Today it is my pleasure to host a stop on the blog tour to introduce Vikram Madan’s new book, A HATFUL OF DRAGONS AND MORE THAN 13.8 BILLION OTHER FUNNY POEMS, published March 18, 2020 by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills & Kane and which has already received a starred review from Kirkus. If you are curious about how one manages to cram 13.8 billion funny poems into 64 pages, you are about to find out. At the end of our visit I’ll tell you how to get your name in the hat for the free book drawing, so read on.
Welcome, Vikram. I’m privileged to introduce you today and show off your latest book. Thank you for coming over to play. I love good writing and I adore good illustrating so you can imagine how delighted I am to feature someone who does both so well. I have some questions I’m eager to ask so let’s dive in.
Thanks for featuring my book on your blog. It was almost 7 years ago when I first stumbled on your blog. After a long hiatus from writing poetry, the word-of-the-month challenges on your blog got my rusty gears spinning once again. Several of the poems I wrote in your blog comments ended up in my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’, one thing led to another, and it is quite possible I would never have gotten around to creating ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ if I hadn’t encountered your blog back in the day! For that I remain indebted. 🙂
Thank you, Vikram! You began contributing to Word of the Month Poetry Challenge when it wasn’t very old so you are one of those brave souls who helped get the project off to a good start. I thank you for that. I have a copy of THE BUBBLE COLLECTOR and remember writing an endorsement for it.
So here’s my first question and it comes straight off the cover of your new book.
How did you ever think of 13.8 billion funny poems? That’s a lot.
As a kid I used to love reading classic Mad Magazines. Mad was good at creating interactive features where users could participate in the humor by interacting with pre-supplied content. I always wondered if I could write a rhyming poem using a fill-in-the-blank format – somewhat like Mad Libs, but limiting the choices to ensure the resulting poem would always rhyme perfectly. It was only when I finished making my fill-in-the-blank poem did I realize I had created 13,841,287,201 possibilities. Had I started with that number in mind, I would probably have intimidated myself out of writing that poem 🙂
Ha! Then we’re happy you began without knowing that intimidating fact! Here’s another question. It’s one that writers get a lot, but the answers are always interesting.
What shaped you to become a writer?
I developed a love for rhymes back in elementary school and was writing simple verses by third grade. For the longest time my work remained amateurish as it was fueled by instinct and not by any critical thought or academic exposure to writing poetry (my education, growing up in India, was 100% STEM oriented). When I first encountered the work of Jack Prelutsky, I was amazed by how effortless and perfect his verses were and this got me wondering why my own writing felt so contorted in comparison. My quest for self-improvement led me to discover ‘Prosody’, and once I had a vocabulary for describing what I was trying to do, I could find and fix all the things that bothered me about my own work.
Do you see the picture first or the words?
I am a very visual person (my day job, after years of feeling stuck in a left-brained career, is finally ‘visual artist’). I often have a mental image of how the finished poem might look on the printed page even as I’m writing the words. Often words and images work tightly together. Sometimes images play just a supporting role. In rare occasions the words emerge from the visual idea (e.g. The Flippy, Floppy Flappers p.13 and A Hatful of Dragons p.41)
So in other words, you never know how your next creation will appear to you so you have to be ready to recognize it, grasp it, and roll with it. I often “see” the scene I’m describing, too, but unfortunately for me, as well as for the majority of writers, I lack the skills to draw what seems so clear to me. Sigh. Moving on,
Can you choose two favorites from the book and discuss them?
One of my favorites is the poem Brouhaha p.31 which is a ‘concrete poem’ with a difference: in this case the ‘concrete’ has ‘cracked’ and the poem has literally fallen apart.
A first version of this poem appeared several years ago as part of Ed DeCaria’s Madness Poetry Tournament. I was struggling to write a poem on deadline using my assigned word ‘concurrent’. I wrote something terrible and thought “gee this poem is not tight at all”, which sparked a mental image of words in a not-tight, loose arrangement and hey, what if one slipped and fell out? That seemed funny, so I wrote the first line ‘My poem wasn’t very tight, a word slipped out and fell’. And next thing I knew I had written a very meta poem about poetic structure and language and words and wordplay and meaning and things I haven’t even worked out for myself yet. The resulting poem is larger than I intended it to be, and I have to concur with my editor, Rebecca Davis, that teachers will have a field day using this poem as a discussion piece.
I love the illustration because of the extra humor it brings to the poem. I’m reminded of Rob Shepperson’s witty art and how he invariably finds a way to enhance the humor in any scene. Here, I love how your taxi driver is looking up while the lights on the car are looking down at those words that fell through the crack. Yes! Okay, do you have another example?
Another favorite poem is Australian Animal Chant p. 55. My Visual Brain insisted on creating a poem without ANY words at all. (A reading key is supplied in the book – not shown – but the poem itself is completely visual. Take that Writing Brain!)
I was ready to resist a poem with no words but must confess that armed with your reading key I was quite impressed and enjoyed chanting it aloud until my M.O.W. looked at me funny. What does she know?
As we near the end of today’s stop on your tour, Vikram, I’d like to ask this next question. Teachers, librarians, parents, and of course kids themselves, like to know what authors have to say about their work.
What would you like to say to the young readers of your new book?
I would like to say two things to young readers: One, I hope you will enjoy seeing how much fun we can have playing with language and words (please, please read the poems aloud!) and how much fun we can have combining words with images. And two, I (like every author and artist out there) was once a kid like you and did not know how to write or draw – if we could do it, so can you – all you need to do to achieve your dreams is to follow your interest and keep working at just being better than you were the day before.
Wonderful! Thanks for that, Vikram. Here’s another question that every creative person is asked. I’ve heard a lot of fascinating responses. One woman wrote in her car parked in the driveway. A guy I know built a platform in his living room and hoisted himself up toward the ceiling to be near but separate from the family noises below. What about you?
When/where/why do you do your best work?
I do my best writing secluded in a dark corner inside a large library, surrounded by inspiring books, and without any internet access to kill my focus. I do most of my drawing now on my iPad as I can do that just about anywhere, whenever and wherever I find time.
Vikram, I hate to see our time come to an end. I wish you great success with A HATFUL OF DRAGONS and all the other books you are going to create during your career. Speaking of which,
Are you at work on your next collection?
I wasn’t when you asked, but your question prodded me into thinking about it and I have an idea now for what the next collection could be. So thanks again for kick-starting that!
Here is a bit more information about my guest today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our chat and will buy Vikram’s newest book and leave a comment on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you purchase your copy.
Vikram Madan grew up in India where, despite spending his childhood rhyming and doodling, he ended up an engineer. After many years of working in the tech industry, he finally came to his senses, and here he is, having followed his heart back to rhyming and doodling again! His self-published books of funny poems The Bubble Collector and Lord of the Bubbles both won Moonbeam Awards for Children’s Poetry. He lives near Seattle, Washington, with his family, two guitars, and a few pet peeves, and devotes himself to making whimsical and humorous art. Visit him at vikrammadan.com.
If you want a chance to win a free copy of A HATFUL OF DRAGONS, leave a comment and tell me in what way(s) you have helped promote Vikram’s book. One week from today on May 5 I will draw one name from the pool and notify the folks who will mail your book. At that point I’ll need your street address. During the pandemic no free books are being shipped so Vikram may need to send you one of his and get reimbursed later. If you live beyond the contiguous American states, Vikram will also need to mail your copy. Don’t worry, one way or another you’ll get a copy if I draw your name!