Georgia Heard today

UPDATE ON OUR WOZA WOZA POEM: Thanks everyone for the excellent ideas for the 4th line. I went with Sandy Asher’s idea because it keeps the mystery alive and introduces a new element. Are they squirrels? Who knows? We need another line!

Today I saw something I’ve never seen before,
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfing the forest floor.
Leaves you say? And well you may, but more it seemed to me,
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that swirling sea.

We’ve settled into a poem told in couplets. Who wants to add the first line of the next couplet?

Hello Everyone,

Today my Featured Guest is Georgia Heard. Many of you have probably read her work and/or sat in an audience where she spoke. I first met Georgia when we were both on the same preconference institute at a conference many years ago. I’m delighted to welcome Georgia today as my guest.

What originally attracted you to poetry?

Every year I wrote a poem for my father, mother and sisters on their birthdays, and read them aloud during birthday parties. I remember one birthday, my grandmother and mother started to cry. It was then that I realized that words had the gift to make people feel. It was a powerful moment for me –that my feelings could be translated into words, and other people could feel how I felt. I decided then that I wanted to keep writing poems.

Do you keep a journal? If so, when did you start? What sort of material do you write in your journal?

When I was a teenager and my father went to Vietnam to fly helicopters in the war my diary became an essential place for me to write down what I felt. I still keep a journal. A journal for me is a way to gather the seeds of new ideas. Now, my journals are usually project based. In other words, whatever book or poem I’m working on it’s a place for me to write and revise, and it helps me think more clearly and deeply about whatever I’m working on at the moment.

You are a highly respected poet, teacher, and speaker. How do these activities connect and support one another?

Thank you, for those kind words. I find writing poetry a solitary experience that takes a lot of intense focus. When I’m writing, I find that hours can go by without me noticing time. It’s like I’m in a kind of trance. Teaching keeps me connected to the world. It forces me to snap out of myself. Writing, teaching and speaking are all connected. I couldn’t teach or speak about writing if I weren’t a writer. I would feel like a fraud. But it is difficult sometimes to keep a balance between writing and teaching because that solitary writing life is always beckoning. I am so lucky to teach children because they are so open to life, and they remind me to keep my heart open too.

Do you have a preference between verse and free verse?

Free verse is an oxymoron — despite what Robert Frost said about free verse that it’s like playing tennis with the net down. I find that free verse does have a structure, and when I write free verse I’m still using poetic tools. I also love writing verse but sometimes my poems feels stilted and forced if I try too hard to make them rhyme. I admire poets who write in poetic forms like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost. They make it seem so easy.

What do you see happening to children’s poetry in the United States?

There are many wonderful poets writing for children now. I just hope that teachers and parents keep buying poetry books. I’m intrigued how poetry has morphed into novels – yet I’m not sure that every novel in verse is really verse — but I like the way poetry is expanding its boundaries. I hope children’s poets write more poems for children that express their feelings.

What makes poetry for children relevant?

Children love poetry naturally. They love the rhythm, the rhyme and the music of poetry. Children see the world in a new ways just like many poems do. Poetry is as relevant to children as it ever was.

Do you have advice for emerging children’s poets?

Write about what you’re passionate about; what about you love in the world; write from your truest feelings – and children will love your poems.

Georgia, many thanks. It was a pleasure.

Mary Downing Hahn tomorrow, our September Hall of Fame Poets, and the Word of the Month for October

REMINDER: There are 3 days, 6 hours left to bid on the auction!

Congratulations to our September Hall of Fame Poets! Euleta Usrey is our poet of the month for the adult division and Courtney Clawson is our poet in the young poet division. Clustered behind Euleta were Steven Withrow, V.L. Gregory, and Gay Fawcett. In the young poet race, Maria Ciminillo was only 9 votes behind Courtney, 159 to 168. What a contest! My sincere congratulations and gratitude to everyone who enriched our lives this month by writing poems and sharing them with us.

And now for the first word of a brand new year of poetry. The word of the month for October? CHANGE. I’m eager to see what you do with it.

Here we are at Thursday again when it’s my pleasure to announce my new Featured Guest. This is one of my favorite blog activities. Tomorrow you’ll meet Mary Downing Hahn, and you’re going to enjoy the experience. As you know, I always ask my guests to provide a bio in their own words to give you an early glimpse into their lives and their voices. For additional information about Mary, visit her site at

I was born in Washington, DC and have spent my whole life in Maryland, within 30 miles of my birthplace. Not that I haven’t traveled — it’s just that I’ve never had an official address outside my home state.When I was a kid, I loved reading, drawing, and getting into mischief, not necessarily in that order. I was lucky to grow up on a street with five like minded girls — the Guilford Road Gang we called ourselves. We spent our summers exploring woods and creeks, climbing trees, spying on suspected criminals (the result of an overdose of Nancy Drew mysteries) and spending as much time as possible out of sight of our parents. As long as we were home for dinner, no one cared. College Park was a small town then — what could possibly happen to us?

With the exception of reading and drawing, my school career was distinctly lackluster. I daydreamed, read library books in my lap, doodled on my homework, never mastered long division or learned my multiplication tables, and was in general unmotivated. Because of my math problem, I thought of myself as stupid.

Junior high and high school were not much better. If I read my diary correctly, I spent my teens yearning for a boyfriend, going to football and basketball games (in hope of meeting a boy), hanging out with my friends, getting out of class whenever I could, buying rock and roll records with my babysitting money, going to the swimming pool (in hope of meeting a boy),and complaining about my parents. Not a word about current events. Although I never mentioned them in my diary, I remember thinking the McCarthy hearings were incredibly boring.

After I graduated, I entered the University of Maryland, a half hour’s walk from my home in College Park. At first, it seemed like grade thirteen, but by my sophomore year, I realized I had a brain after all. I majored in Fine Art and minored in English, spending most of my college years doing what I loved best — drawing and painting, reading and writing. By the time I received my B.A., I was torn between a desire to paint and a desire to write. I did both for many years, mainly for my own entertainment. I also spent a disastrous year teaching junior high school art, returned to UMD to earn a Master’s in English, worked briefly for the telephone company, a department store, and the Navy Federal Credit Union, the sorts of jobs people with liberal arts degrees are offered.

After marriage, children, and divorce, I returned once more to UMD and began working toward a PHD in English. It was the 70’s, and there I was with the baby boomers. There were no teaching jobs for any of us.

I ended up taking a job as an associate librarian in the public library’s children’s department. I planned to write my dissertation and look for a teaching position later, but I wrote a children’s book instead. Hard work, yes, but definitely more fun than spending years researching an obscure English poet.

So here I am. all these years later, still reading and writing, drawing and painting and loving every minute of it — well, almost every minute.Thanks, Mary. See you tomorrow.

Barbara Seuling today


by Barbara Seuling

The first children’s book I ever worked on was a friend’s story. I did the illustrations. It was before I read any books on the subject, or took any courses, or knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

We were both recently out of college, trying to figure out what to do with our lives. She was a writer and I was an artist. We got to be great friends. When she came up with a children’s story, it seemed a natural for me to draw pictures for it, which I did. We were excited over our work and were ripe for every possibility.

The manuscript was 64 pages long, about a bookworm who wants to tell all the stories he’s read during his life among the great books, and leaves his comfortable life in a volume of Shakespeare to find a way to do it. His adventures along the way, I recall, involve several colorful characters, including a termite who works at the post office. My friend, an unpublished author at the time, had written adult stories, but this was her first attempt at a children’s book.

I had done some greeting cards for friends and relatives, but had nothing published professionally. My drawing style at the time bordered on cartoony. I had grown up on Disney animation and comic books, and although my tastes had expanded, that had not yet come through in my drawings.

When a relative heard about our book, she told us she knew someone who was an agent., and would ask her if she’d help us. This person said she’d show our book to some people. We were impressed, gladly thanked her, and went home to put the package together.

I hurriedly did more pictures for the presentation. Little characters with big bug-eyes were on every page. I did them in color. We got a book with plastic see-through pages and cut the manuscript up to display it with the illustrations in place. It looked great.

Now, as you’ve read through this, you probably picked up a few glaring no-no’s. Let’s see how close you came to finding them all.

1. No picture book should be 64 manuscript pages long. If we had read even one book on writing and publishing books for children, we would have known that the subject matter and plot made it a picture book idea in the format of a novel. And we would have known that the standard picture book text was approximately four to six manuscript pages long, except on rare occasions.

2. Illustrations are not submitted with a picture book text. We had no idea that we were impinging on the editor’s territory in providing illustrations for the text. It seemed the natural thing to do. To us, having illustrations with the text just made it more appealing. In reality, the editor judges text alone – the prime factor in choosing a manuscript. If she buys the story, then she chooses the illustrator. Sending someone’s illustrations with the text presumes to know better than the editor how to handle the illustrations for the book.

3. Illustrations should be in a style that is acceptable to publishers. At that time cartoons were sort of frowned on, except for Dr. Seuss. If I were an established or more confident artist, perhaps I could have made a case for using cartoons, if that’s what the text called for. However, this would only happen if the editor had called on me to do the illustrations, and then I showed her what I proposed. And my use of color was way out of whack with the standards of the time, when color had to be separated – a costly procedure, and something I knew nothing about.

4. A manuscript must be submitted in standard format. In our innocent attempt to make our presentation more attractive, we overlooked the fact that manuscripts should be submitted in standard formatting, typed on 8-1/2 x 11 inch bond paper with ample margins all around. No illustrations. No protective plastic sheets. And definitely no binding. If art is involved, as in the case of a professional illustrator submitting a story, a dummy book may be submitted along with the manuscript, but never in place of it.

5. An agent should not be hired without some proof of professional credentials. We accepted representation on the basis of a minor acquaintance. We heard nothing for a while., and after repeated inquiries, the agent returned the manuscript to us saying she had no luck with it. She disappeared from our lives, and we had no idea to whom she had sent it, or what they had to say, or even if she had shown it to anyone at all. An agent should be able to give you information about herself, her agency, and a list of other clients. She would most likely be listed in the Society of Authors’ Representatives, or have her name listed in various trade directories like Literary Market Place.

We did everything wrong that we possibly could. You name it, we found exactly the right thing to do that was wrong. My author friend is now a many-published writer, as I am, and every now and then we take out that first hopeful effort and look at it the way you look at baby pictures after a child has grown up. How far we’ve come ! We laugh, of course, at the innocence and futility of those early efforts.

I don’t think either of us would change that experience now. We had our initiation, and it was difficult, but we learned. Every step we took after that had more study and purpose to it, and we learned professional tips along the way. We studied, we read, we wrote and illustrated more, and eventually, we both got through that very scary door to the publishing world, each on her own two feet and prepared for whatever we met along the way.

Everyone starts out as a beginner. We do our best to be prepared, but sometimes in our enthusiasm we may step naively into a world that has teeth and claws. That’s okay. We’re fast learners. If we missed something the first time around, we’ll learn, and never do it that way again. The good news is that now there are books and even courses and workshops to help us on the road to becoming a writer for children. Our store of knowledge grows as we mature as writers, and we will perfect our routine, submitting only our finest work, and in a professional manner, and each day another of us will go through that door to the publishing world.

Adapted from a 1998 column for Once Upon a Time…

Barbara, thanks. Readers, please leave your comments below.


April Halprin Wayland today


Hello everyone,Today I am pleased to feature April Halprin Wayland for the second time in two weeks. Last Friday you read my interview with April ( ) and let us know that you enjoyed it. I told you that when Kathy Temean returned from vacation we would post April’s picture and sample illustration. So here they are.

Today April is here with a poem, a challenge, and a reward. The poem is about Found Poems. Georgia Heard liked it and urged April to send it my way to post. I know this will tickle a lot of you because since the post on Found Poems went up on July 12 ( ), it has generated tons of responses and it now ranks in the top two most popular dates in the one year history of this blog. The other, posted on Januray 9, 2010 ( ), is a discussion of children’s poetry.
Without further ado, THE POEM.


by April Halprin Wayland

I’m sure there’s a found poem somewhere here.
There usually is this time of year.

Didn’t a red-haired boy lose words
that were found last May by a flightless bird?And then that search and rescue hound
dug up sixteen poems he’d found.Listen for falling bulletin boards,
and scowling poem-poaching hordeswho stomp all over this hallowed ground
until the hidden poems are found.I’ll bring a flashlight, you bring a rake
we’ll get down on our knees and make

a poem from words that have trampolined
off an internet ad or a magazine

into the woods some starry night
waiting for searching kids who might

find a poem if they’re brave and follow
the hoot of an owl to the end of the hollow.


April invites comments to either her post last Friday or to her poem today. I’m to keep track of every name. We need a lot of names to make this challenge more sporting, because –here is THE REWARD:One week from today (August 27) I’ll collect all names, assign them numbers, put the numbers in a bowl, draw out a winner, and post that information. If you have a USA mailing address, April will sign a copy of her latest book with the name you designate and mail it to you.So how’s this for a triple whammy day? Thanks, April!David

Nancy Gow today


Nancy Gow from Montreal is my seventh poet to be featured during the Summer Guest Reader Series. My thanks to Nancy for sending us her picture and a poem to enjoy. Actually, she sent three poems and let me choose one; a hard choice!Nancy shares exciting news! Her first rhyming picture book, Ten Big Toes and a Prince’s Nose, will be coming out with Sterling Publishing in October. Congratulations to Nancy and to Sterling. Her editor at Sterling says that Nancy is great to work with.

To learn more about Nancy:

A Hippo Ate My Hotdog
by Nancy Gow

A hippo ate my hotdog.
I bought it at the zoo.
I loaded it with ketchup
and lots of onions, too.

I left it on a table
and went to get a drink.
When hippos smell a hotdog
they move faster than you’d think!