Featuring Steven Withrow

 

 Hi everyone,

Most of you who visit my blog already know or have heard about Steven Withrow. He has a unique voice and contributes regularly to the pool of freshly minted poems that deserve to be read and celebrated. I asked Steven if I could feature him and he graciously agreed. Now I’ll stand aside and let him do the talking. I think you’ll be glad you listened.
steven_withrow
MAKING A SPACE FOR POEMS
By Steven Withrow

When I was eleven years old, my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. DiDio, told me that I had an imagination like a rocket: it needed space to do its work. From a distance of thirty years, I can see now that she was exactly right.

As reader and writer, I’ve tried out many imaginative spaces—stories, plays, essays, comics—and I’ve found the most room for maneuvering in what is often the tightest of forms.

A poem is a djinni’s lamp—bigger on the inside than on the outside. Take this one, for instance, from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations:pfa_celebrations

Reading Braille

I sail my fingerships
Over a paper sea
I do not see

I sail my fingerships
Across a dotted alphabet
Shaped like wave caps

Forward and back
I do not stop
Until I touch bottom

Of the great, wide page.

© 2015 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

***

Minus the title, it is just 40 words, 53 syllables. Little more than a sentence or two of prose. But a tiny world nonetheless. Spare and spacious. Compressed and capacious. I like it best when I say it aloud a couple of times.

All my poems from fifth grade or before were meant to be said (or sung) aloud. But in my teenage years, in part because of the influence of certain teachers, I pictured a poem as belonging to a silent reader. I held this image through high school and college, and I began to doubt my love of rhyme, meter, and pattern.

By the time I reached graduate school, I seldom read poems aloud. Poetry had become an enclosed space—an echo chamber—and my imagination, I’d forgotten, is claustrophobic. For several years I pretty much avoided poems.

What brought me to my senses was my rediscovery of children’s poetry through the work of David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Ted Hughes, Edward Lear, Charles Causley, and Valerie Worth. I quickly made up for lost time, and for the past decade I’ve read and studied every poem I could find for children, teenagers, and adults.

The idea I want to challenge in my lifetime is that poetry is peripheral. Poetry is central, fundamental, integral. Some evidence: Verse predates prose historically; rhyme and pattern are pillars of language development; poetry is global and communal to a greater degree than all other literatures. But it goes beyond poetry’s precedence and presence. A poem is human utterance at its utmost, its extreme distillation. Think of Bashō’s or Issa’s haiku, Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquies, Emily Dickinson’s vivid verses, Charles Causley’s Cornish ballads. We say poems to ourselves and each other from birth, just as we tell stories, but are we encouraged to sweep that idea to the corners when we enter a classroom, a library, a bookshop?

Today I write verse as often as I can, but it feels much more like composing music now. I am acutely aware of my physical need to experience and perform the words, to feel the syllables in my mouth and the breath in my body. It’s a joy I’ll never abandon again.

Here’s a poem for slightly older readers that contemplates the afterlife of love and celebrates the mechanism of a poem:
TheGristMill (3)

Note: The Plimoth Grist Mill was a water-powered, corn-grinding mill built by the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony in 1636. John Jenney ran the mill until his death in 1644, leaving it to his wife Sarah and son Samuel, who ran it until 1683.

© 2015 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

***

Publishing my poems in print and online is important to me, as I like to imagine my words coming to life in another person’s mind and voice. I also like to share my favorite poems by other writers whenever I read in public on my travels.barding_around

As a way to reach a wider audience, I’ve created a weekly YouTube series called Poetry at Play. The first episodes can be viewed for free at https://www.youtube.com/user/StevenWithrow/videos . Please share the link with anyone who might enjoy it (especially parents and teachers) and subscribe to the channel.

You can find my poems for children in The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry (edited by J. Patrick Lewis),natlgeo_nature_poetry The Poetry Friday Anthologies (edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong), and Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems (edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte).dear_tomato Upcoming anthology appearances include The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (edited by J. Patrick Lewis; Fall 2015) and One Minute Till Bedtime (edited by U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt; Little, Brown; Fall 2016).

My first collection of children’s poems, co-authored with British poet Roger Stevens, will be published in the UK by A&C Black (part of Bloomsbury) in 2016. I self-published my first collection of poems for adults, Crackles of Speech, in 2014.cracklesofspeech My speculative poem “The Sun Ships” appears in Eye to the Telescope (Issue 16, April 2015). Library of the Early Mind: A grown-up look at children’s literature—a documentary film I co-produced with director Edward J. Delaney—premiered in 2010.

I live with my wife, the illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow, http://lesleybreenwithrow.com and our daughter in Rhode Island and can be reached at stevenwithrow (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thank you for reading. Be sure to give yourself space on the launchpad!

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Special guest Anne Cox

REMINDER: Please go on having fun with “In the lives of . . . ” Today we have a new subject to present: Anne Cox.

Hi, everyone,

My guest today is multitalented Anne Cox, who begins by saying, “Drawing is my discipline and painting is my play.” I looked at many of her drawings and they are wonderful. Anne CoxBut this introduction only scratches the surface. Anne writes books too. And she teaches and practices yoga. She writes poetry. And she is seeking a way to bring together her passions for yoga, writing, and painting. Take a look at Anne’s website ( http://annecox.com  ) to become better acquainted with her work and philosophy.
Butterflies
Anne Cox paints murals as large as eighteen feet. The butterfly picture I’m showing you is just a small section of one of those murals. The scene itself is so enormous I think you could illustrate an entire book from various parts of it.

Art, in its many forms, plays a central role in Anne’s life. “I have been co-owner of several galleries and studios and a member of drawing groups,” she says. “I have shown and sold work in many venues and taught art classes from grade school to college levels as well as private lessons and workshops in Missouri.”

Anne and I met the other day and she loaned me some prints, samples of her writing, and the charming book she published to help children understand and enjoy yoga. Anne loves yoga and loves teaching it. She is an instructor but intends to do the additional study and work it takes to reach a higher level.
Rooster
Book Cover
This I discovered about Anne Cox: she is not a talker; she is a doer. “I earned my 200 Hour. RYT in 2011,” she told me. “I am presently working on 500 Hour. RYT with emphasis on teaching yoga to children. I wrote and illustrated ‘I Am A Yogi’ in 2011-12, while teaching public classes in core, basic, Kundalini, Vinyasa Flow, and children’s yoga on a regular basis. I have personally practiced yoga for over 15 years.”

This busy, creative woman has also held a variety of other positions of responsibility. She served Halls on the Plaza of Kansas City as manager of the jewelry department and was promoted to manager of women’s clothes for Halls in the Crown Center. I don’t know where she gets all her energy, but I’m glad she does!

As you enjoy these samples of Anne’s work, you can learn more about the artist and the woman through her own thoughts, poetically expressed.
Dogs“Virtually all my life, my favorite times have been spent with kids. My first jobs, during the summers and after college graduation,

I was a camp counselor, swimming instructor and YWCA Youth Director. When I’m with my grandchildren, I seem to turn activities

into lessons, as I did when rearing my two sons. I find myself in teaching mode as they are pure inspiration to me. I want children to

have the necessary equipment and tools at their disposal as they navigate through this wonderful adventure called life. I wish I had

known the ancient art of yoga when I was young. The benefits are numerous and subtle, and the practice strengthening and body

building. Yoga is literally at our fingertips. We can do it anywhere and at any time, as so much of it concerns how we breathe and

think. Yoga is prevention of malady and disease and teaches us to be kind to ourselves and others and the world in which we live.

It doesn’t require expensive lessons, or equipment or outfits and is not competitive.

Yoga is quiet and respectful and can be learned at a very early age. In fact, it is quite natural for everyone, especially babies. At

some point, we forget how to fully breathe. We forget to take time, when we need it, to rejuvenate and reflect, so we lose ourselves

in un-healthy habits. This is why my passion is to teach yoga to kids.”

Anne, thank you for being my guest today. I also want to express my gratitude for your support of Writers Hall of Fame. Your generosity goes a long way toward funding a scholarship for a college bound senior with an interest in becoming a writer.

David

A dramatic approach to solving story problems

sandy-asher

joe_lauderdale

Hi everyone,

As long time visitors here recall, I’ve highlighted a number of Featured Guests since this endeavor began in 2009. The list is rather long so if you want to entertain yourself by reading about some very successful folks, I recommend it. Here are just a few names on the roster: Barbara Robinson, Cheryl Harness, Hans Wilhelm, Jan Greenberg, Mary Downing Hahn, J. Patrick Lewis, Marilyn Singer, Dan Burr, Rob Shepperson, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Douglas Florian, Jane Yolen, Sandy Asher, and many others.

So here I am interviewing Sandy Asher again, this time with another special guest, Joe Lauderdale. And this time we’re talking about a specific upcoming event co-led by Sandy and Joe: a Highlights Foundation Workshop slated for June 12-16, 2013.

Hi, Sandy and Joe. I have several questions regarding your workshop, which you’re calling, PLAYING TO WIN: A DRAMATIC APPROACH TO SOLVING STORY PROBLEMS.

DAVID: Sandy, let’s begin with you. What’s different about this workshop?

SANDY: Fiction writers don’t often get to play theater games because, unlike playwrights, they work alone. And yet theater games are a tried-and-true technique for delving more deeply into characters’ backgrounds and motivations, energizing scenes, adding spark to dialogue, and freeing up blocked plot lines. This is a unique opportunity to look at your writing in a totally new way that will inspire fresh ideas as well as untangle problems in works-in-progress. And once you get the knack of playing theater games in a group under the direction of a pro like Joe Lauderdale, you’ll know how to play them in your head when you go back to your solitary routine. Because, in fact, theater games are external, social examples of maneuvers experienced writers employ internally every day.

JOE: Most people assume that theater games are confined to the study and creation of theater, but in reality they are simply a catalyst for continued discovery, whether it be the spoken or written word.

DAVID: Will there be hands-on writing opportunities as well?

SANDY: Absolutely. Joe will lead the games, chosen especially to fit the kinds of writing problems the group members are facing, and I’ll add writing exercises that will help everyone explore their characters and the world of their stories even further. And there will be free time to write — outdoors or in your private cabin, or in the modern conference center itself. It’ll be June in the Poconos! A writing-workshop dream setting.

DAVID: What exactly are theater games? Can you give an example or two?

JOE: Theater games serve a multitude of learning and experimenting experiences. Typically, they are used by actors and educators for specific purposes such as warm-ups for class, rehearsal or performance, extending concentration and focus, character development, improvisation and often play development. They are also used in drama therapy to help understand feelings and actions. One of the most common concentration exercises is called “Mirror.” You are opposite a partner while one slowly creates physical movement while the other “mirrors” as exact as they can. For our workshop we are using an exercise called “Interview,” where one person asks a series of questions while the other responds as if they are a specific character. This exercise is especially helpful in fleshing out a character and understanding their actions and reactions.

DAVID: How did the two of you come together to plan this workshop?

SANDY: I’m fortunate in that I work in both worlds — fiction and drama. I’m even more fortunate to have worked with Joe, who directed the world premieres of two of my plays. Joe also attended my Highlights Founders Workshop on Writing Your First Novel a few years ago. Besides teaching creative writing at Drury University for many years and also teaching a variety of writing workshops across the country, I’ve edited five anthologies of fiction, so I have a pretty good idea of how to help other people solve the problems in their stories. And I know theater games can provide a vivid way to SEE and HEAR those problems as you work your way through to the solutions you’ve been searching for. It’s helpful to have a theater pro introduce theater games and I just happened to know one who totally fits the bill.

JOE: Sandy and I had met at an American Alliance for Theatre and Education conference a few years before we actually worked together. I was thrilled when she approached me to premiere (at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, CA) her adaptation of Avi’s “Romeo and Juliet, Together (and Alive!) at Last.” It was a mutual admiration society from then on.

SANDY: And a fan club before that. Joe ran the AATE Awards committee and emceed the ceremonies. I was in the audience year after year and so enjoyed watching him! Did I mention this workshop will be FUN?

DAVID: Don’t you have to be an actor to play theater games?

JOE: Not at all. Theater games are about enlightening and enlivening a story. This is important whether you speak or write. Yes, the exercises are usually verbal, but they are not about acting. They are about discovery. I’ve used theater games with public speakers, businesses, teachers and students who want to think creatively and communicate effectively in various mediums. I’ve actually used some of the exercises in my own writing of plays and some fiction because they can often be done alone as well as with others. I have also found that doing theater games with non-actors is so exciting because there is no thought of being believable in their dialogue. They are simply speaking words to help them open up to new ways of seeing.

DAVID: What do you hope writers will take away from this workshop?

SANDY: Several things: First, solutions to the specific writing problems they bring with them. Second, a wealth of new writing ideas generated by looking at their work in a completely different way. Third, a love of theater games. I hope they’ll go home and continue thinking in this creative and highly effective way, and also suggest to future organizers of workshops and writing conferences that a session on theater games must be included. That will require bringing in a theater expert at first, preferably an expert in theater for young audiences, the same folks our fiction is meant to reach. But there are theater experts all over this country, and they have a lot to teach us. Bring ’em on board!

JOE: It is so easy to get trapped in our beliefs and habits that we forget there are so many beautiful and thrilling paths to one purpose. And sometimes, when we completely open ourselves to new things, we find an even better purpose waiting for us.

My thanks, Sandy and Joe, for bringing us up to date on your workshop. I can see it filling early. Good luck and best wishes to you and congratulations on those who attend your workshop June 12-16. For anyone interested in learning more, here’s a handy link.

http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/workshops/play-with-your-work
David

Parroties and couplets galore

BULLETIN: Today I’m interviewed by Kathy Temean on her blog: http://kathytemean.wordpress.com . The subject is the importance of choosing themes.

BULLETIN: Since I posted the note below, other delightful parroties have come in. Check out B.J. Lee at the very bottom.

Hi everyone,

I don’t know if it’s over yet, because more poem parroties continue to be posted, but as of yesterday morning seventeen poets have contributed thirty + entertaining poems on the post dated August 24. They include Jane Yolen (4), Cory Corrado (2), Jeanne Poland (2), Renee La Tulippe (3), Julie Krantz, Robyn Hood Black (2), Steven Withrow, Vikram Madan (3), Marilyn Singer (2), Avis Harley, Buffy Silverman, Pat Lewis (3), David Harrison (2), Joyce Sidman, Douglas Florian, and Taylor McGowan. Take a few minutes to read them all from top to bottom. It’s well worth the time. My thanks again to Pat Lewis for suggesting this thoroughly enjoyable exercise.

If you would like to read a collection of great couplets, scroll down a bit further to August 21. There you’ll find fifty-one couplets contributed by twenty poets, including Joy Acey (2), Jane Yolen (11), Don Barrett (3), Cory Corrado, David Harrison (8), Renee La Tulippe (4), Charles Ghigna (6), Taylor McGowan, Ken Slesarik (2), Jane Heitman Healy (2), Buffy Silverman, Sara Holbrook, Brod Bagert, Annalisa Hall (2), Jeanne Poland, Julie Krantz, Vikram Madan, Catherine Johnson, Charles Waters, and Rachel Hendricks.

I particularly want to acknowledge two of our contributors, Taylor McGowan and Rachel Hendricks. These young women are now in middle school but they began posting their poetry on my blog when they were 4th graders. It’s such a pleasure to watch young people grow up sharing a bit of themselves with us here. Thank you, Taylor and Rachel.

My thanks to everyone for pitching in so many exceptional pieces of work. Wonderful job everyone!

David

April Halprin Wayland on Monday

Hi everyone.

Monday I’ll feature as my guest, April Halprin Wayland. I love her work and, if you haven’t already met her, you’re in for a treat. Below is her bio. And here’s a link to the trailer for her latest book. http://www.aprilwayland.com/new-yearat-the-pier/book-trailer/ . Check her out and get ready for an energizing interview with April tomorrow.

April Halprin Wayland is a farmer turned folk musician turned author.

Her work has been called “dazzling”, “honest, heartfelt, poignant”, and “utterly fresh and winning”. Her critically acclaimed novel in poems, Girl Coming in for a Landing, her picture books, and her poetry have garnered numerous awards including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Award for Children’s Poetry, the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, and MommyCare’s Book of the Year.

She’s been an instructor in UCLA Extension’s Writers Program for over a decade and teaches workshops in schools all over the world. She lives near in Manhattan Beach, California.

For photos of New Year on the Manhattan Beach pier and more information about Tashlich and related activities, visit April’s website: www.aprilwayland.com (click on New Year at the Pier).

April has teamed with five other children’s authors who also teach writing to create the blog, www.TeachingAuthors.com . Check it out for poetry, writing prompts, lesson plans, interviews and more.