Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
I am once again working with Anne Irza-Leggat, Candlewick Press to bring four interviews for Poetry Friday. Anne has graciously offered to send a book to a lucky commenter. You have all month to comment on the interviews. At the month's end I will select four names for the four books.
JRM: I really enjoyed The Dream Train. The poems were a great combination of having fun just before bed and then settling into dreamland. I didn't ask a question about the moon poems but they are among my favorites. How did you come up with the idea for The Dream Train?
ST: I’ve been writing poetry since my teens. The first times I read out writing to audiences were as a performance poet in the 1990’s. The first book I published (back in 1992) was a collection of poems for adults. The first writing I ever did for children was poetry.
And I put together a collection of my poems for children 30 years ago. It was a mish-mash of poems, with many styles and themes, entitled SNAKES AND LADDERS. That came close to being published. But an editor had a change of heart, and the book never happened.
Then I drifted away from poetry a bit. I started writing picture book stories and publishing quite a few. So stories for children became my focus for quite a few years.
But I showed my mish-mash collection of poems to an editor I was working with. She had a read and wisely said that I should try coming up with a more focussed book of poems with one specific theme.
I liked that. And, drawing off my experience of writing stories for bedtime, I decided to have a go at putting together a book of poems about night-time, sleep and dreams. The vision was a picture book of bedtime poems. And that became THE DREAM TRAIN.
JRM: I have always had wild dreams (like just this week one about being in lock down because a cougar was roaming the school yard) so I especially loved “Run Free”. Was that poem or any of the poems the result of a dream?
ST: No. None of the poems was sparked directly by a dream.
Though dreams have given me stories and poems in the past. I wrote this once. It has an adult feel, and wouldn’t have made it into THE DREAM TRAIN!
THE MAN OUTSIDE
I dreamt a man
with a hammer
He was trying
to break into the house
where I grew up.
I couldn’t see him.
He was in the
the blue-framed windows.
I was indoors.
And I was ready to
do anything to
keep him out
of my family’s home.
But I knew that
the man outside,
with the hammer,
was me as well.
And I do love to turn over pieces of writing in my head in the semi-dreaming, twilit mind-space that comes shortly before falling asleep. A lot can happen then. I’ll scribble thoughts and images in a bedside notebook, or find they comes back to me when sitting down to write in the morning.
That was part of my process as THE DREAM TRAIN evolved.
JRM: There is a lot of fun word play in this book such as “Rain, Rain, Rain” and “The World is Busy.” Do you keep an interesting words list? (I’m always writing down words).
ST: Well guessed. Yes! I do have some strange and beautiful word collections that I’ve gathered over the years. Sometimes I look/think them through, when writing.
Among these are … NAMES (handy when writing stories), GROWN-UP THINGS THAT CHILDREN LIKE SAYING, TONGUE TWISTERS, and EXPLETIVES THAT YOU CAN USE IN WRITING FOR THE YOUNG. (The latter includes Dog my cats! Geewhillikins! and Oh jiminy bliminy criminy!)
JRM: I love how the poems in this book go back and forth with playful, animals and tenderness such as “The Blanket” and “Grandpa’s Guitar” Were those experiences you had as a child?
ST: No. Neither THE BLANKET nor GRANDPA’S GUITAR is based on a personal experience I had. But I’ve known musical grandfathers. And I’ve known knitting grandmothers.
Characters and images arrive, like guests, when writing poetry. And when you feel there’s truth in them, they’re warmly welcome to stay.
JRM: What was the process in deciding the arc of the book and the sections?
ST: That was down to good editorial thinking. The book was edited at Candlewick’s UK arm - Walker Books. I’m lucky to work with Maria Tunney and Tanya Rosie there (a very smart duo of editors.)
I sent them my manuscript for THE DREAM TRAIN, with the poems ordered in no particular sequence. I’d just put them side by side in a way that I thought chimed.
But Maria and Tanya came up with the idea of splitting the book into sections – one with a theme of heading for bed, one with a theme of being in bed and going to sleep, and one with a theme of sleeping in the middle of the night.
This led to the three (equal) sections of the book: NIGHT ARRIVES, SHUT-YOUR-EYES TIME and DREAM WHEELS TURNING. And I think they work.
JRM: Were there poems that didn’t quite make the cut for the book?
ST: Yes. Five or six, perhaps. There was one about a river flowing on through the night:
Lights go out.
But all night long,
the river flows…
Something along those lines. I quite liked that one! But my editors suggested cutting it - and you give and take, when making a book.
There was another rather long poem called Its BEDTIME IN MONSTERLAND. And I suggested cutting that myself.
You write long, then distil down. And – to extend the distilling metaphor - I find that books get better the more you take out.
JRM: Would you have an early draft of a poem and then the final draft so readers can take a peek at the process?
ST: Sure. Here are the first scrawling scribbles of the poem that gave the book its title.
(See how I’m trying out a little collection of rhyming words in the lefthand margin.)
ST: Here’s how I wrote the poem DUCKS LOVE TO DREAM.
(At the bottom on the right, I’m thinking up alternative words for sleep. I suppose that’s what I do. I dream-up the possibilities. Then I settle on the ones that work best.)
ST: And this one came out just about ready, first time.
JRM: What is your next project?
ST: I’m delighted to say that THE DREAM TRAIN is the first in a trilogy of poetry books for under-8’s coming out from Walker Books in the UK (and, I hope, Candlewick Press in the US.)
YOU’RE A POET is due to be published in the spring of 2024. It’s a story-based book, for the very young, about poetry – with each story leading to a poem-writing challenge.
Then FIVE LITTLE FRIENDS will follow in 2025. That’s a book of finger rhymes that I’ve come up with. I love using finger rhymes when doing poetry performances for small children. The combination of lyrical language and expressive finger movements has a wonderful, naturally interactive effect. Young children step right into the poems both physically and imaginatively. So it’s a life-filled form to work (and play) with.
JRM: What wonderful news about The Dream Train being the first of a trilogy. Congratulations.
Coming UP: I'm hosting Poetry Friday next week. Get ready for Classic Found Poem Palooza!
On Friday, April 14. I am hosting Poetry Friday and the Classic Found Poem Palooza.
Here's the Padlet link to upload your poem. I have put a permission to upload on it as I want to protect the space.
Finally, please drop by and drop a comment on the great poetry videos produced by my TWU students. They are posted daily.
I am putting together a poetry prize for those who show love to these projects. I will draw a name at the end of the month.
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