My day at the NCTE convention, bracketed by an evening and early morning hours, was bright with hopeful words and some happy hugs. On Saturday morning, I entered a room overflowing with people who wanted to hear ideas from some wise poets and teachers about Writing to Change the World. Irene Latham spoke about writing from the heart, which for her sometimes means, like the quilt-makers she admires, starting with images instead of words. I was deeply touched by her conversation about the courage we need to make mistakes bound to happen as we foster connections across divides. Sometimes fumbling is better than silence, she reminded us.
Amy Ludwig Van Derwater, who loves handing out poems, said, “When we write poems or read poems we connect and change,” and gently guided us through the process. Laura Shovan spoke about the need to trust oneself and others, and generously shared ways to make that happen by deepening conversations and writing. Tara Smith spoke of the value of poetry for becoming citizens of the world. She gave beautiful examples of the ways her students “unpack poems and lyrics” and “pull big ideas from small texts.” Margaret Simon spoke of her students as generally having been protected, and said that poetry, which can speak on different levels, can show some dangers, so they’ll have choices about how to act when their world becomes bigger and less safe.
All put an emphasis on hope, with Irene speaking about the deep history of racial clashing in her home of Alabama, but how that state also has a history of overcoming violence and misunderstanding, too. Margarita Engle said, “When two cultures meet they clash or they get married.” She mentioned that a deep bond might not be possible, but that we must at least try to seek ways to get along. “For every tyrant, we can find a nonviolent freedom leader.”
In another panel organized by Sylvia Vardell, Margarita Engle, Janet Wong, Patricia Hruby Powell, and I talked about verse novels and performing poetry. Since I’m more of a face-to-page person than performer, I thanked Sylvia for pushing me out of my comfort zone. It’s a small zone. Then I quoted Octavio Paz: “The poem is an original and unique creation, but it is also reading and recitation, participation. The poet creates it; the people, by recitation, re-create it.” Patricia Hruby Powell gave some background about the real people behind her verse novel, Loving Vs. Virginia. Margarita Engle also offered a look behind the people of her newest book, Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words. Sylvia Vardell arranged our works to be read in different voices by volunteers, and she and Janet Wong introduced us to the diverse group of young people in You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book. Sylvia and Janet make us laugh, think, and be glad we’re part of the warm world of poets for young people they do so much to nourish.
For a panel on the Magic and Wonders of Poetry, Leslie Bullion spoke about poetry and (juicy) science, with slides showing some fascinating creatures in gorgeous habitats. I spoke about ways that poetry and biography work happily together, boiling down research that takes a few years to a six minute summary. Nikki Grimes described the “Golden Shovel” method she used for the poems in her forthcoming One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. Like Nikki, Marilyn Singer recited poems with verve, and explained the genesis of the reverso technique she used in Mirror Mirror and Echo Echo, but I’m still in awe of those poems that gives different stories depending on where the reader begins. r
Every writer and teacher inspired me in some way, during talks or in corridors or at tables. It was great to meet people from Simon and Schuster, who were so kind to support me to attend and so lovely in person. And let’s not forget the strangers, or, should we call them the people I’d not yet met. A few said some words to me that felt so generous and sustaining, and that I mean to hold close when times get tough.
Poetry reminds us that we may never know who our spoken or written words touch, but that every one matters. Poetry means connecting, and I’m grateful for the chance to do that in some interviews about researching and writing Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. Sylvia Vardell asked great questions and offers suggestions for ways to use the book in classes in the current Book Links.
In Finding Wonder in the Process, Doraine Bennett interviewed me about writing and research.
And Jules Danielson, lover of poetry and picture books (and other good things) asked more questions about how I select subjects and use metaphors for Kirkus Reviews.
Wishing you all a weekend with pie, books, dogs, family, memories, and all kinds of joy. For more Poetry Friday, please visit Carol’s Corner.