Welcome to Poetry Friday, hosted right here today.
When I found out, way back, that Poetry Camp was going to be happening in Bellingham (a mere 40 miles from where I live), I knew I had to be there. Last weekend it all came to pass!
Sign boards like this one welcomed us to the beautiful Wilson Library on the grounds of Western Washington University Saturday morning.
A helpful library staff helped us find our way in this warren of a building to a grand marble staircase that took us to the fourth floor foyer. There table upon table of books were on display—all children’s poetry books!
Table upon table of children’s poetry books.
Just beyond the foyer, the vast, high-ceilinged Reading Room was our Poetry Camp mess hall, you might say, and between 8:30 and 9:30 it filled up quite healthily with poet enthusiasts, poets, teachers, librarians etc.
Inside, in addition to many strangers, were friends. It was such fun picking out the people I knew, sort of, having Poetry Friday’d with them for months but peered at their faces only as tiny thumbnails. Here are some you might recognize.
The program was well organized and flowed quite flawlessly. After a welcome from our WWU hosts Nancy Johnson and Sylvia Tag, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong presented keynotes.
The morning one introduced the Poetry Friday books, how to use them, and then had contributors read poems from the books.
Both the morning keynote (theme: Poetry is for any time) and afternoon one (theme: Poetry is for every subject) made wonderful use of the 38 visiting poet contributors. As you’ll see from the little slide show of some of the readers, it was a treat! I felt like a kid again, held spellbound by teachers who could make poetry come alive.
We also enjoyed breakout sessions.
As a fan of verse novels, it was wonderful to sit at the feet of four pros: Holly Thompson, Nikki Grimes, Stephanie Hemphill, and Jeannine Atkins.
Here are some bits from my notes:
Jeannine Atkins: She loves reading history and looking for “details that wake up the story.” She also looks for what she / we have in common with the historical characters she writes about.
Nikki Grimes: “I want to find the crack that will slip into the reader’s heart.”
Stephanie Hemphill: Her process (of research, and finding a connection with the character) is different for each book she’s written.
Holly Thompson: She uses page turns as a sort of stanza break for some of her chapter-length poems. She finds that the white space of poetry is also useful in easing tension and convincing reluctant readers to read.
My second workshop was “Writing for journals, magazines and anthologies,” ably led by Bridget Magee and Janet Wong. We were all encouraged to read (Janet: “Read 50 books a week – take your rolling luggage to the library”), write, send out our poems and reward ourselves—for rejections as well as acceptances. Janet reminded us:
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
If / when we decide to self-publish, Janet assured us we were then artisanally published by a “small press” or “consortium” (if we collaborate in the publishing process).
My afternoon breakout was “Poetry + Science.” Jeannine Atkins, Heidi Bee Roemer and Linda Dryfhout shared their rich experience of writing and teaching science using poetry. (It almost made me wish I could go back into the classroom again—almost.)
The public was also invited to the last event of the day. Jack Prelutsky (first US Children’s Poet Laureate ever) signed books, recited poems and serenaded us. Then he was honored by some delightful poetry reciters from a local elementary school and by fellow poet, Tod Marshall, Washington State’s current Poet Laureate.
Finally, there was cake. What a perfect way to end a sweet day!