Wild in the Streets by Marilyn Singer

Hi everyone,

I know I’m not the first to mention Marilyn Singer’s newest book of poetry, WILD IN THE STREETS, 20 POEMS OF CITY ANIMALS, but my copy only arrived yesterday. I read it before I went to bed last night and this is my first opportunity to brag on my friend’s work.
This one falls in the category of books “I wish I’d written,” which is the best kind of flattery I know to give. If you follow my tales of Goose Lake, you know my fascination with animals that live among us in our communities. Marilyn shares that interest and goes a huge step farther by writing about animals that live in other cities around the globe such as deer in Nara, Japan; pythons in Singapore; coyotes in Chicago; and falcons in New York City. Here’s a stanza from her poem about millions of Mexican free-tailed bats that roost by day below a famous bridge in Austin, Texas and swoop off in enormous living clouds by night.

Over the wide bridge
people passing. Underneath
spry bats amassing.

Not only that, Marilyn provides in fascinating prose the back story about each species and why/how it comes to flourish where it does. Kids and adults will love the surprising variety of city dwellers that either have moved to town or live where they’ve always lived while we humans have built our communities around them.

What I always enjoy about Marilyn Singer’s books is that she works seriously at her craft. You never get anything trite or sing-song in her offerings. You get variety that distinguishes her writings from the fare dished up in too many purported books of poems for children. I love it that in WILD IN THE STREETS, she takes the time to explain the poetic forms she chose to use in this collection. They include examples of triolet, haiku, her own reverse, cinquain, acrostic, sonnet, terze rima, and villanelle.

So by all means get a copy of WILD IN THE STREETS. It’s illustrated by Gordy Wright and published by Quarto Publishing. A new book by Marilyn is always a time to celebrate.

A favorite poem by Marilyn Singer

Hi everyone,

Marilyn SingerFor the past few days I’ve been selecting poems from collections I recently purchased at a Friends of the Library book sale in Springfield. Most of these are out of print now, a sad reminder that even the best books don’t remain in print forever. Today’s feature is a poem by Marilyn Singer. It’s selected from FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF, POEMS ABOUT THE EARTH, published in 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf and is metaphoric poem called “Dormant Dragons.”

As many of you know, Marilyn was chosen by National Council for Teachers of English for its 2015 Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Thank you, Marilyn, for granting permission to post your work here. I apologize for my inability to space lines on the blog the way they appear in the book. It’s a disservice to the poem but I have no tool to place lines where I might like them. I typed and spaced each line exactly as it appears in the book, and it looks that way on my blog page, until it goes to post, at which time all lines default to flush left. Part of the positive experience of a poem is in how it looks as well as what it says. Alas, you won’t get the full benefit here.

Dormant Dragons
by Marilyn Singer

Volcanoes there are that sleep
the sleep of dragons
With cool heads and hot bellies
they crouch
solid and still
where the earth meets the sky
Till something wakes them
Then furious they breathe fire and smoke
hot spittle and wrath
to burn and choke
whatever lies in their path
leaving in their wake
an odd treasure
of stone sponges and glass
and an occasional lake.

(c) by Marilyn Singer, all rights reserved

More favorite poems

Hi everyone,

Other enjoyable books of children’s poetry I bought recently at the Springfield Friends of the Library book sale include these titles.

Karla KuskinMOON, HAVE YOU MET MY MOTHER? the Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin, published by Laura Geringer Books, and imprint of HarperCollins in 2003. This is a 322 page volume so there’s a lot from which to choose, but one that especially appealed to me is on page 127. All the poems are untitled but this one is about summer heat and the opening line is “Heat, heat, heat.” What I like here is that you can almost feel the tortuously slow tedium and pounding heat of summer. Kuskin accomplishes this with her skillfully arranged cadence which draws out the lines, slowing the reading to fit the subject, and her selection of sounds that bring out the sweat with lines like “The flat, fat, hot of it.” If you haven’t read much Karla Kuskin poetry, here’s a chance to read a lot of it!
Marilyn Singer
Next on my stack of bargain purchases: FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF, POEMS ABOUT THE EARTH, by Marilyn Singer, published in 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf. One of many I like in this collection is a metaphoric poem called “Dormant Dragons.” When a poem begins, “Volcanoes there are that sleep/the sleep of dragons,” you know you’re in for an memorable experience in the hands of a master word crafter. As most of you know, Marilyn was chosen by National Council for Teachers of English for its 2015 Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

Kalli DakosKalli Dakos’s book, MRS. COLE ON AN ONION ROLL, was published by Scholastic in 1995 and wound up in my stack of treasures. In this one we switch gears and enter the school yard, class, library, cafeteria, and all the rest the scene that constitutes the world of young students. Kalli is all about having fun so everything is possible, from eating Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll to getting into trouble for painting a fellow student’s nose green. One that made me smile is called “YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and perfectly expresses, in two brief stanzas, not only how the student feels about passing a test but how the teacher feels as well.

If I receive permission to post any of the poems I mentioned, I’ll gladly do it. Some of these titles, perhaps most of them, are out of print. I hate it when something good goes out of print. Thank goodness for libraries and used book suppliers and garage sales and flea markets and inherited boxes of books!!

Barbara Robinson today

BULLETIN: Don’t miss watching Marilyn Singer’s interview tonight as part of the Kennedy Center series. Here’s what Marilyn just sent me. Caroline Kennedy’s POETS AND PRESIDENTS: Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles R. Smith, Jr., and Marilyn Singer, interviewed by Maria Salvadore, can be heard starting this Friday, Jan. 21, as part of the Kennedy Center Performing Arts Program. If you’re interested in hearing this, you can register for free at: http://www.kennedy-center.org/education/pwtv /

Hi everyone,

It’s such a treat to feature Barbara Robinson today. She might not want to admit that she has participated a number of times as one of a four-member cast doing readings from plays by Sandy Asher based on my poems or our poems. I’m amazed the lady hasn’t won a Tony. Anyway, here’s my friend, Barbara.

My writing career – that sounds fancy, and for a long time, when people asked me, “What do you do?” I said, “Oh…I type.”..in case, I guess, that turned out to be the whole truth. I began as a short story writer, in the days when there was a vibrant market for short stories in the popular magazines. It was a great training ground – the accepted length was five thousand words, which for me was about 11-12 pages. No room there for vivid writing, or for six juicy words instead of one workhorse of a word…no room, really, for anything that didn’t feed the story, so I murdered many of my darlings.

Nevertheless, it’s my favorite form, and it’s served me well, as several stories turned into books or large parts of books..most notably, a short story published in McCall’s in 1967 – The Christmas Pageant – which became The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – book, play, tv movie, short reading version which was performed in Symphony Space in New York, and, as of Christmas 2011, a picture book. This is a scenario I wish for every writer who wants the work to stay around a while…but it is not a process free of angst.

Adapting the book as a play was the easiest, only because I had studied theatre in college and knew most of the rules about playwriting..and broke one of them right away. You’re not supposed to use a narrator in a play -‘show it, don’t tell it’ – but I couldn’t bridge that gap, maybe because the book itself is in the first person. I had to be sparing, though, in the narration – a play just has greater forward momentum than narration (or should have) and really needs to move along.

Then, too, what reads well doesn’t necessarily speak well, so you have to try out the lines. One example – Beverly Slocum whistling the carol What Child Is This, and passing out on the altar, is funny to read and to picture, but messy to say. And, of course, there were practical concerns – you can’t burn things down onstage or, to my regret, have a crazy cat destroy a school room. I tried to get that in, but soon learned that cats are lousy actors.

No special concerns in the reading version, which was designed for two actors – Anne Jackson and her actor daughter Roberta Wallach. My job here was largely editorial, cutting out whatever parts of the story or whatever language didn’t serve the actors. They were very much on their own in a static situation – sitting on stage in two comfy armchairs, living room set, no bells and whistles. I also had to assign, with their input, who would read what.

Neither were there practical concerns in the movie – we could have a fire, and the Vancouver Fire Department, and even a crazy cat. But a movie is not a book, and I soon realized that there was not a reader on the other end of my story, but a camera. I had to learn to ‘see with the eye of the camera’ and then write that. This was the strongest advice of all the movie people. Best example – I had written four good crisp lines of dialogue, and the director said, “Yes, they’re really good, but one camera shot will do the job of all four lines, and do it better,” and he was right. It’s tempting to think that the words don’t matter, but they matter very much to the actors, who have to create and hang onto a character through the disjointed, out of order filming sequences. The actors all told me that whenever I moaned about the loss of some precious words or phrases. You have to murder a lot of darlings in the movies!

The picture book is brand new to me, and both intriguing and scary. I had the notion that the text must serve the artist – must set up the picture, so to speak – but was told by editors and authors that I had it wrong way to – that the artist would find the picture in the text. I found it hard, though, not to think…Oh, I’ll use this little bit of story instead of that one because it will make a better picture. The trouble with this is that I’m not an artist, don’t have an artist’s eye, and can’t really know what will make the best picture for a particular story moment.

Many fewer words in a picture book, an d I found that it was rarely the juiciest word or words that proved to be the right ones…which took me right back to my early writing days – fewer words and no vivid writing. Full circle, I guess.

I haven’t yet seen Laura Cornell’s pictures – and isn’t it a blessing on this project to have her take on the Herdmans again! – but when I talked a little bit about this book during a school visit, one little boy said, “I can’t wait to see that book!”

Me, too!

What Are the Pros Up To, with Marilyn Singer

Hello everyone,

Today on What Are the Pros Up To, I’m pleased to bring back Marilyn Singer to tell us what she has been doing since her last appearance here. As always, Marilyn keeps busy and remains one of our most popular and successful poets. If you have thoughts or questions, please post them in the comments below.

2010 has been quite a remarkable year for me. MIRROR, MIRROR came out in March and has gotten six starred reviews, and been listed as one of the year’s best books by the Washington Post, Horn Book, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, Scripps News Service, and blogger Betsy Bird’s list. In addition, it is on the Texas Bluebonnet Master List. I am pleased to announce that I’ve recently completed an as yet unnamed companion book of fairy tale reversos which will be illustrated by the divine Josee Masse, who also illustrated MIRROR, MIRROR.

Other highlights included participating in the annual Poetry Blast at ALA last June and in Sylvia Vardell’s “Poets and Bloggers” panel at NCTE in November, being featured on Reading Rockets, and flying to Washington DC to tape an interview for the Kennedy Center’s forthcoming program “Poets and Presidents,” which will be on educational TV and the Internet beginning January 21.

In the coming year, I have five books coming out: TWOSOMES: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom (Knopf); TALLULAH’S TUTU (Clarion), the first in a series of picture books about a girl in ballet class; WHAT IS YOUR DOG DOING? (Atheneum), a rhymed picture book; CATERPILLARS (EarlyLight), a nonfiction book; and A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING: Poems about Everyday Play (Clarion).

My husband and I continue to dance up a storm. Who knows what that might inspire?