ANNOUNCEMENT: The Word of the Month word for August is SPARKLE. Thank you to Robin Harrison Williams for the suggestion.
Today I have the pleasure of featuring professor of English and creative writing at Lock Haven University Marjorie Maddox and her two latest books of poems. As we all know, it’s hard enough to get one poetry book to print, much less two.
Greetings, Marjorie, and thank you for joining me on Connecting the Dots. I’ve posted your bio at the foot of today’s feature so let’s open by getting straight to the heart of the matter: you have not one but two new books out in 2020: INSIDE OUT: POEMS ON WRITING AND READING POEMS WITH INSIDER EXERCISES (Kelsay Books, March 31) and I’M FEELING BLUE, TOO! (Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, August 1).
Taking the March release first, I notice how you fill the opening pages with poems about how to see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and befriend a poem. Quite an ambitious undertaking. And once you’ve set the stage by introducing examples, tools, and terminology, you entice young poets by poetically showing how they can write poems of their own. An intriguing format. So here’s my question. What is the back story here? What journey did you take from original idea to finished book?
I love writing series of connected poems, partly because once you start, you no longer have to stare at that blank screen. It’s also a way to delve deeply into a particular subject and learn a lot. I have a series of poems on baseball— Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems—inspired by reading definitions of baseball terminology. I’ve written a series of poems called “Body Parts,” inspired by reading cover-to-cover the both scientific and surprisingly metaphoric Grey’s Anatomy one summer after my father’s unsuccessful heart transplant. In that series, I poetically examine kidneys, spleens, hearts, lungs, toes—over 25 “body parts.” In writing these two series, I learned a lot about baseball and a lot about human anatomy. Why not, I thought, use this same fun and effective strategy to encourage young adults to step “inside the poem” and learn more about the art of writing poetry. It also has proven a great way to teach young writers, by way of modeling, such poetic terms and techniques as onomatopoeia, puns, caesura, personification, and such fixed forms as sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, triolets, and clerihews.
Here’s an example from the opening section of your book.
How to Taste a Poem
The table’s well set, but please
come as you are. No need for white gloves
or black tuxedos. Pass the appetizer plate
to your left and try a lightly fried haiku
or lemon-peppered limerick. Nibble away
as you would a jumbo shrimp stuffed with oxymorons.
For an entrée, may we suggest a well-done ode
or an Italian sonnet smothered with marinara sauce?
Now, sit back and savor the syllables
until your taste buds plump with flavor,
but leave room for dessert—
aged alliteration topped with assonance and consonance:
a sugary smorgasbord of simply scrumptious sounds.
Here’s an example of how you reach out to young poets with helpful encouragement.
Getting Ready with Iambic
Iambic likes to clack unstressed, then stressed.
He taps it like a drum when he gets dressed.
He chomps it when he eats his toast and jam,
then struts to class like he’s a marching band.
To walk with him you need to keep his beat.
Five times unstressed, then stressed equals five feet.
Get ready for a marching, metered day—
Pentameter’s his favorite game to play.
Marjorie, if you don’t mind my saying it, this sounds like you might have a little experience in this field. (Me smiling.)
INSIDE OUT: POEMS ON WRITING AND READING POEMS WITH INSIDER EXERCISES is based on my 30+ years of teaching poetry at the primary, secondary, community, and university levels, encouraging writers to step inside the poem to better experience the process of reading and writing. The book also includes nine Insider Exercises that stem from exercises I’ve used over the years with audiences of various ages.
Okay, now I want to talk about your book that’s just now being released, today in fact: I’M FEELING BLUE, TOO! I’ve never thought about writing an entire book about a single color. Here are two examples and a question. First the examples:
To help readers appreciate the poem, I’m typing it here although my blog restrictions don’t allow for anything fancier than margin flush left.
got those summer-time slumps,
Time to get up
and shake up
Time to get the “can’t-do-nothin'” out of blue.
Time to zap the sad
with some kaleidoscope clues.
Come on, whistle for Blue
and get moving!
Get ready. Get set. Guess blue!
the wood —
and the could-be’s.
and “What color?”
and “What would be better —
or the other?”
of a dream
from whatever we see
when we first
what to make
from a block
or a stone
or a life.
And now, Marjorie, the question. Where in the world did this idea come from?
This book has a long history. Illustrator Philip Huber, with whom I collaborated for our book A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, approached me a number of years ago about his book I’m Feeling Blue, Too! He had begun the book, which focused on a young boy’s exploration of the color blue, when he was in college. He has now just retired from Lock Haven University, where I also am a professor.
Over the years, Philip revised and expanded his pictorial narrative, but he wanted help with the written story. He came to me. And so, I arrived relatively late in the creation of the book, with the illustrations already completed. However, what a delightful ekphrastic challenge. With Philip’s images as a guide, I was able to discover for myself and then put into a series of poems, a young boy’s search in the world for the color blue. It also gave me an opportunity to talk about the importance of creativity through all the arts: writing, painting, storytelling, building, etc. I find this book to be particularly appropriate in the age of COVID-19, a way to turn the “can’t do nothin’” blues into an exciting exploration of both our inside and outside worlds.
I’m looking at a picture showing samples from your collected works and I’m impressed. I know you are always thinking about and at work on your next book so I thank you for being with me today and wish you luck on whatever you have in store for us next. Thank you again, Marjorie. And now for your list of recent publications and impressive bio.
New since December!
Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (December 2019, reprint)
A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (December 2019, reprint)
Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Kelsay Books, April 2020)
I’m Feeling Blue, Too! (illustrated by Philip Huber, Wipf and Stock, 2020)
Begin with a Question (poems, Paraclete Press, 2021)
For information and reviews, please see http://www.marjoriemaddox.com
Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox 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 short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite Press); four children’s and YA books—including Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises and A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems , I’m Feeling Blue, Too!—Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor, PSU Press); Presence (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies, including anthologies by Paul Janeczko. She is 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, please see http://www.marjoriemaddox.com