NPM2023: "An Uncomfortable Lunch"
Today's poem is "An Uncomfortable Lunch" by Jay Brazeau.
The poem video was created by Kara S who is a chicken owner.
Thanks to Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town for hosting today, the last Friday of National Poetry Month.
Between the awesome poem videos from the students of Texas Women's University, The Classic Found Poetry Palooza, and the author interviews, it has been a fabulous month of poetry.
Today I having Sally Walker returning with her new book, Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves.
I was thrilled when Anne Irza-Leggat, Candlewick Press, presented me with the opportunity to interview Sally Walker again with her latest book.
This picture! Yes, I used it last year and it speaks volumes about Sally's love of trees.
JRM: At your website, you have a photo of you hugging a tree. And in your author’s note, you mention how you and your sister loved trees. Can you share more about that experience, your love of trees?
SW: We were fortunate to have many excellent, memorable trees in our neighborhood. My father planted a Norway maple tree on our front lawn shortly after he and my mother purchased the house I grew up in. By the time I was 10 years old, it was perfect as “home base” for many of the games we played with our friends.
The oldest tree in our city—a swamp white oak—was two houses down from my mine. There was a brass plaque set into a concrete slab beneath the tree that informed passersby of this distinction. Based on the city arborist’s calculations regarding the tree’s age, we estimated that it had started growing about the time when George Washington was a young man.
A long block away from my home, two copper beech trees towered above the very large lawn of an insurance company. Their hefty, almost two-foot diameter trunks supported numerous widespread, thick branches, some of which nearly touched the ground. Perfect climbing trees that became pirate ship riggings or Sherwood Forest hideouts, depending on what we decided that day’s adventures would be.
And today, 55 years later, in my mind I still vividly hear the whistles of the cardinals and the raucous screeches of the blue jays that raised families in the pin oak trees outside my bedroom window.
JRM: You have another tree book, Champion, The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree. What led you to write another book on trees? Did the idea percolate when researching Champion?
SW: The idea for TREES was not percolating at all when I was researching and writing CHAMPION. As a matter of fact, I had scarcely begun writing EARTH VERSE, my first haiku book, at the time. I’m not sure exactly what led me to writing TREES. In looking back over my first drafts, I see that the earliest one dates to the month when we had to have an aged silver maple in our front yard cut down. We replaced it with a lovely Autumn Blaze maple. I remembering thinking that I was going to miss the old tree and wondering what the new one would look like in the fall. From there, I suspect that the idea for TREES made its way into my thoughts.
Also, the folks I work with at Candlewick—my editor Hilary Van Dusen and copyeditor Hannah Mahoney (who is an amazing haiku poet)—put the “dream” in “dream team.” I really wanted to continue working with them. Hilary likes trees, too, so the topic seemed another good haiku fit.
JRM: What was the most “tree-mendous” discovery you had in writing this book?
SW: I love puns! Thanks for that one, Jone. The tree-mendous discovery for me definitely was learning how trees communicate with one another. I’ve always imagined that the sound of leaves shushing in the wind was the trees whispering amongst themselves. It is one of my favorite sounds. But learning that trees send air-borne scent signals to one another and also communicate nutritional-need signals via their root systems—well, that’s pretty mind-blowing stuff! Now when I walk in a forest, I am aware that a network, almost a magical one, surrounds me. And it makes me wonder how certain trees might be relating to those that surround it.
JRM: Would you share a little about what a writing day looks like to you from research to sitting and writing and in-between? Would you have an early draft of a poem and the finished poem?
SW: First off, especially when I’m writing haiku, I always, always have my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus on my desk. My parents gave the book to my husband as a gift when he graduated from college. Although it was originally his, during the 49 years we’ve been married, it’s slowly become mine. Its red, cloth cover is heavily worn on the edges and there are a few tears as well. But I would NEVER replace it with a shiny, new “model.”
A lot of my haiku are written while I am walking outside. After all, immersing oneself in nature is kind of what haiku’s all about. It’s often where the germ of a haiku begins. I mostly write using a computer because typing is easier on my fingers than writing with a pen. But I have my desk positioned such that I have a window on each side of the desktop. When I pause to think while I am writing, I can see our Autumn Blaze Maple if I look to my left. (And it is a gorgeous, flaming red in the fall.) If I look out the other window, to my right, I can see the thin stems of one of our four serviceberry trees. In April they get silvery blossoms that give rise to purple berries in late June. They taste similar to small, sweet blueberries and make yummy pies.
Oops. I am supposed to be writing about my writing day, not trees. Sigh.
JRM: That’s quite alright, I would do the same.
SW: I write best in the morning. If the writing and idea flow is going well, I can spend hours at the computer without taking a long break. Time flies then. However, sometimes I hit a technical (usually scientific) stumbling block and need a research break to resolve it. Then I’ll head out to either the public library or the university library in town to seek the answer. Libraries are among my favorite places.
Traditionally, haiku are three-line poems with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure. Today, many haiku writers choose not to follow that pattern and instead use a differing number of syllables to convey the sense and imagery of their poem. I love playing with words, so I enjoy the challenge of finding just the right word and just the right phrasing while sticking to the traditional structure. It’s a game, a puzzle, and for me that’s fun.
Sometimes when I’m writing I take short breaks to play with my cats, who can be very persistent when they want to play. Sometimes I work in the garden. As evening approaches, I cook dinner. But even when I’m away from my desk, haiku thoughts and words simmer in the back of my mind.
Every haiku has more than one draft. There’s the “get something down on paper” draft. Followed by the “there are too many syllables in these lines and the words are not precisely what I want” drafts. (There are at least several of these drafts.) And then, often days later, the “Eureka! How could I NOT have thought of this word or phrase before?” draft pops into my mind—often while I’m out walking! There are usually two “eureka” drafts. The first draft is almost, but not quite, there; the second nails it.
JRM: Were there poems that didn’t make the cut for this book?
SW: Yep. Several. One of them we cut was one of my favorites:
the spring peepers’ sweet chorus
wakens the forest
Spring peepers are another of my favorite sounds. I think due to space/pagination considerations we had to drop a few haiku. I really hated having to eliminate this one. But we had another springtime haiku:
covered with gray fur
pussywillow catkins cling:
kittens on slim twigs
that I love equally and thought children would too. Who doesn’t like holding a pussywillow? I chose to keep this one because I thought my cats would get angry at me if I cut it out.
JRM: What is next for you? Projects? Adventures?
SW: I am very excited about—and had LOTS of fun writing—two board books that will be published by MIT Kids Press in the fall of 2024. The rhyming text invites kids to “chime in” on repetitive refrains. And the dynamic illustrations will provide plenty of discussion opportunities between parents and young listeners/readers.
As to adventures…who knows? I’m always open and on the lookout for a new adventure!
JRM: Here's to new adventures, more trees, and being outside. Thank you, Sally.
Remember, I will be announcing four winners to receive a copy of one of the four books. And watch on Saturday for the final poem video by my TWU students. It will make you smile, especially if you have chickens.
NPM2023: "/kon-sept/ a definito"
NPM2023: "First Day at the Beach"
NPM2023: "At the Market"
Today's poem is "How to Say Good-bye to Your Cat" by Jone Rush MacCulloch
This poem video was created by Valerie R.
NPM2023: "A Small Patch"
Karen at Karen Edmisten* has hosting duties today. She's featuring a fabulous poem by Ted Kooser. Today I am interviewing Charles R. Smith, author of Soccer Queens which is a terrific book like his previous Hoop Kings and Hoop Queens series.
Thanks to Anne Irza-Leggat, Candlewick Press, you have an opportunity to win one of the four books by the four authors I have interviewed this month. You have all month to comment on the interviews. At the month's end I will select four names for the four books.
JRM: Did you have an idea for this book or did it evolve as you watched all the hours of soccer play, learned the positions, and the rules?
CRS: The idea for Soccer Queens actually came from my editor since she's a big soccer fan. I had previously done Hoop Kings 1 and 2 and Hoop Queens 1 and 2 so I thought it would be a great addition to what is now a series.
JRM: In the Poem Notes, you mention being drawn to the Women’s Soccer team in 2019 as they defended their World Cup crown. What was the process you used to figure out which women to include in this book as well as the arc of the book?
CRS: In watching the 2019 World Cup I got to see the sport played at it's highest level and the atmosphere that created. Certain players stood out because of their position so they were easy to include, like Alex Morgan. But for the book, I had to make sure I had every position represented so as I looked for the top players at each position, I got to learn more about the game, which helped me to write about it. As for the arc, my editor wanted to include the '99ers since they inspired many of today's best so I wanted to give them a fitting tribute to show how they planted the seed for what the sport is today.
JRM: Were there players you researched and wrote about that didn’t make the book? CRS:At the beginning of any of these Sports Royalty projects I first focus on who will be on the "roster". Because if they make the roster, they make the book.
JRM: Would you consider another book for them?
CRS: Most certainly! Not only because the others now have a volume 2, but because by the time the book comes out, there are already new players making a name for themselves.
JRM: Would you have an early draft of a poem and then the final draft so readers can take a peek at the process?
CRS: I thought I had SOMETHING around but sadly I do not since most of it was written on paper that likely got tossed after being transferred to the computer.
JRM: I noticed you started in photography transitioning into writing. Can you share about that process, were you always a writer? As a photography hobbyist, I’m curious about how you got started in photography.
CRS: I was a writer long before I was a photographer. I got introduced to photography when I joined my high school yearbook staff in 11th grade. I signed up to be a copywriter, but since our staff was small, everyone did everything. The photographer who did our school portraits gave us a photo bootcamp and I was actually the worst one when our pictures came out! But I was also the only one who was really looking through the viewfinder. I got up in a tree and shot down. I laid on my belly and shot up. I was the only one doing that because I really enjoyed pointing a frame around how I saw the world. The fact that my photos weren't exposed properly only added to my excitement to learn and get better at. As I improved I then determined that I would move, go to photography school at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California after I graduated high school and then move to NY to eventually work as a pro. And two days after I graduated, that's what I did. I got back into writing when I was photographing the burgeoning spoken word poetry scene in NYC. I connected with the poets as their performances inspired me to start writing again. With their encouragement, I got better and continued writing. I was able to merge the two when a series of basketball photographs would become my first book, Rimshots, which I also wrote.
JRM: This term I have been working with future school and public librarians about bringing poetry into the library. We have been discussing the power of performing poetry. You perform many of your poems. How and why did you decide to create videos?
CRS: The type of poetry and writing I enjoy, begs to be heard out loud. Having photographed some of the best spoken word poets let me see how poetry can be brought to life. The fact is, many people don't enjoy poetry because they treat poems as museum art. They know it's something special but they don't get it or understand it. They make it bigger than it needs to be. There are poems out there for everybody so if someone doesn't "get it" or like it, they don't have to feel obligated to understand it, they can just look for something else. Many of the poems that do catch our ear, take on a life of their own when read out loud or performed and can add a whole different level of enjoyment. As for the videos, my goal is to show the power of performing poetry, and to provide some assistance on the instruction and appreciation of poetry.
JRM: What additional suggestions about performing poetry?
CRS: I always recommend to anyone reading poetry, to read it out loud. Since wordplay is a tool of the poet it can get lost when words aren't actually spoken, but just read. I also tell budding poets to read what you wrote out loud to yourself. This helps define your line breaks and helps you find a natural rhyme pattern and rhythm.
JRM: What is your next project?
CRS: My next big project I'm working on is top secret lol but I have plenty more books coming out over the next few years starting with a biography in verse on the Black bicycle racer, Major Taylor. I will also have Hoop Queens 2, Black Diamond Kings (for Negro League baseball), and World Soccer Kings all coming out over the next few years to add to the Sports Royalty series. I also have a picture book on Mae Jemison that focuses on how she fell in love with space. And somewhere in the midst of all that will be the top secret project...so I better run to get working on that.
JRM: Thank you so much for this interview, especially answering questions about performance poetry.
Listen to Charles R. Smith, Jr. read his work.
Soccer Queens Alex Morgan: "Automatic:
Soccer Queens Megan Rapinoe: "Rocket"
Shout out to the Texas Women's University students who have been gracing my blog all month. I hope you have had a chance to watch some.
NPM2023: "The Wonder of Light"
All photos and poems in these blog posts are copyrighted to Jone Rush MacCulloch 2006- Present. Please do not copy, reprint or reproduce without written permission from me.
2023 Progressive Poem
April 1 Mary Lee Hahn, Another Year of Reading
April 2 Heidi Mordhorst, My Juicy Little Universe
April 3 Tabatha, The Opposite of Indifference
April 4 Buffy Silverman
April 5 Rose Cappelli, Imagine the Possibilities
April 6 Donna Smith, Mainely Write
April 7 Margaret Simon, Reflections on the Teche
April 8 Leigh Anne, A Day in the Life
April 9 Linda Mitchell, A Word Edgewise
April 10 Denise Krebs, Dare to Care
April 11 Emma Roller, Penguins and Poems
April 12 Dave Roller, Leap Of Dave
April 13 Irene Latham Live You Poem
April 14 Janice Scully, Salt City Verse
April 15 Jone Rush MacCulloch
April 16 Linda Baie, TeacherDance
April 17 Carol Varsalona, Beyond Literacy Link
April 18 Marcie Atkins
April 19 Carol Labuzzetta at The Apples in My Orchard
April 20 Cathy Hutter, Poeturescapes
April 21 Sarah Grace Tuttle, Sarah Grace Tuttle’s Blog,
April 22 Marilyn Garcia
April 23 Catherine, Reading to the Core
April 24 Janet Fagal, hosted by Tabatha, The Opposite of Indifference
April 25 Ruth, There is no Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town
April 26 Patricia J. Franz, Reverie
April 27 Theresa Gaughan, Theresa’s Teaching Tidbits
April 28 Karin Fisher-Golton, Still in Awe Blog
April 29 Karen Eastlund, Karen’s Got a Blog
April 30 Michelle Kogan Illustration, Painting, and Writing