Tag Archives: poetry

Friend debuts first collection

Some years ago, I met Theresa Milstein at the annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She fascinated me. She was teaching grade school, working towards an additional master’s degree, taking care of two children—and writing. I was in awe of her dedication and energy. A couple of years later I convinced her to join my critique group and we began to read each other’s work. Theresa was sharing fantasy for young adult and middle grade readers with us, but privately she was indulging her passion for poetry. Her first collection, Time & Circumstance, a mixture of poetry and prose, will be published by Vine Leaves Press on March 21.

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I asked Theresa how she got started writing her small pieces. She explained, “Ever since I began writing seriously, I’ve been signing up for workshops, conferences, and retreats to improve my craft. At some point, a poetry workshop was offered at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I thought learning how to write more sparely and lyrically would improve my longer pieces. I signed up. Nothing I wrote during that workshop was salvageable, but I learned a lot. In between novel-length manuscripts, I kept writing poetry. Here and there, I started submitting to literary journals.”

The prose pieces in her collection are quite short. Theresa calls them “vignettes.” I asked what sparked her interest in that particular literary form. She said, “Vine Leaves Literary Journal began as a platform for vignettes. Unlike a story, which has a beginning, middle, and end, a vignette is a moment captured, something that could fit on a vine leaf. The journal thought both prose and poetry could be vignettes, so I began submitting both. Vine Leaves accepted one of each in 2012.”

And her book, Time & Circumstance, how did that come to be?

“At some point, I sent the editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Jessica Bell, a few poems for a project she was considering. That project fell through but she asked if I had enough pieces to make a collection for Vine Leaves Press. I knew I didn’t have enough poems, so I asked if I could include prose too. She agreed. Terrified, I sat on the idea for months. One day, I pulled all my vignettes into a single document. If I could find cohesion—and muster enough bravery—I would send the manuscript. It took a long time, but I finally hit the “send” button. It was accepted and now an actual book is coming out next week.”

Time & Circumstance is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and electronically for both the Kindle and Nook.

 

Curing metrophobia

When we visited the middle school the spring before my daughter was to begin, the head of the math department asked, “Who here is afraid of math?” Naturally I raised my hand.

“That’s the last time I want you to admit that out loud,” he said, embarrassing those of us who had raised them into dropping our hands. I understand why he did that, but in hindsight I’m wondering why the same wasn’t done for poetry, because let’s face it, there are a lot of people who are afraid of poetry, too. There’s even a word for it, according to this recent post by Kim Rosen, metrophobia.

I was aware, growing up, that poetry had its place. I knew that my father had wooed my mother with A. A. Milne poems and clearly she thought that was winsome because she married him. She, however, was a fan of more traditional poets, Emily Dickinson being one of her favorites (as evidenced by my sister’s middle name), and I, too, found Ms. Dickinson reasonably accessible. But as I got older and was forced to study more complex poems in high school and college, my fear grew. Then I met my future father-in-law who enjoys reciting entire poems, including The Tiger by Blake, of which Wikipedia says, “Much of the poem follows the metrical pattern of its first line and can be scanned as trochaic tetrameter catalectic.” That sounds scary—and dangerous!

Recently, I’ve been trying to overcome my fear. Two members of my critique group write children’s poetry, and one of them, Cheryl Lawton Malone, is currently engaged in a March Madness tournament for kid’s poetry. Her first entry, which beat the competition, was called The Giving Tree? (which you will recognize as a riff on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein). With her permission, here it is in its entirety:

“Malarkey,” said a nearby tree.
What nonsense! Are you kidding me?

Your apples could have fed all types
of millipedes and worms with stripes.

Your branches could have given rest
to turkeys who’ve been dispossessed.

And now he slumps against your stump?
That boy of yours. He’s quite a chump!

On a more grown-up note, another friend, writing under the name Valerie Ann Prescott, has just released a book of poetry called In Gratitude, published by Finishing Line Press. Reproduced here, with permission, the title poem:

In Gratitude

Auntie Mame said:
“Life is a banquet,
and most
poor suckers
are starving…”
I am privileged
not
to have
gone hungry
for a minute
my whole life.
Every
moment
is
pregnant
with
meaning.
There is
no time,
no need,
to give birth.
We each
hold
children
of infinite number
and scope.
I do
not even
choose
a pen
without
a reason
(large
or
small)—
for ease
or comfort
or propinquity—
or because
it is the pen
you
gave me
with such
sweet grace
and kindness.
And I
note
every reason
(small
or
large)
often
smiling
at the
simple pleasure
of
making
a choice.

That poem is not scary, even though it doesn’t rhyme.  It made me think; made me pause; made me appreciate what I have. And it made me want to read another one of her poems, none of which rhyme.  The second half of this slim volume is a series of poems that tell the story of a relationship, starting with “First Meeting.” I read through those holding my breath, feeling the tension, the joy, the pain. In those few poems alone, I got my twelve dollars’ worth.

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You may still have time to vote for Cheryl Lawton Malone’s next entry in March Madness, and I know you have time to buy Valerie Anne Prescott’s book, so banish your metrophobia—read a poem!