Featuring Marjorie Maddox

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Word of the Month word for August is SPARKLE. Thank you to Robin Harrison Williams for the suggestion.

Hi everyone,

Today I have the pleasure of featuring professor of English and creative writing at Lock Haven University Marjorie Maddox and her two latest books of poems. As we all know, it’s hard enough to get one poetry book to print, much less two.

Greetings, Marjorie, and thank you for joining me on Connecting the Dots. I’ve posted your bio at the foot of today’s feature so let’s open by getting straight to the heart of the matter: you have not one but two new books out in 2020: INSIDE OUT: POEMS ON WRITING AND READING POEMS WITH INSIDER EXERCISES (Kelsay Books, March 31) and I’M FEELING BLUE, TOO! (Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, August 1).

Taking the March release first, I notice how you fill the opening pages with poems about how to see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and befriend a poem. Quite an ambitious undertaking. And once you’ve set the stage by introducing examples, tools, and terminology, you entice young poets by poetically showing how they can write poems of their own. An intriguing format. So here’s my question. What is the back story here? What journey did you take from original idea to finished book?

I love writing series of connected poems, partly because once you start, you no longer have to stare at that blank screen.  It’s also a way to delve deeply into a particular subject and learn a lot. I have a series of poems on baseball— Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems—inspired by reading definitions of baseball terminology. I’ve written a series of poems called “Body Parts,” inspired by reading cover-to-cover the both scientific and surprisingly metaphoric Grey’s Anatomy one summer after my father’s unsuccessful heart transplant. In that series, I poetically examine kidneys, spleens, hearts, lungs, toes—over 25 “body parts.” In writing these two series, I learned a lot about baseball and a lot about human anatomy. Why not, I thought, use this same fun and effective strategy to encourage young adults to step “inside the poem” and learn more about the art of writing poetry. It also has proven a great way to teach young writers, by way of modeling, such poetic terms and techniques as onomatopoeia, puns, caesura, personification, and such fixed forms as sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, triolets, and clerihews.

Here’s an example from the opening section of your book.

How to Taste a Poem

The table’s well set, but please
come as you are. No need for white gloves
or black tuxedos. Pass the appetizer plate
to your left and try a lightly fried haiku
or lemon-peppered limerick. Nibble away
as you would a jumbo shrimp stuffed with oxymorons.
For an entrée, may we suggest a well-done ode
or an Italian sonnet smothered with marinara sauce?
Now, sit back and savor the syllables
until your taste buds plump with flavor,
but leave room for dessert—
aged alliteration topped with assonance and consonance:
a sugary smorgasbord of simply scrumptious sounds.

Here’s an example of how you reach out to young poets with helpful encouragement.

Getting Ready with Iambic

Iambic likes to clack unstressed, then stressed.
He taps it like a drum when he gets dressed.
He chomps it when he eats his toast and jam,
then struts to class like he’s a marching band.
To walk with him you need to keep his beat.
Five times unstressed, then stressed equals five feet.
Get ready for a marching, metered day—
Pentameter’s his favorite game to play.

Marjorie, if you don’t mind my saying it, this sounds like you might have a little experience in this field. (Me smiling.)

INSIDE OUT: POEMS ON WRITING AND READING POEMS WITH INSIDER EXERCISES is based on my 30+ years of teaching poetry at the primary, secondary, community, and university levels, encouraging writers to step inside the poem to better experience the process of reading and writing. The book also includes nine Insider Exercises that stem from exercises I’ve used over the years with audiences of various ages.

Okay, now I want to talk about your book that’s just now being released, today in fact: I’M FEELING BLUE, TOO! I’ve never thought about writing an entire book about a single color. Here are two examples and a question. First the examples:

To help readers appreciate the poem, I’m typing it here although my blog restrictions don’t allow for anything fancier than margin flush left.

Hey, you,
got those summer-time slumps,
bad-news blues?

Time to get up
and shake up
the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s.
Time to get the “can’t-do-nothin'” out of blue.

Time to zap the sad
with some kaleidoscope clues.
Come on, whistle for Blue
and get moving!

Get ready. Get set. Guess blue!

take precision,
takes patience,
takes weighing
the wood —
and the could-be’s.

takes wondering
“How high?”
and “What color?”
and “What would be better —
this one
or the other?”

makes block
after block
of a dream
and dreams
create castles
from whatever we see

when we first
use precision
to weigh
and decide
what to make
from a block
or a stone
or a life.

And now, Marjorie, the question. Where in the world did this idea come from?

This book has a long history. Illustrator Philip Huber, with whom I collaborated for our book A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, approached me a number of years ago about his book I’m Feeling Blue, Too! He had begun the book, which focused on a young boy’s exploration of the color blue, when he was in college. He has now just retired from Lock Haven University, where I also am a professor.

Over the years, Philip revised and expanded his pictorial narrative, but he wanted help with the written story. He came to me. And so, I arrived relatively late in the creation of the book, with the illustrations already completed. However, what a delightful ekphrastic challenge. With Philip’s images as a guide, I was able to discover for myself and then put into a series of poems, a young boy’s search in the world for the color blue. It also gave me an opportunity to talk about the importance of creativity through all the arts: writing, painting, storytelling, building, etc. I find this book to be particularly appropriate in the age of COVID-19, a way to turn the “can’t do nothin’” blues into an exciting exploration of both our inside and outside worlds.

I’m looking at a picture showing samples from your collected works and I’m impressed. I know you are always thinking about and at work on your next book so I thank you for being with me today and wish you luck on whatever you have in store for us next. Thank you again, Marjorie. And now for your list of recent publications and impressive bio.

New since December!
Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (December 2019, reprint)
A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (December 2019, reprint)
Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Kelsay Books, April 2020)
I’m Feeling Blue, Too! (illustrated by Philip Huber, Wipf and Stock, 2020)
Begin with a Question (poems, Paraclete Press, 2021)
For information and reviews, please see http://www.marjoriemaddox.com

Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist); Local News from Someplace Else; Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite Press); four children’s and YA books—including Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises and A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems , I’m Feeling Blue, Too!—Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor, PSU Press); Presence (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies, including anthologies by Paul Janeczko. She is the great grandniece of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball. The chair of the jury of judges for the 2020 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Book Award, she gives readings and workshops around the country. For more information, please see http://www.marjoriemaddox.com

My Word of the Month poem as a long ballad

Hi everyone,

I hadn’t written my Word of the Month poem for July yet so I decided to try it in a long ballad form that I described two days ago. Here goes.

Coming Home

Elbows flying, eyes ahead,
Some shove forward, rude, loud.
To others forward means instead
A race to win, to wow a crowd.

Forward means to think, to be,
To trip, to stumble, lean, or view,
But darling what it means to me
Is looking forward to seeing you.

(c) 2020 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

Word of the Month for July and last broadcast of POETRY PALS

Hi everyone,

My thanks to all you poets who posted the poetic results of considering the stories tucked away in our first ever combined word(s) of the month: bust/burst. I’ve loved them all and know from your comments that you enjoyed the month too.

For July let’s go with a word suggested last month by Su Hutchens: FORWARD. I bet we get some dandies. Please remember, this blog does its best to stay out of politics and religion. It’s strictly a “can’t we all just get along” sort of spot in space where we can meet, practice our craft, and share our results to an appreciative audience, so let’s have fun and keep moving forward.

I hope you’ve been listening to the KSMU Radio broadcasts of POETRY PALS each Wednesday morning at 9:45 Central Standard Time in the United States. This morning is the final reading so don’t miss it. Here again is information about how you can listen in.

If you live in the area, here are your dial locations.
91.1 FM in Springfield
90.5 FM in Point Lookout/Branson;
90.3 FM in West Plains;
88.7 FM in Mountain Grove;
98.9 FM in Joplin;
103.7 FM in Neosho

If you live anywhere else in the United States or in another country, you can hear POETRY PALS at KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio live-streaming on its website: http://www.ksmu.org. POETRY PALS has been a collaboration of KSMU, Springfield-Greene County Library District, and me. Please consider providing support by sending your positive comments about what they are doing to News Director Jennifer Moore (jennifermoore@missouristate.edu )

My Word of the Month poem for June

Hi everyone,

Here’s my Word of the Month Poetry Challenge poem for June.

A Bust of a Burst

My tale began
with a red balloon –
to burst of course –
without remorse,
and very soon.
I had a plan.

I heated a nail,
squeezed and jerked,
jabbed with a wire,
set it on fire –
Nothing worked.
I vowed to prevail.

To my surprise
it still didn’t burst
with an ice pick poke.
Was this a joke?
I’d wanted the worst –
a popping demise!

I stomped and cussed.
My plan was cursed.
It was over and done.
The balloon won.
My dream of a burst
turned into a bust.

(c) 2020 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

The new Poetry Challenge word for June is…

Hi everyone,

Here’s the Poetry Challenge Word of the Month for June. Really it’s two words: BUST and BURST. If you use them as verbs, they have very different meanings. As nouns they are closer in meaning but each still has it’s own definition. I’ve never suggested a 2-word month but Don Barrett contributed the word BUST and, well, one word led to the other.

This should be an entertaining month. Thank you, Don. Thank you in advance, all you creative geniuses who will post your poems this month.

Since we’re in new territory here, I might as well open the invitation for individual poets to write two poems if you please.