on their heads – hats were not just ornamented with feathers, entire specimens of rare and endangered species could be spotted on hats in fashion shows! He talked to women’s clubs, asking them to use ribbons or other decorations, instead of dead birds. It sounds absurd now, but that was the reality of the time. It makes me ask myself: what are we doing now that will seem horrifying in a few decades? How can we change?

Finally, I’d love to know more about your upcoming childhood memoir in verse, Enchanted Air. How different was writing an autobiography from writing the biography of someone else, and how does a writer find the objectivity needed to determine what works and what doesn’t?

Enchanted AirEnchanted Air is subtitled Two Cultures, Two Wings. It’s the story of my childhood summers in Cuba, where I bonded with my mother’s extended family, and fell in love with tropical nature.

It’s also the story of the Cold War, and the loss of travel rights. I know the Missile Crisis affected every child of my generation, but it affected Cuban-Americans in a unique way. Writing this book was excruciatingly painful. I won’t be able to read certain parts out loud without crying. I don’t claim to be objective about something so personal and emotional.

By the way, are there any subjects or even genres you haven’t tackled yet, that you would like to?

That’s a long list! My one great unfulfilled wish is a bilingual picture book. I keep writing them, but none are ever accepted. I also wrote a magic realistic middle grade book that has not found a publisher, but I enjoyed experimenting with fantasy. I’m also enjoying experimenting with a historical verse novel set in my home state of California. I would love to try a collection of natural history poems. I haven’t yet tackled the subject of contemporary Cuba.

Well, thank you so much, Margarita! I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

For more info on any of Margarita’s books, check out her website HERE or simply click any of the book covers above!

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Poetry Cubed logoBy the way, you have one week left to send me your “Poetry…Cubed!” entries for a chance to win one of two books! Last week I shared a new poetry challenge…and I’m looking forward to seeing what you can come up with! It’s my take on the Food Network show, “Chopped!” – but instead of using surprise ingredients from a basket to create a meal, you need to use three photo prompts to create ONE fantastic poem!

(Don’t worry, you won’t be graded…winners will be chosen at random. Get all the details HERE!)

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By the way, Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem is…well, progressing – very nicely! A different writer adds a line each day, and today Tara at A Teaching Life adds her touch to the adventure. On April 30, we’ll see where it ends when Yours Truly caps it off with the final line.

You can follow the 2015 Progressive Poem at the following blog spots:

2015ProgressivePoem1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: My “Poetry…Cubed!” entry

National-Poetry-Month-Logo (2015)

It’s Poetry Friday, and today’s roundup can be found at Robyn Hood Black’s little corner of the web, Life on the Deckle Edge. Robyn shares a brief interview with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, the creative team behind The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations from Pomelo Books, of which Robyn and I are both contributors.

Poetry Cubed logoThis past Tuesday, I shared a new poetry challenge…and I’m looking forward to seeing what you can come up with! If you missed it, it’s my take on the Food Network show, “Chopped!” But instead of using surprise ingredients from a basket to create a meal, you need to use three photo prompts to create ONE fantastic poem!

(Get all the details HERE!)

Before we go any further…here are the three images (Feel free to click any of the images to enlarge them):

theatre seat (Katie)Flowers & BeeMonster Truck

So the challenge is to craft a poem utilizing all three of these images – either via imagery, reference, or even perhaps something abstract. Here’s a first draft of my poem, which I wrote Thursday afternoon:

Date Night

The movie had already started
when I walked in.
Opening credits were rolling
as cold sweat dropped
from a wax-paper cup and streamed
along the back of my hand,
onto the floor.
I found a seat
far in the back
near the door
so as not to bring attention to myself
as the one interrupting
The Monster Lies.

Alone in my row,
I groused about missing the previews
and first scene,
wishing I’d had the time
to settle in a little
closer
to the screen.
Below me, teens on first dates
and married couples out
for a night without kids
dotted the auditorium
in parallel lines
like so many flower heads
waiting to be picked.

Inches from the corner of my eye,
cold sweat dropped
from a wax-paper cup
onto the back of a hand.
As I looked up, she smiled
and found a seat
between the door
and me
so as not to bring attention
to herself. I offered
some popcorn, glad she hadn’t
had the time
to settle in a little
closer
to the screen.

– © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2015

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Full disclosure: Now that I’m done editing this post, this is actually a second draft – writers of poetry just can’t stop tinkering! Think you can create an appetizing poem out of these three ingredients? I’ll bet you can.

Remember, the winners will be chosen at random – so don’t worry about whether you think the poem is good enough or not – the point is to just have fun and stretch your skills a little bit!

Email your poems to Matt (at) MattForrest (dot) com, and I’ll share them all on Tue., April 28! (You can refresh your memory about the rules HERE)

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Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem continues to grow! Each day, a different person adds a line to the poem – and today, that person is my fellow Poet’s Garage member, Buffy Silverman. Then on April 30, it’ll be my turn to add the final line!

You can see how the 2015 Progressive Poem has been developing at the following blog spots:

2015ProgressivePoem1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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Poetry_Friday logoDid 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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

National Poetry Month: Poetry Cubed (Contest!)

Poetry Cubed logoWe’re almost halfway through National Poetry Month, so I thought it was time to get rolling with a 2-week contest I’m holding here in my little corner of the web. I’m hoping this will be fun for everyone who participates…and I have some special books to offer as prizes!

If you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes watching The Food Network, chances are you have seen the hugely popular show, “Chopped!” In this reality-TV game show, four chefs battle each other by trying to create the best dishes they can using specific ingredients given to them in a special basket.

For example, for the first round, the chefs might have to create appetizers using pickled eggs, lemongrass, artichokes, and jelly beans. No, I’m not kidding; the ingredients are very often that bizarre. The dishes are critiqued by a panel of judges and the chef with the least appealing dish drops out; the three remaining chefs then move on to round two, the last two move on to round three, and the final chef gets to claim victory.

So for this contest, I’ve taken the basic premise of the TV show and applied it to poetry – but without the dejected countenances and broken dreams. I call it “Poetry…Cubed!” Here’s how it works:

  • Use the 3 images (“cubed,” get it??) below as inspiration to write a poem. (simple so far, yes?)
  • The poem can be any form, any number of lines, rhyming or not. (also simple, yes?)
  • The only hitch is that you need to include a reference to all three images in the poem – either via concrete imagery or something more abstract. (Heck, it’s poetry, so feel free to stretch the boundaries!)
  • Then email your poem to me at Matt (at) MattForrest (dot) com and I’ll share them here on Tue., April 28. Out of all the poems entered, two lucky writers will be chosen at random to receive their choice of the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books) or the self-help book Psychoetry: Lessons in Poetic Parenting by Brian P. Wohlmuth, whom I interviewed last week.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030Brian-Psychoetry coverKeep in mind, I can only format poems to a small degree – so if possible, try to refrain from lots of unusual breaks and text placement. I’ll do my best to format your poem per your wishes, but WordPress will only allow me to do so much; blogging platforms aren’t known for being particularly poetry-friendly!

Now…without any further ado…here are your three images:

theatre seat (Katie)Flowers & BeeMonster Truck

A theatre, a bee and flowers, and a toy monster truck. (Feel free to click any of the images to enlarge them) Think you can make something delicious out of these three ingredients? I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

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Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem continues to grow! A different writer adds a line each day, and today it’s Renee LaTulippe’s turn to lead our heroine on her journey. Then on April 30, Yours Truly will add the final line. No pressure at all…

You can follow the 2015 Progressive Poem at the following blog spots:

2015ProgressivePoem1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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National-Poetry-Month-Logo (2015)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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Coming to terms with self-doubt (but wait – have I REALLY come to terms with self-doubt?)

Being a creative type, while liberating, has its pitfalls. One of those is self-doubt – and I’ve got it bad.

At least, I think I do.

The problem is, when you’re your own boss, you make the rules. In a normal type of self-employment, that’s to be expected. In my voiceover business, for example, I audition for gigs, I record scripts, I produce commercials, I correspond with clients, and I’m done. Granted, there’s a bit of creativity in there, but usually I’m voicing scripts the way the client wants, not the way I want. That’s fine.

But when it comes to writing…we’re talking a whole different situation.

Being objective in a subjective career

"What if?"Writing requires you to come up with an idea, debate the merits and pitfalls of said idea, write a story, essay, poem, song, etc. utilizing that idea, and then revise what has been written so many times that you begin to wonder if any of it was ever a very good idea to begin with.

Neuroses, anyone?

Seriously, I’ve always been my own worst critic and do a pretty decent job of self-directed revisions, but now that I’m on the verge of possibly making a career out of children’s writing, I’m writing much more than I ever did; consequently, I’m much more critical of my writing than I ever have been.

It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong…but being new to this, I’m still trying to get a feel for where and when I can stop.

“The self-doubt runs strong in this one…”

I write a poem and feel pretty good about it. I go back to it a day later and change a line. Later that same day I change a word.

The next day, I change another word and delete two.

Two days after that, I make another tweak.

By the end of the week, I’m wondering if it’s really done at all, or if I’m just being ridiculously picky and need to send it out. Then I change a word. A year later, all bets are off as to how many changes the poor thing will have to endure.

And that’s just one poem. When it comes to picture books…

The bigger the project, the more uncertainty

ID-100181950 (glasses-book)“Is that the best title?”

“Is the concept original?”

“Is it too wordy?”

“Did I already use that word?”

“Should I use a different word?”

“What’s another word I could use?”

“Is this even sellable?” 

And it goes on. You can probably see why writers are a bit of a different breed.

Coming to terms

I remember asking the illustrious Tomie dePaola about self-doubt a few years ago. I told him that most of the time, I write a poem or story that I like, that gets edited and revised to the point where I’m pretty happy with it. But every so often, I’ll write something that truly amazes me, that surprises me, that makes me question how I even managed to write such a thing.

“This is incredible,” I’d think to myself. “I don’t know how I did it…but this is really, really good. It’s so good, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to write anything as good as this! This thing right here is probably the last really good thing I’ll ever write…oh, no!” 

Then I’d come up with something new within a week or two.

So I asked Tomie if he ever felt this way, if he ever had strong self-doubt…and if so, what he did about it. His response?

“First of all, you need to have a drink!” he said.

He agreed, though, that we all tend to view our creations like concerned parents – a “what-if-our-baby-isn’t-ready-for-the-world” sort of mentality – and that it’s natural. But once you’ve been doing it for as long as Tomie has, you become a little more comfortable with your decisions.

It’s all about experience – as is the case in any industry – and having only been in this industry five years or so, I’m still learning. I suppose that once I have (or rather, IF I have) a half-dozen books under my belt, the self-doubt will fade and I’ll start to feel a little more confident in my ability to know what’s going to work and what’s not.

At least, I hope that’s true.

I think I need a drink.

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Priorities, priorities…

The other day I was looking over my blog stats when I noticed something that surprised me. It had nothing to do with demographics or popular posts or click-through rates. It had to do with content.

DSCF2068 (Mic - Katie)I discovered that it has been quite awhile since I posted anything relating to voiceovers, audio production, or advertising – which, if you notice the little tagline below my blog’s name, is supposedly one-third of what this blog is supposed to be about.

How long has it been? Not since last OCTOBER.

What gives??

Aren’t I supposed to be sharing news, thoughts, tips, insights, and anecdotes about my three areas of interest? Well, yes – but lately I’ve only been able to really focus on two of those areas: the most productive areas, actually.

Understanding priorities

I have said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again…my family is always my priority. Now, some days, getting a piece of production done on time takes precedence over anything else I may need to do – but I’m not shirking my responsibilities towards my priority. Making money and paying my bills is a necessity to taking care of my family.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

But balancing family with a voiceover career AND a writing career can be tricky – particularly when both careers are growing. In the past year or two I’ve been able to develop my voiceover business – recording my first audio book and connecting with a new ad agency. I have a small stable of regular clients, plus I have just learned I’ll be working on a special radio broadcasting project, the details of which I cannot divulge yet.

Lullabye coverIf things in the voiceover world have been going well for me, my children’s writing world has been going gangbusters! I have poems in two brand-new anthologies, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet (Abrams/Appleseed) and Dear Tomato coverDear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems.
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I’ll also have poems in the Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo) due in April and The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books), due this fall.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030AND I’ll have a poem in an upcoming issue of Highlights magazine!

There’s more going on behind the scenes, as well – I hope to share some news soon – but suffice it to say that my decision to jump into a children’s writing career five years ago is starting to bear some fruit.

So what’s a guy to do?

I find myself asking that question regularly. I have voiceover gigs to do, poems and picture book manuscripts to write, and as a stay-at-home dad, a family to take care of (and a load of laundry I need to get done). There is only so much time in the day – so what gets pushed to the back burner?

The blog.

I hate saying that, because this blog has been invaluable to me for networking purposes, audience-building, and as a source of (hopefully) useful information. I hate to say my blog is a low priority, but compared to the nuts and bolts of life, it is!

Earlier today, I completed another picture book manuscript. I also wrote a poem for this year’s #MMPoetry March Madness Poetry Competition, spent the morning running errands, took a walk with the kids, made homemade vegan chili (which is so good, it fools my fellow meat-eaters), and put the 18-month-old to bed. I’m writing a blog post right now, and as soon as I’m done I’ll be emailing one of my audio production clients about scheduling studio time, then reviewing the picture book manuscript to make revisions.

I’m kinda busy.

The fine line

There is one: the line between prioritizing and just letting things slide. I’ve been trying to be careful not to let the quality of my posts suffer (I suppose you’ll have to be the judge of that!), even if I have been posting fewer of them than I did last year.

I recognize that I cannot always do everything I want to do…but I do try to accomplish everything I need to. My family comes first, of course – but my writing has surpassed voicework for second place. It feels strange to say that; however, good things are happening right now in my writing career and I cannot slow down.

I don’t dare!

mmpoetry2015-logo-main

The madness is back! Click the logo to learn more about this fun, exciting, and interactive competition. (School classrooms can still sign up!)

If I put the brakes on my writing career just so that I can maintain my voiceover career, how will I know what might come of my writing? Likewise, if I completely dismiss my voiceover career, I’ll be giving up something I enjoy, that I’m good at, and that pays the bills.

I left radio in 2012 to build both careers, and I’m in the position of having to figure out how to grow them simultaneously. Right now, one is growing faster than the other, and it’s up to me to strike that balance we were talking about.

Hopefully I’m setting the right priorities!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Available TODAY! “Lullaby and Kisses Sweet”

I’ve been telling you about this for awhile, and the day has finally arrived…the very first children’s book I was selected to contribute to is on sale today!

Lullabye coverLullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby is officially out now – in stores and everywhere. This book is unlike most others out there – it is a board book for young children 0-5, yet it is also a poetry anthology comprised of 30 poems by various writers such as Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charles Ghigna, X.J. Kennedy, David L. Harrison, Marilyn Singer, Laura Purdie Salas, and many others including…little ol’ me.

It feels weird to say that.

I have to thank the wonderful and inimitable Lee Bennett Hopkins, who came up with the concept and compiled the poems for the book. He even contributes a couple of poems, too. And Alyssa Nassner’s cute baby- and toddler-friendly illustrations are the perfect complement to the text.

So today I wanted to share a couple of things: a short interview with Lee as well as the poem I contribute to the project. Before we get to Lee’s interview, though, congratulations are in order.

logo-scbwiLast week, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced they had teamed up with Lee to create the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award which, according to the SCBWI, “recognizes and encourages the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults” and will be awarded every three years.

(for more information about the award click HERE or click the SCBWI logo)

A lifelong supporter and cheerleader for children’s poetry, Lee has already helped establish two other awards: the annual Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, presented by Penn State University, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award, presented every three years by the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).

LBH BEST PHOTO

Lee Bennett Hopkins

He’s also received his fair share of awards, including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Poetry for Children in 2009 and the SCBWI’s 1996 Golden Kite Award for his poetry collection, Been to Yesterdays. And with over 120 books under his belt, it was a matter of time before the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records named him “the most prolific anthologist of poetry for children.”

So now without any further ado…let’s get to our interview!

Lee, thank you so much for asking me to contribute a poem to this incredible project. Being a board book anthology makes this book a rather rare sort of species in the world of children’s literature; how did you come up with the concept of creating a poetry collection for very young children?

I have always maintained that poetry should become part of a child’s psyche as soon as they are born – if not before! Lullabies sung by mothers and fathers, kisses sweet given to newborns are as natural as breathing. Why not create a collection for the young that deals with topics they are becoming familiar with – Family, Food, Firsts, Play, Bedtime? A verse such as your “First Tooth” is not only right on for this age group, it is fun, filled with childlike surprise, wonderment.

Well, I’m glad you liked it enough to include it! For my readers, here is my poem from the book, along a sweet little gem from Heidi Stemple:

9781419710377_LullabyandKissesSweet_TX12

Reprinted with permission; all rights reserved. (Click to enlarge)

 

Having already edited so many anthologies before, you are intimately aware of what it takes to put a poetry collection together – but I wonder if there were any unusual steps you needed to take with this particular project? How did the creation of this book differ from others?

LULLABY AND KISSES SWEET began with a definite set of guidelines. Every poem in the collection was especially commissioned by a host of well-known poets as well as introducing new voices, giving many a chance to become published for the first time.  Each verse had to be eight lines or under, had to rhyme and had to have that “I” moment as children awaken to what is going on in their world around them. Realizing what it is to have a grandma take one’s hand, experiencing disappointment as one’s tower of blocks suddenly crash to the floor, a plea for the sound of words as a child asks to be read to again and again.

I have done about 120 collections for all ages. LULLABY… is the first, quite huge board book I’ve ever done.

Tell me about your collaborators – your editor and illustrator.

Working long and hard for several years with a wondrous editor, Tamar Brazis at Abrams, helped shape the book and its conceptual development from the very beginning to the final bound pages. A next important phase after the completion of the manuscript was that of illustration.

It was decided that Alyssa Nassner would do the book featuring anthropomorphic characters — bunnies, bears, tigers, kittens. And she pulled it all off in a most charming, child-friendly, loving way.

Following that line of thought, did you encounter any surprises – such obstacles or poetic perspectives – along the way?

I am always impressed with the hard work, the diligence, poets put into their writing. Many poems were written, edited by me, rewritten and oft time re-re-rewritten. Those who work with me know I have a definite philosophy about what I want to give to our youth. I detest ‘bathroom humor’, light verse that says nothing. Each poem in LULLABY… has been crafted to bring strong self-concept to a child.

A general question for you: What is perfect about children’s poetry these days, what is missing, and what is there too much of?

I wish there was more Poetry with a capital P. There is too much light verse that goes nowhere, straining to be silly. The sidewalk ended a long time ago and very well with the brilliance of Shel Silverstein. It will take giant steps to widen the pathway!

I wish there were more anthologies being published for all ages. There are fewer and fewer. In 2014 we saw two; in 2015 we’ll be lucky to see four – and three of them are mine. We need more diversity, more voice within the genre.

I wish editors would publish books of poetry by a single author on a variety of themes rather than on one subject. Past collections by masters such as Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merriam, Lilian Moore, et. al., didn’t have to have one theme. They offered a smorgasbord of work and it was all delicious fare.

I have to agree. Books by folks like Silverstein and Dorothy Aldis, who greatly influenced me, were rarely one-theme books. Are you at liberty to let readers in on any news about future projects?

Forthcoming in Fall is JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES: A BOOK OF POEMS, illustrated by Jane Manning (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press), my heartfelt tribute to libraries, librarians, storytellers and books. A stellar roster of poets are included such as X. J. Kennedy, Nikki Grimes, Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle, as well as never-before-published works.

Another major work will appear this Fall if the book stays on schedule.

Finally, I have to ask…what keeps Lee Bennett Hopkins going?

What doesn’t keep me going? I am interested in everything from idiotic politicians’ points-of views to hunting for purple clothing — from finding a good restaurant to searching for a thrilling theatrical experience.

Then there is that thing called ‘poetry’. Damn it sometimes. It envelopes me — my life, my heart. It is food, drink, manna, stuff that makes life worth living.  I live to pass the poetry…that stuff with the capital “P”.

Lullabye coverAnd we get to share in that love of poetry with you, Lee! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Remember, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby is on sale now at your favourite bookstore and online, so I do hope you’ll pick up a copy and enjoy it. For a young child’s birthday or even a baby shower – this makes a perfect gift! Thanks again to Lee for believing in me and giving me my first “big break,” and thank you to all of you who take time out of your busy days to read this blog…I appreciate your support, as well!

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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: So much poetry to go around!

(Warm up your pointer finger; there’s a lot of clicking ahead…!)

I usually share a different poem here each week, but I realized yesterday that I’ve been sharing so many poems on other folks’ blogs lately that perhaps I should share their links, instead!

Poetry_Friday logoSo that’s what I’m doing today.
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A question that children’s writers often discuss is the value of writing prompts; that is, suggestions or tidbits of inspiration offered to writers in order to help spur their creativity. Some people aren’t a big fan of prompts, and prefer to write based on their own personal inspiration.
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I, on the other hand, enjoy prompts, even if I don’t often have time for them. I don’t need the inspiration, really – I have 4 different book ideas I’m trying to juggle right now along with several poems I need to write – but prompts force me to try something new.
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Perhaps it’s writing in a poetic form with which I’m unfamiliar. Maybe it’s coming up with a poem about a subject about which I know very little. Sometimes it’s just a fun challenge.
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But ultimately, prompts make a writer think on his/her feet – sort of like Whose Line Is It, Anyway? for the literary crowd. I’ve learned that one of the things that sets amateur writers apart from professionals is that amateurs wait for inspiration to strike, while professionals make their own inspiration.
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While I used to be in the former category, I have enough publishing credits under my belt to feel comfortable placing myself in the newbie section of the latter. I also am growing adept at being able to write a solid, publishable poem within a day or so of being given a topic – which for me, was a huge leap. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I couldn’t have gotten to this point without prompts.
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That said, it’s been a busy week for me! Just this past Wednesday on her blog, Michelle H. Barnes shared a poem of mine based on a writing challenge from author/poet David Elliott. Based on his poem, “Dear Orangutan,” readers were challenged to write a poem based on the construct of a letter…and suffice it to say, I took an unusual path.
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Elsewhere around the interwebs…
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–  I found myself writing a short little poem on Laura Purdie Salas’ blog yesterday; she shared a photo with a poem she wrote about it and asked her readers to do the same, in 15 Words Or Less (a fun weekly feature on her blog).
–  Jane Yolen and I shared “candle” poems on David L. Harrison’s blog this past Monday, as part of his “Word of the Month” challenge. (You can read all of this month’s poems, written by some very talented folks, HERE)
–  Two days later on David’s blog, a number of us joined in a little poetry game and shared poems based on a single vowel sound.
–  And going back to last Poetry Friday, Feb. 6, educator/poet Laura Shovan shared one of my poems on her blog – a rather short one, I admit – as part of her month-long Sound Poem Project. Each day during February, she offers a different sound clip as inspiration, and since I had suggested the sound of a theremin, I felt writing a couple lines about one was the least I could do! You can read my poem along with many others HERE.
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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2As I said, I’ve been kinda busy.
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But wait, there’s more! Cathy Mere is celebrating Poetry Friday by handling the hostess duties today – so please check out her blog, Merely Day by Day, for all of today’s pre-Valentine links and hi-jinx! Have a good weekend, and stay tuned for news about the CYBILS Awards winners…coming soon!
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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!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Wry-ku? What’s a wry-ku?

Poetry_Friday logo

Once again, I find myself too busy writing to write! I was unable to get this past Tuesday’s post up in time – partly due to my schedule and partly due to a major computer issue the folks at McAfee have spent two days trying to fix, to no avail – but I hope to share that post next week.

Until then, allow me to share with you something I call a “wry-ku”: my attempt at breathing a little humour into a traditionally serious and very un-funny poetic form. It’s a silly name for a poem that is structured like a haiku, but contains a bit of a wry or ironic twist.

Will it become as popular as some of J. Patrick Lewis’ unique poetic creations, like careerhymes and zenos? Who knows…but I hope you like them! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday links and hi-jinx, be sure to visit the lovely and talented Irene Latham at Live Your Poem!

it’s not as cold now
as she was two weeks ago
January thaw
.

no circumference
of this heavy, orange gourd
we need pumpkin pi
.

if jealousy stings,
best keep a safe distance, son…
she’s a beekeeper
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all poems © 2015, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2Did 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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Dog Clown”

I’ve been quite busy this week – and if you can’t comprehend just how busy, I invite you to take a peek inside the mind of a writer! This past Tuesday’s post can fill you in…but it doesn’t fill you in on everything.

You see, since I shared that post, I’ve become wrapped up in another project! I had poems I wanted to write, a book to organize…but no. My brain had other plans.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllMonday night, without warning, I was smacked in the cerebrum with an idea for another picture book. While I love coming up with ideas like this, they can be rather bothersome when one already has other plans. I had no choice but to scrap those plans and get to work writing this new picture book.

As with all my picture book concepts, I do a fair amount of research to determine if anything like it is already in the marketplace – and I haven’t come across anything quite like this. That’s a good sign! So now that I’ve completed the first few drafts, I need to work on polishing it.

And then I hope to get back to the manuscript I was working on in the first place!

So for today, I’m sharing something I don’t ordinarily share:  a poem that has only seen one draft. It came about as I was thinking about this new picture book – and even though it has no business being in the book, it still ended up being written, anyway. Poems are funny like that. So I figured I’d share it here, since it may not show up anywhere else, and may never even get a second draft, for all I know. It’s simply a few lines about the “clowns of the dog world,” but it’s my first poem of 2015 so I’m going to post here whether you like it or not!

Last night the thing was stuck in my head; now it’s out and I can move on. Speaking of moving on, if you want to find more poetry, head on over to Tabatha Yeatts’ The Opposite of Indifference for the Poetry Friday roundup!

Dog Clown

In ancient times, dogs guarded castles and kings.
Protected their masters from all sorts of things.
They hunted. They battled.
Today, they might frown
upon seeing my shih tzu – on the bed, upside down.

© 2015, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2Did 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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

A peek inside the mind of a writer

Ever wonder what it’s like inside the mind of a writer? Here’s a glimpse into mine:

The Secret Place

The book that started me on the path of poetry back when I was 6 or 7 years old…I loved this book! (Still do!)

I write a random poem.

I like it, but soon realize there’s a serious error, so I rewrite it.

In the course of rewriting it, I write another.

Once these are done, it occurs to me I could send them to a magazine, although submitting a third poem to go with the first two would be ideal.

I write a third poem, but it’s not about the subject I thought it was going to be.

It occurs to me that these three poems, all of the same theme, might be more appropriate if collected together with some previously-written poems in a picture book collection. I wonder if I can write a fourth poem about the same theme.

I write a fourth poem.

Once I organize all the poems – these and the previously-written ones – into a thematic manuscript, I realize I need more poems to fill it out.

I write a fifth poem.

Upon adding it to the manuscript, I realize the theme is wrong and have to pull poems out and put new ones in, basically completely revising an previously-compiled, unpublished collection.

Satisfied with the theme, I decide to try writing a sixth poem about that theme.

I write the sixth poem.

At this moment in time, I only need to write three more poems to complete the manuscript. I’m working on one now.

Whew!

The amazing thing to me is that all of this has taken place over the past 4 weeks…so considering the volume of my output this month, either I’m getting much better at writing or I’ve completely lost my ability to self-criticize. I’m hoping it’s the former, as I still feel I’m my own worst critic!

But let this be a lesson: Never, ever, ever, lock yourself into the frame of mind that you can’t edit, revise, or rewrite something. Honestly, I’m not a fan of rewriting, as I like the happy, content feeling one gets from lifting up the pen; who doesn’t, right? However, if there is something about the poem or story I’ve written that just doesn’t feel right, I cannot live with myself until I’ve fixed the problem.

It might take walking away and coming back to it in a few minutes. Or hours. Or days.

Or even weeks.

One poem literally took me a year and a half to write – but it got written, and written the way it was supposed to be written. Unfortunately for me, it’s one of those types of poems that everyone seems to love but no one knows what to do with. But that’s my problem, not the poem’s. It needed to be written the way it needed to be written.

Exciting news in the year ahead

I have a number things I’m very excited to share with you – and all these things are bouncing around inside my head, as well. I’ll have poems in five different anthologies being published this year, and one will be in an upcoming edition of Highlights magazine. Three of the books are due out this spring and one is due this fall.

I also have high hopes for a picture book manuscript I wrote this past year. It’s one of those types of things that just came to me; I wrote it over the course of a week, revised the following week, and I do believe it might be the best manuscript I’ve written to date, so we’ll see if it gets picked up!

Speaking of said manuscript, it’s the same one that helped me receive the New England SCBWI’s inaugural Marguerite W. Davol Picture Book Critique Scholarship for pre-published authors! For details on what that is, feel free to check out this past Friday’s post, where I explain it in greater detail.

Cybils-Logo-2014I’m also excited to be a Second Round Judge in The annual CYBILS Awards, where the finalists have been announced! I’ll be working with fellow judges Renee LaTulippe, Linda Baie, Laura Shovan, and Diane Mayr to trim our list of seven fantastic children’s books of poetry down to one winner – and this year it’s going to be a tough one, there are so many great books!

Whatever your goals, stick to ’em!

I wish you great success for 2015, whether it’s professional or personal. Remember, the act of setting goals, while necessary, is not as important as following through with those goals. It’s the difference between saying you’re going to do something and actually doing it.

Whatever it is you want to accomplish, take action and do something each day to move you toward the end result. Some days I don’t get a chance to write, sad to say. I’m a stay-at-home dad with a voiceover business and my hours are precious and few. But there’s not a day that goes by that does not include me either emailing someone about writing, reviewing my own writing, reading an article about writing, or even simply reading a book to my kids.

I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, but did not get serious about becoming a children’s writer until 2009. Since then, I have slowly gained traction – improving my skills, networking, and learning the craft. I have met wonderful people, befriended nationally-acclaimed writers and editors, and developed a base of friends and supporters like you through this blog.

I appreciate you helping me attain my goal. I hope, by reading this, I can help you attain yours. Success requires both talent and tenacity – one of those in a much higher quantity than the other.

Have a Happy New Year, and thank you for being a part of mine!

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Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd2Did 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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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 FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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