I doubt there’s a poet for children alive who isn’t in awe of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, the creative team behind Pomelo Books and other wonders. Pair them with the also-dazzling Nancy Johnson and Sylvia Tag of Western Washington University, and you get a new phenomenon called Poetry Camp. In a grand library on a campus with sidewalks lined with blooming lavender and holly and a view of the bay, about three dozen poets who have work included in the Poetry Friday anthologies gave and attended workshops on writing, teaching, and performing a favorite genre. We learned about publishing and promoting, and led by Julie Larios, who challenged us with structures and some surrealist strategies, drafted some new poetry.
We also enjoyed freewheeling exchanges over breakfasts or dinners, in hallways and carpools. On Friday morning, I followed poet Eric Ode under a campfire-marshmallow arbor made by friendly WWU students to a room where we had a lively discussion about the different pleasures of poetry on the page or on the platform, to borrow Donald Hall’s phrasing. Should we ask all students to read their work aloud? Are we in danger of them limiting what they might say, taking away a safe space for silent thoughts, or empowering them, asking them not to hide? There was some debate between those who love the white space between lines on paper and those who crave the feel of well-chosen words in their mouths. We clapped or finger-tapped while discussing meter and the place for scanning in the classroom, which most agreed was when a student wants to know about it — when they ask – and that rhythmically tapping the table is more important than the Latin words naming the beats. We want a bit of song, but some also praised visual art and movement as inspiration, too.
Julie Larios (I think!) reminded us that Ezra Pound says a poem needs music, image, and intellect, and a loss of one may hurt the whole. Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook added that teens may think poetry is all or primarily feeling, and they generously shared some techniques for how to encourage self-involved teens to expand their horizons, tell a story within a poem, and develop craft.
Here are some of the lovers of arcs and poetry in a longer form we generally call verse novels – though we had some discussion re that, too! Stephanie Hemphill, me, Lorie Ann Grover, Nikki Grimes, Kathi Appelt, and Holly Thompson.
I look forward to reading Nancy Bo Flood’s latest novel, Soldier Sister, Fly Home, and was happy to meet Kathi Appelt and tell her how much I admire her work in general and her newest novel in particular. Someone called Maybe a Fox sad, but I call it transcendent. Sorrow is there, but it’s part of the path to a wider world, which includes forging connections between beings who live in houses and those who live beneath trees.
While Friday was devoted to more to sharing ideas between ourselves, the public was invited to join us on Saturday, though the roles of poet, poetry-lover, and teacher often overlapped. After great workshops and lectures that included many poetic voices, camp moved toward its close with a lively and moving presentation by Jack Prelutsky, who made children giggle and warmed all our hearts – while performing poets took note of his exquisite sense of timing.
Back home now, I remain happy to have met people I knew before only online or through their work. And happy to have spent a bit of time with people I’ve met but rarely see. Here I’m with Doraine Bennett, April Halprin Wayland, Robyn Hood Black, and Irene Latham.
I made my way back across the country with new friends, a heavier-with-books bag, and a list of more volumes to find and read. Who could ask for more?