Poem In Your Pocket 2012 Wrap-Up

This morning I opened my email to find this lovely note:

Thank  you very much for your good spirit and good work in the name of poetry this past week.  I missed the poem-in-your-pocket festivities on Thursday, but went to hear Wes McNair last night and enjoyed his readings and observations immensely.

What a joy to feel appreciated but a bigger joy still to have worked with co-organizers, Evie Katz, and Kathy Koerber, to bring something positive, and constructive to my community.

Throughout the week we brought poetry into the hearts and minds of over 100 neighbors.

Our events provided a stage and microphone for over 25 poets young and old, from those newly embracing the poetic form to professionals and professors.

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Events in the schools and libraries served students in grades K-8 and the high school librarians created a beautiful bulletin board for Poem in Your Pocket Day. All these numbers resulted in countless smiles and new friends.

If you are interested in volunteering to help with next year’s festivities, please contact me. annajboll at gmail dot com

Poetry Friday: Wesley McNair in Brunswick, Maine tonight!

Tonight, Friday, April 27th, Wesley McNair, Maine’s Poet Laureate will read at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine.

Recently, Wes sent me an email with the following vision of the event:

 I plan to tell the story of my life as a poet, using poems from my recent book, Lovers of the Lost, which is new & selected and so offers me this opportunity.

Wes has been a champion of poetry during his tenure as Poet Laureate. He edits a wonderful new weekly feature in the Portland Press Herald entitled Take Heart: A conversation in poetryHe appears around the state doing workshops and poetry readings, and has helped prepare high school students for the Poetry Out Loud competition. We are fortunate to have him.

I’m looking forward to meeting the kind man with whom I’ve been communicating, and the poet that I admire. I hope you’ll join me tonight at one of the final events of National Poetry Month.

Poem in Your Pocket Day!!!

If you didn’t already know, it’s Poem in Your Pocket Day. Since September, I’ve been working with two other community organizers, planning events, applying for grants, finding sponsors, designing posters and social networking around this fabulous, stupendous day!

Today I walked Maine Street in Brunswick with a bag of poem and stickers and handed them out to anyone who would take them. I visited the Little Dog Café, The Bohemian Coffee House, Frosty’s and Wild Oats. Some folks said they had heard about Poem in Your Pocket Day on the radio. Maybe this story. The smiles that I got in exchange for the poems made my day. My favorite interactions occurred when a few people told me they didn’t need one of my poems because they already had poems of their own! Listening to them read was lightness, and sunshine, and warm smiles.

One little girl with her Grandmother took my poem and sticker but the little girl was extremely shy. I left, walked the entire town then came back to my car. “Wait,” I heard. It was the Grandmother. “My granddaughter and I have been looking all over Brunswick for you. She wanted to give you this.” She handed me a poem that they had written out after I’d left. I think they made it up together. It made my day. Here it is:

Tulip in the ground unplanted
We circle ’round and ’round
We wonder where it came from
Growing dizzy, falling down

TONIGHT, April 26th: Open Mic Night, 6:30-8:30, Curtis Memorial Library. Come read one poem. Yours or someone else’s. Must be family friendly. Sign-up when you arrive.

TOMORROW, April 27th: Reading by Wesley McNair, Maine’s Poet Laureate, 6:30-8:30, Curtis Memorial Library. Wes will have some books available for sale.

Poem in your pocket day will soon be gone. Quick, stuff your pocket with poems and share, share, share!

Member Monday: Post Conference Reminders and WHAT?! an event for illustrators!

It was an amazing weekend at the New England SCBWI Annual Conference jam packed with workshops, academies, portfolios, posters, speeches, networking, and fun! If you were there, and you blogged about the event, post a link in the comments below! Two big reminders for conference attendees:

1) Fill out your evaluation. The organizers and regional advisors look at all the data and really use it to make next year’s event even better. You can find the online eval here.

2) If you •attended the conference AND •live in Maine, NH, or VT you can write to me at NorthernNERA at nescbwi dog org to receive Submission Guidelines for the editors and agents who were there too. Please note: I do check your name against the conference roster as this is a conference benefit. I am a writer first and need to protect my work time, therefore I will respond to about 20 a day until I’m done so be patient. (If you live outside of Northern NE, write to your RA. If you are outside the region, write to Marilyn Salerno. Contact info here.)

TODAY, I’ve invited Renee Kurilla (@reneekurilla) to Creative Chaos to discuss an exciting event for NESCBWI illustrators at FableVision Studios in Boston, MA:

“Creative Juices Freshly Squeezed: A Visionary Art Show”
Friday, June 1st, 6-10 pm
308 Congress Street, Boston, MA

Casey Girard, our NESCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, and Renee worked together to create this meet up and they’d love you all to show up. Put the date on your calendar now. I’ll wait. No really, I know illustrators. If you’re an illustrator near Boston put it on your calendar now and add a couple of ringy-dingy vibrating reminders too.

Welcome, Renee! Tell us about FableVision and your position there.

FableVision was founded in 1996 with a mission of taking on projects that are not only meaningful and fun…but educational. My role at the company is Lead Artist, which means that I create characters, storyboard animations, design websites, books, etc. I often develop the “look and feel” for a project and work with a team to make sure my initial vision is carried through the project end. It’s fun…and challenging.

How are the Reynolds family involved in Fable Vision and how do they set the tone for the company?

Twin brothers, Peter H. Reynolds and Paul Reynolds are the pulse of the company. They make sure the work we do continues to be meaningful and full of impact. They maintain the morale of the studio, always adding life to any room they walk into. Personally, whenever I have hit a creative wall or need a critical eye, I can go to either of them for help and walk away feeling inspired.

We often create animated films from Peter’s books. Last year, our team animated The North Star and this year we will be working on a new film for his upcoming book, Sky Color. You can watch some of our films and game demos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/fablevision/featured

Little known fact: Paul Reynolds is our CEO and a very smart businessman, but he is also a very talented artist. That artistic ability and creative thinking runs in the Reynolds family through and through. 🙂

What is Creative Juices. A gallery? A blog? Both? How does it help employees and staff of the company? Tell us more.

Creative Juices started as a blog that was a place for anyone on our staff to contribute what they found inspirational. For a long time we shared articles about animations or new technology and wrote short essays about things that interested us.

Then, the art team decided a great way to keep our creative juices flowing was to initiate a drawing/creation challenge. Every two weeks, we would pick a new word and “illustrate” that word however we interpreted it. We called it “What the Doodle!?” (WTD for short)

You’ll see if you scroll through previous posts that not all of the entries were illustrations. Everyone at FableVision (Artists, Developers, Producers, and Writers) contributed something, and that is why we had a vision of a gallery show.

In 2010, we had our first Creative Juices Art Show and it was a huge success. In 2011, we also had a successful event! What makes it different from a regular gallery show is that we transform our working studio into a gallery space. We clean the walls, rearrange everything, hang track lighting and showcase the art that our staff makes in their free time. You won’t see any project work hanging, but we’d be happy to show you what we’re working on if you ask!

The current show is called “Freshly Squeezed” to pay homage to our very first blog post, by our Director of Art and Animation, Bob Flynn.

One year, our Technical Director, Brian Grossman created the most amazing software for making waffle art. I highly recommend checking out his blog post about it here: http://funfoodfight.blogspot.com/2010/04/art-of-waffle.html

We just recently brought back our “What the Doodle!?” Challenge after a brief hiatus and opened it up to the public. Check out our studio twitter for frequent updates: @FVStudioBoston The next due date is Friday April 27th and the chosen word is: OBSTRUCT (Just tweet at us to participate!)

We very much look forward to seeing what you all come up with!

What is the purpose of the NESCBWI partnership with FableVision?

It seems a very likely partnership to me! The idea for an event came from the NE Illustrator coordinator and good friend of mine, Casey Girard. Genius! We’re all storytellers and worlds are merging a little bit more than they used to – we definitely embrace that at FableVision. I think illustrators and writers should be more aware of the vast realm of possibilities in the industry. And even if you already are aware, it’s a great excuse to open our doors and let lots of talented people mingle! Sometimes all it takes is a conversation to inspire your next big project!

We also have three members of SCBWI in our midsts, myself, Peter H. Reynolds, and John Lechner. The three of us definitely know how amazingly awesome it is to be a part of the undying support system that is SCBWI.

How is FableVision on the cusp of publishing?

We have a very talented team with big ideas. We pay close attention to what’s current and also pay homage to what makes us nostalgic. Every single person on our staff is passionate about something whether it’s games, stories, children’s books, animation, or comics and we are always thinking of new ways to deliver a really fun experience. We also love projects that help us learn, whether it’s about american history or how to code an interactive app – with magic, of course!

Disclaimer: We don’t really use magic 🙂

What kinds of opportunities are available for NESCBWI illustrators with FableVision?

Most of our art team is made up of illustrators! You too could be an artist at FableVision!

How will the event for illustrators in Boston be structured?

We haven’t yet finalized all the details of the evening, but the primary goal is to create an informal space where members of SCBWI can mingle with FableVision staff. We’ll probably do a quick introduction of ourselves, but then mostly just have snacks, drinks, and conversations. It should be a really, really fun time.

What haven’t I asked you that you’d love to tell our members about?

Please check out our studio website, facebook page, blogs, and twitter page for updates on the event!
Here’s a list of all the places we’ll be posting:


Thanks so much for reading and to Anna for asking! We hope to see you on June 1st!

On the road to the NESCBWI conference: Part 3: Friendships

If you’ve been following my April break journey here, and here you’ll know that I was in New Jersey yesterday. I had a lovely time visiting Meg Wiviott, talking writing with my VCFA friends, and lunching with a friend from my DC days.

The drive to Springfield from NJ was bearable because he gave me CD’s from hilarious comedians. I listened for as long as they lasted– sadly not the entire three hour drive but they got me through a traffic jam when everyone was rubber necking at a non-accident.

The rest of the way, I was able to contemplate friendship and aging and other existential concepts. My friends are far flung. I’ve met them in summer camp and college, through volunteering and in Vermont. Some I’ve kept from the old DC neighborhood. My book club and writing friends have been in my life the longest.

Social networking sites have certainly helped me reconnect with many and  stay in touch with most but I often close out a session on Facebook feeling more lonely then I when I started checking everyone’s status. In my current situation, with hubby deployed, it is difficult to make the time to see people in person. This week I took the time to refuel with friends face to face. I laughed and hugged, and sipped tea with people who stimulate my mind, reflect my emotions, and give me the kick in the butt I need to keep going.

Today, I’ll be swamped with hugs and handshakes. There will be over 500 attendees at the Annual Spring NESCBWI Conference. To each, I extend the following challenge– meet five new people each day. You never know, that person sitting next to you at the keynote speech, may just be a new friend.

Hello, Springfield, Mass. We’ll be here all weekend!

The road to the NESCBWI Conference: Part 2: Moving on

If you are a parent, you may remember the exhaustion that accompanied those first months with a new born. However, as with the pain of childbirth, dirty diapers, and ear infections, you may have forcibly siphoned those excess memories (ala Harry Potter and the Pensieve) to make room for other more important thoughts. I had. Or thought I had.

For the last two days I watched my sister-in-law exist in the zombie state that is the milk machine, sleep deprived way of a woman with a child under two and a new born. She is my hero. Despite her situation, she was grace and kindness and patience in a way that I don’t remember ever exhibiting.

She is willing to embrace toddler time in a way I never could. You remember toddler time right? We will eventually get to that-there playground 20 yards away but only after we pick each dandelion along the way. No, I  hoisted the kiddo and off we went. This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate toddler time, the magic of discovery, or the pleasure of the teachable moment– I’m just not practiced in its workings at present. That is, in some ways, what this vacation is about. Trying to slow down long enough to pick the dandelions along the way.

Nevertheless, it was time to move on and leave the Cutie Cutes and their wonderful mother and father behind. Time to get behind the wheel and drive to the next stop.

Meg Wiviott is the author of Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (SLJ best picture books 2010, Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Gold Medal for Multicultural Books, CCBC 2011 Best Choice List , and the Gelette Burgess Children’s Book Award for Multicultural Picture Book) AND lucky for me she is a dear friend. Today and tomorrow we get to catch up a bit in her home state of New Jersey. We will talk about books and writing and friends. I will nap. I will read. I may even go for a run. All in my own good time.

On the road to the NESCBWI Conference: Part 1: Toddler’s Eye View

Yesterday, I put my children on an airplane to visit my in-laws in Florida. I hugged them, kissed them and bid them farewell. Then I watched the plane leave and cried. I’m not a good flyer myself so transferring my phobias to this situation was par for the course. Also, (with my husband deployed) the three of us have gotten to be quite the team. The separation was a little like ripping a couple of bananas from the bunch. Nevertheless, I wiped my tears and got on with the business of being on my own and enjoying a week’s vacation. First stop without children? My sister-in-law’s home where she just had a new baby. She also has a cutie, cute toddler. I know– crazy.

But in a way it isn’t crazy at all. As soon as I walked in their house, I was transported back to a time of sitting on the floor, and bubbles, stones, squirrels, and sidewalk chalk, and putting things in, and taking things out, and bath time, and “what does the cow say?” It was a toddler’s point of view and it reminded me of why I got into the business of writing and illustrating in the first place.

Inspiration! It’s grand.

(PS: It also means short blog posts because someone always needs something– NOW!)

Member Monday: 15 Minutes to a Great Critique

Usually blog posts take a while for me to construct but at the suggestion of Julie Kingsley today’s post is going to be done in 15 minutes or less– perfect for our subject the conference critique. Just like at the conference, I’ve set a 15 minute timer (I actually have eggs boiling at the same time) and at the end of the 15 minutes, a bell will ring. At the conference, the timer is a wonderful volunteer who has nothing to do with finding the crit faculty or matching you up so if you are not pleased, they are not the person to whom you should bring grievances. You’ll start the crit by signing in with the timer 5 minutes earlier than your scheduled time, but your crit actually should start way before that.

In a quiet moment before the conference begins, perhaps when you are in your hotel room, pull up the 10 pages that you sent in to be critiqued. Hopefully you haven’t seen these ten pages in a while. Pull out a notebook, Pretend that you are the editor or agent, or put on the hat you’d wear if a close writing friend gave you their work and said, “Really. I want you to be honest. I want to be a better writer.” Read through the ten pages and jot down the challenges in voice, character development, pacing, and setting. Is the beginning engaging? Is the problem clear? Is the main character’s desire clear? Has the conflict been introduced? Even it it is a picture book, you can still ask these questions. Now consider the strengths in the same areas. Also look at the rhythm of your word choice and  language. On the page in your notebook, write Dear Author: and jot down your thoughts in the notebook.

Turn the page. Be the author again. What questions do you have for your critiquer. These could be industry questions but really these 15 minutes are all about you and your manuscript. Questions that will help you solve the problems you noticed in your own writing sample such as: Did you find my main character likeable and realistic? Should I introduce the conflict sooner? Does my antagonist seem cliché? Any issues that have been niggling at you that you’d really like answered by an editor or agent. If it is an agent you may think about asking some of these questions.

You are reacquainted with your manuscript, you have questions to ask, you are ready for the crit. Sign in with the timer and when she says it is time, go straight to the table where you’ll be critiqued. Make eye contact, smile, shake hands (firm). Now… OPEN YOUR MIND! LISTEN!

The critiquer should pull out your writing sample and a letter she’s written that is probably pretty similar to the one you wrote to yourself. Have your notebook ready and a clean page to take notes. Chances are, your heart is beating and you won’t remember a lot of this. Write down good things with a + next to it and challenges she noticed with a -. This should all be in the letter too but it is nice to have a record of the discussion.

If there is still time, she’ll ask you for your questions. Choose the most pressing ones and ask those first. Take notes on the answers. Just as the bell dings, say, “I’m excited to work on this with the revisions you’ve suggested. Would you like to see this again?”

If they say yes, HOORAY! This is a big deal. Ask about timing– is 6 months okay? a year? Shake hands and go away. Write a thank you card immediately and send it to them at their office.

Notice that there is not one moment– NOT ONE– where you should defend the choices you made in your writing. You should not stand up for your characters. You should not tell the industry professional that someone else told you it was fine or liked it. You take their opinion (you paid for it), you keep an open mind, and later you look at your notes and decide if you- as the author- will choose to make those changes.

Most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for putting your work out there, for coming to the conference, and for moving forward on you journey as a writer.

BTW- this took me longer than 15 minutes to write- AGAIN!

Poetry Friday: Sonnets and Structured Poetry

On Wednesday I posted a review (really more of a booktalk) of A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL. In it, I mentioned the unique structure of the poems in the book called a heroic sonnet. I thought that I’d talk a little bit more about sonnets specifically, and structure in poetry generally, and how that works for me.

First sonnets. I do not claim to be an expert poet, instead I am a student of poetry which is a good place to be. A student always recognizes that they have more to learn and that promise of new knowledge can be very motivational. One place that I love to go for poetry information is  Lewis Turco’s, THE NEW BOOK OF FORMS: A HANDBOOK OF POETICS.

The book is a dictionary style reference of hundreds of forms from acrostics to tumbling verse but it begins with sections on the typographical, sonic, sensory and “ideational” levels of the poem. Maybe I’ll go into those levels more in another post, but now, on to sonnets.

Science Walk Sonnet
By Anna J. Boll

Each morning when we start our day
We put our backpacks straight away.
Then line up for our morning walk
Before it’s even nine o’clock.

We watch the backyard birds that sing
They gather leaves and bits of string.
We fill their water, then their feed
With suet, corn and sunflower seed.

Waxwings at the windowsill
Bluejays squawk and finches trill.
Squirrells flip, and dive and climb
gathering seeds for dinner time.

Then quietly we go to class
Still watching songbirds through the glass.

Sonnets are 14 line poems in iambic pentameter that have one of a few rhyme schemes. Many people get interested in sonnets because of Shakespeare. (follow the link for examples) The English sonnet generally comes in three groups of four lines (quatrains) that rhyme abab cdcd efef gg (a heroic couplet). Usually there is some sort of turning point or dramatic climax before the couplet.

The Italian Sonnet is divided into an octave and a sestet or 8 + 6 = 14. The rhyme scheme for the octave is abbaabba. Turco says that the sestet’s rhyme can vary but is usually cdecde or cdcdcd.  The turning point here is between the octave and the sestet. These are the two basic types but there are a bunch that I don’t know about.

The form of  poems in EMMETT TILL are defined by the author Marilyn Nelson as a heroic crown of sonnets. In her book each last line becomes the first line of the next sonnet. The final poem is a collection of all of those first lines.

Turco labels this chained structure as sonnet redoubled. He defines a crown of sonnets as a sequence of seven Italian sonnets where the last line of each of the first six sonnets becomes the first line in each of the ensuing sonnets; the last line of the seventh is the first line of the first. So the poems go around and around like a crown.

So here’s the thing… who cares? Who cares if the iambs are right, or if you repeat a rhyming word, or if the rhyme scheme is abab or dfxy. Well, I’m here to argue that you should. Just as writers need to understand and have a full command of grammar before they choose to write a sentence fragment and mean it, so too should poets study poetic structure before they declare that they just prefer free verse. (Now might be a good time to mention that I don’t use 5 iambs- soft-hard- but 4 in each line above but that was a thoughtful choice). This especially goes for writers who choose to write novels in verse (which I’ll talk about next Wednesday when I review Nikki Grime’s new book PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL).

When a poet practices highly structured poetry it forces her to: 1) study other poets (read, read, read) 2) solve problems with words (Julie Larios is amazing in this way)  and 3) – well first a quick story.

This past Wednesday, I met with a wonderful group of junior high students to study and write poetry. We started with a wall of cool words they brainstormed and then used each other’s words. They each chose a free verse style and the poems were so angst ridden that it was difficult to glean meaning. Too, Marilyn Nelson says that focussing on the structure of her book allowed her to detach a bit from the subject matter- the lynching of a boy- so she could complete the project. Therefore, structure forces the poet to 3) push aside the emotion for a moment to study word choice and meaning. 

Whether it be a sonnet, limerick, rondeau, or haiku, try some structure in your poetry today.

Book Review Wednesday: A Wreath for Emmett Till

Recently,  the name Emmett Till has surfaced quite a bit in relation to the  Trayvon Martin case in Florida. Houghton Mifflin’s teacher guide to A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL gives the following short explanation of Emmet Till’s death.

Emmett Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at or speaking to a white woman. Though two men were tried for the crime, they were acquitted; no one has been convicted for Emmett’s murder. In 2004 the U.S. Justice Department reopened the case based on new evidence brought to light by two documentary films.

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Marilyn Nelson’s  A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL is a heroic crown of sonnets– a sequence of fifteen interlinked sonnets, in which the last one is made up of the first lines of the preceding fourteen. The final poem is also an acrostic that reads RIP Emmett L Till.

The book was published in 2005 and won the 2005 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award, a 2006 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a 2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and a 2006 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book. Nelson is not a stranger to awards and prizes and holds three Coretta Scott King honors for her books EMMETT TILL, FORTUNE’S BONES, and CARVER and the Newbery Honor for CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS.

With all of these awards, my opinion is unnecessary. Instead, this posting is a way to alert those of you interested in poetry and social justice about this sophisticated, complicated, and emotional book of poems.

I mentioned in a comment last Wednesday that we learn and retain new information when we have a scaffolding of previous learning upon which to hang the new knowledge. To this end, EMMETT TILL came across my desk at just the right time. I happen to be completing my first reading of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The classic courtroom and coming of age novel transported me to the deep south in 1935. While writing this post I also found out about “Strange Fruit” the 1936 poem about lynching referenced in EMMETT TILL. That poem was published by Abel Merrapol and made popular by Billie Holliday.

It is the season of Easter and martyrs, death and rebirth. Further, it is the season of Passover. I spent this afternoon teaching children about the importance of remembering  history so we will not be doomed to repeat our mistakes. Each year, Jews try to put themselves ourselves in that place of slavery, and deliverance so that they we will not allow slavery and injustice to happen again. But injustice is all around– in far away lands and close to home.

The poems of Marilyn Nelson remind us of this. Below is the fifth stanza, and I’m taken with how it captures my feelings for Trayvon Martin’s parents.

Your only child, a body thrown to bloat,
mother of sorrows, of justice denied.
Surely you must have thought of suicide,
seeing his gray flesh, chains around his throat.
Surely you didn’t know you would devote
the rest of your changed life to dignified
public remembrance of how Emmett died,
innocence slaughtered by the hands of hate.
If sudden loving light proclaimed you blest
would you bow your head in humility,
your healed heart overflow with gratitude?
Would you say yes, like the mother of Christ?
Or would you say no to your destiny,
mother of a boy martyr, if you could?

This book crossed my path at the exact right time.

While researching this post, I found a video of an hour long speech/reading that Ms. Nelson presented at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC. The section of the video on this book starts around 15:00-34:00 and she discusses the heroic crown of sonnets structure and the final acrostic poem. She also reads the entire book in the most melliflulous voice.

If you are interested in more information about Ms. Nelson, please follow the links to some of these other online resources.

There is an NPR interview with Nelson who was the Connecticut Poet Laureate at the time.

More about Marilyn Nelson at the Poetry Foundation here.

And a ton of links at Teaching Books including slide shows, videos, and other websites.