REMINDER: SUNDAY AT 10:00 CST IS THE CUTOFF FOR THIS MONTH’S POEMS. DON’T MISS IT!
Here, as promised, is my guest today, Marjorie Maddox Hafer, pen name: Marjorie Maddox. I love her voice and you will too. She is an articulate spokesperson for all writers, but especially those who must juggle many roles and still manage to keep writing. For a view of some of Marjorie’s work, here’s the link to Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s feature of her during April. http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2010/04/poetry-makers-marjorie-maddox.html
“So, what do you do?”
The question, of course, pops up again and again throughout our lives. I write—I’m a mother, a wife, a writer. I also am an English professor and director of a creative writing program at a state university. This is my day job, and I love it. But I am a mother, a wife, a writer, and—having fallen in love with words at a young age—it’s the calling of writer that I’ve claimed the longest. For most of my youth and my adulthood, I’ve written and published poetry, short stories, and essays. When I was a child, I shared my work with family and friends, publishing my first poem in Campfire Girl magazine. Over the following decades, I published in literary journals and presses. I became a writer—for adults.
But now I also am a writer for children. This adventure has expanded and enhanced how I view myself. It has allowed me, in new and wonderful ways, to bring together my “lives” as mother, writer, and teacher.
We are a family of readers. Along with my husband—another writer and college professor—I am, not surprisingly, addicted to books. We’ve passed our obsession to our son and daughter. How could we not? To read or not to read: no question there. To sit on our back patio with book in hand and let words envelop me while my daughter, next to me, has flown to an imaginary world through a paperback she’s clutching: this is a life I like. This is a life my husband and I wanted to share when we read page after page to our growing children, watching their eyes—and minds—expand. I hope I can continue this experience by creating books that will transport other children to these worlds that words build.
To do so, I find myself collaborating more and more with family. For years, my husband, an excellent editor, has been first reader for much of my work. However, when I write for children, even my kids join in brainstorming. They test-run my poems and let me know which pieces take off, which run out of gas, which crash. “This is boring”; “I don’t get it”; “Huh?”—they don’t hold back. Their reactions are immediate. They have kid-view expertise. When they get to “Yeah, sweet” or “This rocks,” I know I’m headed in the right direction.
Both my husband’s considered responses and my children’s blunt reactions have become part of my process. When I was writing Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems, for example, my children, two Little Leaguers, and my husband, an avid fan, enthusiastically served as a panel of experts. When I drafted A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (a book on collective nouns), my husband, with his background in rhetoric, and my children, with their background in play, entered into the word games. Currently, I’m revising riddle poems, which grew out of rhymed scavenger hunts I’ve had with my kids for years. My audience is willing. Let the family collaboration continue!
This partnership between family and writing has grown to include my role as teacher. For twenty years, my passion for writing and literature has flowed into the university classroom. Then, it was natural that when my children began elementary school, I would visit their classes, leading their friends on poetic journeys.
When I began writing my own children’s books, I joined illustrator Philip Huber in conducting assemblies and workshops at elementary schools. What a joy! To fan a spark that can strike a literary bonfire or a love of reading—or to help a young author take what began as clichéd images and transform them into a crafted and powerful poem: this is what I love about school visits. This also is what I love about college teaching.
But teaching young children is unique. Discussing and writing poetry with children is, to put it simply, loads of fun. Together we spin, twist, and fly with words. We trial-and-error our way through rhymes. We try on umpteen different metaphors and look at the world through kaleidoscope glasses. I do the same thing, of course, with college students, but the enthusiasm from a room filled with K—sixth graders is immediate. The kids and I are in this enterprise together, this exciting world of the imagination, as we go full-speed-ahead where the words take us.
Likewise, it is an honor to read my books to children and see their reactions. Writing, of course, is a solitary act—at a computer in a room with a door closed. Publishing, especially for an adult audience, also can seem a solitary act. Except for the occasional letter or review, I don’t get to interact with my audience until I meet them, face-to-face, at a reading or other literary event. When I meet kids at their school, I get to see my words jump from the page and into their minds. The sudden laugh, the “aha!” in the eyes, the nose crinkled in playful disgust—these reactions shout louder than the best review.
And all this keeps me coming back for more. All this beckons, “Hey, Teacher,” “Hey, Mother,” “Hey, Author, it’s good to have you here. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Write. “
And so I do.
Please post your comments for Marjorie in the boxes below. Thanks, Marjorie!