Voting for April poets has been wild and attracted three times more appreciative readers than we usually get. Thanks to everyone who participated. Last night at 10:00 CST the polls closed so I can now announce our April Hall of Fame Poet to be Barb Turner with second place going to V. L. Gregory. Tied for third place are Tricia Stohr-Hunt and Cassandra. Our April Hall of Fame Young Poet is Rachel Heinrichs who came in with a whopping 702 votes! Second place, with an enormous turnout of 377 votes, goes to Taylor McGowan. Third place goes to Hope Murphy. Liz Korba, a previouis Monthly Hall of Fame winner, received the most votes again this month among the adults and Steven Withrow, today’s guest and another past winner, tied with Tricia and Cassandra.Congratulations to all of our winning poets and my gratitude to everyone who gave us so much good reading by sharing their poems this month. As I’ve said many times, this month-end voting process is both to recognize the poets and to encourage more readers. Thanks to everyone for being good sports and entering into the fun of the monthly challenge. To all of our poets — adult and young, first timers and “old pros” –I look forward to seeing what you will contribute when I announce the word for May, which is: STONEAnd now it my pleasure to present today’s guest, Steven Withrow!
THE BRAVE LITTLE POET
By Steven Withrow
There’s bravado, audacity of spirit, in calling yourself a poet. In naming yourself publicly a writer of verse.Most people, on hearing your declaration (for a declaration it is), will not know how to respond straightaway. You might have said, “I’m a polar bear psychologist” or “I’m a night gardener,” for all the sense it makes to the average listener.Novelists, journalists, and scriptwriters have the advantage here; they can talk about the story they’re writing or the agents, publishers, and studios they’re courting. In other words, writing equals fortune and fame, or at least a slave’s wage.Poets are, by and large, professional amateurs, hobbyists, oddities. We are also normal people who hold down regular jobs, raise families, and write in different forms. It’s usually better to converse about those other aspects of our lives instead of our poems.
Or is it?
A quieter sort of daring exists in sitting and writing your poems down, or walking along and thinking them up, but it’s a bold act nonetheless. Such boldness ought to be honored if not celebrated. By hiding away our poet selves, we help cloister poetry from the general public and we never share the gift that a good poem is.
And sharing, I have learned, is at the center of a poet’s life.
A harsh reality: your chances of earning money by publishing poems are slim to nonexistent. Many “successful” poets earn their livings as teachers, librarians, fiction writers, or something else entirely. Children’s anthologies and verse novels fare better, but the market is crowded and the opportunities are few.
For a determined poet seeking an audience as well as a community of readers and writers, the key is sharing your poems—trading them, gifting them, reading them aloud everywhere and every moment you’re able.
Start with websites like this one. Take part in local poetry readings, poetry slams, and school visits. Publish your work in chapbooks, small magazines, and online—shout it out proudly to everyone you know. Life’s too short (or too long) to be bashful about what’s most important to you.
What you receive in exchange for sharing your gifts is feedback (which makes you a better writer), fellowship or even friendship (which makes you a happier person), and fuel for the fire (which keeps you writing and inspires you to stretch beyond your limits). You can also return the favor for another poet or group of poets from across the country or around the world. It’s a virtuous circle that pays surprising rewards.
For more than a decade I kept my poems mostly to myself. I published several in small magazines, but hardly anyone read them. I sent out manuscripts to publishers and received polite rejections. Out of frustration, I even stopped writing poems for a couple of years. I was anything but a poet. I stopped learning; I stopped growing; I stopped being my favorite self.
I realized I was waiting for someone else to come along and select me from the crowd, to christen me a “real” poet. I might have waited forever.
In 2009, at 35 years old, I decided to start sharing my poems, and I’ve never felt more fulfilled or inspired. I now blog my poems (http://www.cracklesofspeech.blogspot.com/ ); I participate in the weekly poetry stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect (http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/ ); and I serialize a blank-verse science-fiction novel (http://featherofmemory.blogspot.com/ ), which was inspired by a poem I wrote for David’s January word-of-the-month contest here at this site.
If I hadn’t started sharing my poems with other poets and readers, I never would have— never could have—composed “Rockhoppers.” It’s the boldest statement I’ve made yet about who I am and what matters most to me. I’m grateful for all the encouragement and constructive criticism I’ve received as a result of letting the poem live in the world.
By Steven Withrow
Under the right whale bones
breaching the blue ceiling
of the New England Aquarium,
a waddle of rockhopper penguins,
tufted punks from the South Pole,
skrawks in a raucous chorus
as a feeder wades in wetsuited,
floating a bucket of tiny fish
for their lunch. And Marin,
who is four, watches them
through the low glass partition
with an aquarist’s rigor,
her mirrored mouth mimicking each grab
and gulp of open orange beak. She
presses against me, daughter
of my grateful heart, and asks,
“Why don’t they say thank you?”
I tell her, “I don’t know.
Penguins can’t speak like we do.”
But inside I think of how
they drop from rock to rock,
clumsy on their bird-feet,
until one, and then another, slips
without a splash into the cool pool
that passes here for home,
their cold and southern sea.
I name them Water-glider,
We trace their loops and interlaces
and laugh as a pudgy male
pops his bottle-body up
onto the lip of a slick stone slab,
upending an unsuspecting hen,
before barging in line
for a chance at seconds.
After, Marin tugs my hand,
her patience for penguins at its end,
and we wander toward tanks
that hold cuttlefish, anemones,
lampreys, leafy sea dragons
among the fluorescent fronds.
Behind us, the hoppers chatter on,
clap their wings against their sides.
I want to turn and applaud,
but Marin has spied some mollusk shells,
and we give thanks to them.
Steven Withrow is a poet, storyteller, teacher, and author of six books for visual artists: Toon Art, Webcomics, Character Design for Graphic Novels, Vector Graphics and Illustration, Secrets of Digital Animation, and Illustrating Children’s Picture Books ( HYPERLINK http://www.cracklesofspeech.blogspot.com http://www.cracklesofspeech.blogspot.com/ ). He is the producer, with Edward J. Delaney, of Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about children’s books ( HYPERLINK http://childrenslitproject.wordpress.com http://childrenslitproject.wordpress.com/ ). He is now blogging The Feather of Memory, a time-travel adventure novel for young adults written in blank verse ( HYPERLINK http://featherofmemory.blogspot.com/ http://featherofmemory.blogspot.com/ ). He studied writing, literature, and publishing at Roger Williams University and Emerson College and has taught at Rhode Island School of Design and Suffolk University. He lives with his wife and daughter in Rhode Island.
For an interview with Steven, please visit: HYPERLINK http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1842” http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1842 .