Featuring Steven Withrow

 

 Hi everyone,

Most of you who visit my blog already know or have heard about Steven Withrow. He has a unique voice and contributes regularly to the pool of freshly minted poems that deserve to be read and celebrated. I asked Steven if I could feature him and he graciously agreed. Now I’ll stand aside and let him do the talking. I think you’ll be glad you listened.
steven_withrow
MAKING A SPACE FOR POEMS
By Steven Withrow

When I was eleven years old, my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. DiDio, told me that I had an imagination like a rocket: it needed space to do its work. From a distance of thirty years, I can see now that she was exactly right.

As reader and writer, I’ve tried out many imaginative spaces—stories, plays, essays, comics—and I’ve found the most room for maneuvering in what is often the tightest of forms.

A poem is a djinni’s lamp—bigger on the inside than on the outside. Take this one, for instance, from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations:pfa_celebrations

Reading Braille

I sail my fingerships
Over a paper sea
I do not see

I sail my fingerships
Across a dotted alphabet
Shaped like wave caps

Forward and back
I do not stop
Until I touch bottom

Of the great, wide page.

© 2015 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

***

Minus the title, it is just 40 words, 53 syllables. Little more than a sentence or two of prose. But a tiny world nonetheless. Spare and spacious. Compressed and capacious. I like it best when I say it aloud a couple of times.

All my poems from fifth grade or before were meant to be said (or sung) aloud. But in my teenage years, in part because of the influence of certain teachers, I pictured a poem as belonging to a silent reader. I held this image through high school and college, and I began to doubt my love of rhyme, meter, and pattern.

By the time I reached graduate school, I seldom read poems aloud. Poetry had become an enclosed space—an echo chamber—and my imagination, I’d forgotten, is claustrophobic. For several years I pretty much avoided poems.

What brought me to my senses was my rediscovery of children’s poetry through the work of David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Ted Hughes, Edward Lear, Charles Causley, and Valerie Worth. I quickly made up for lost time, and for the past decade I’ve read and studied every poem I could find for children, teenagers, and adults.

The idea I want to challenge in my lifetime is that poetry is peripheral. Poetry is central, fundamental, integral. Some evidence: Verse predates prose historically; rhyme and pattern are pillars of language development; poetry is global and communal to a greater degree than all other literatures. But it goes beyond poetry’s precedence and presence. A poem is human utterance at its utmost, its extreme distillation. Think of Bashō’s or Issa’s haiku, Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquies, Emily Dickinson’s vivid verses, Charles Causley’s Cornish ballads. We say poems to ourselves and each other from birth, just as we tell stories, but are we encouraged to sweep that idea to the corners when we enter a classroom, a library, a bookshop?

Today I write verse as often as I can, but it feels much more like composing music now. I am acutely aware of my physical need to experience and perform the words, to feel the syllables in my mouth and the breath in my body. It’s a joy I’ll never abandon again.

Here’s a poem for slightly older readers that contemplates the afterlife of love and celebrates the mechanism of a poem:
TheGristMill (3)

Note: The Plimoth Grist Mill was a water-powered, corn-grinding mill built by the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony in 1636. John Jenney ran the mill until his death in 1644, leaving it to his wife Sarah and son Samuel, who ran it until 1683.

© 2015 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

***

Publishing my poems in print and online is important to me, as I like to imagine my words coming to life in another person’s mind and voice. I also like to share my favorite poems by other writers whenever I read in public on my travels.barding_around

As a way to reach a wider audience, I’ve created a weekly YouTube series called Poetry at Play. The first episodes can be viewed for free at https://www.youtube.com/user/StevenWithrow/videos . Please share the link with anyone who might enjoy it (especially parents and teachers) and subscribe to the channel.

You can find my poems for children in The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry (edited by J. Patrick Lewis),natlgeo_nature_poetry The Poetry Friday Anthologies (edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong), and Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems (edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte).dear_tomato Upcoming anthology appearances include The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (edited by J. Patrick Lewis; Fall 2015) and One Minute Till Bedtime (edited by U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt; Little, Brown; Fall 2016).

My first collection of children’s poems, co-authored with British poet Roger Stevens, will be published in the UK by A&C Black (part of Bloomsbury) in 2016. I self-published my first collection of poems for adults, Crackles of Speech, in 2014.cracklesofspeech My speculative poem “The Sun Ships” appears in Eye to the Telescope (Issue 16, April 2015). Library of the Early Mind: A grown-up look at children’s literature—a documentary film I co-produced with director Edward J. Delaney—premiered in 2010.

I live with my wife, the illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow, http://lesleybreenwithrow.com and our daughter in Rhode Island and can be reached at stevenwithrow (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thank you for reading. Be sure to give yourself space on the launchpad!

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14 comments on “Featuring Steven Withrow

  1. Well said, Steven. I never felt like my poetry fit the definition of poetry as defined by most of academia – I enjoyed rhyme, which tended to be looked down upon for adult poetry, and I also never wrote in such an obtuse manner as to confound the reader. When I finally realized children’s poetry was what I should be writing, I jumped in with both feet, making up for lost time, as you did! And congratulations on your book with Roger Stevens!

    • Thanks, Matt! The poetry landscape is more inclusive today than it was 15 or 20 years ago, but the stigma against “genre poetry” (of which children’s poetry is a part) remains in many circles. Best to move on with our heads held high!

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