Forest, Song, Poet: An Interview with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater by Irene Latham
Long before I was writing middle grade novels, I was writing poetry. I still am. And thanks to the wonders of the Kidlitosphere, I’ve gotten to know many other wonderful poets and poetry-lovers through Poetry Friday posts.
Which is how I got to know Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.
You know how it feels that first warm Saturday after a long winter? When you take a seat on the cool concrete of your front porch steps and think about what kind of flowers to plant in those pots you bought at a garage sale for a quarter each, the ones you still love but they’ve been empty for a while, and the robins are pulling worms, and there are joyous, winged courtships going on in the maple tree, high enough that you can’t quite see, so you just close your eyes and lift your face to the sun and smile?
That’s what it’s like to know Amy. And that’s what it’s like to read her poems.
Be on the lookout for Amy’s debut beautiful collection FOREST HAS A SONG, available far and wide beginning March 26! Meanwhile, here’s Amy herself, responding to my questions:
What inspired you to write FOREST HAS A SONG?
I spent a lot of time playing outdoors as a little girl, and our family’s current home backs up to an enchanting forest. I’m a different me when tramping barefoot across moss, and writing these poems allowed me to be that me even while sitting at my desk.
You’ve been waiting a LONG TIME for this book to be released. Tell us about your journey to publication.
I feel lucky that Dinah Stevenson selected this manuscript for Clarion back in 2007. My wonderful agent, Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown Ltd., had sent it to a few places, and we were thrilled when such a fantastic editor and house expressed interest. Due to the normal wait-time-for-great-illustrators and an unforeseen illustrator change, years ticked by. At first I was sad to wait. But now I am simply thankful – for I was beautifully paired with Robbin Gourley. Her graceful and intimate paintings bring so much more to my words.
Today I realize that if everything had moved quickly, I never would have started The Poem Farm. Keeping a daily poetry blog helped me find the writer I didn’t know I was. Had my hunger to be published been fed right away, I would not have taken that hidden time to explore and play. I’m a pretty impatient person, and this long journey was likely just the lesson I needed.
Tell us your love story with poetry.
I have always liked little things, and great poems are little things that can make us more of who we are. One great line of poetry can help a person make a big decision or do a kind deed. Poetry truly matters.
Your blog is brimming with original poems and ways teachers can use the poems to jumpstart classroom writing. Tell us about your experience writing a poem a day for an entire year.
In April 2010, I took on the normal Poetry Month challenge of writing and posting a-poem-a-day. I needed a blog, so I started The Poem Farm. The daily surprise of new poems was such fun that I told everyone I’d keep writing and posting for a year. Well, I try to be a follow-through gal, so I had to do it. Those poems are now catalogued here, and I’ve pulled two more manuscripts from my blog posts. READING TIME will be published by WordSong (date TBA) and the other manuscript is out there trying to find a friend.
You’re also a teacher. What have your students taught you about poetry?
As Wes Kennison, my poetry professor at SUNY Geneseo, told our 1992 class, you should always bring a child on a forest walk because the child will see so much more than you do; the child will wake you up. Children are walking poems, speaking in metaphor without even knowing it. Children are right-off-the-vine, and I strive to recapture this child-eyes feeling in my own poems. Once a child called me “Mrs. Waterspout,” and that was a very happy day for me. I felt like a walking poem too.
As a reader and poet, what do you look for in a poem?
I love poems that sing inside my heart. David McCord is one of my favorites; I want to kiss his wordplay combined with sensitivity. Eve Merriam. Myra Cohn Livingston. X.J. Kennedy. I adore poems with spot-on rhyme and an unexpected twinkle. I have been generously mentored by the indescribably wise and loving (and hilarious!) friend of children and poetry, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and I hear his voice in my head when I read and write. As for soul-stretching free verse, Naomi Shihab Nye is my poetry heroine.
One of my favorite imperatives is “Live your poem.” How do you live your poem?
This may sound especially nerdy, but I take care to live a life full of good and loving poems. I don’t have a television and never watch violent movies or play video or Facebook games. What goes in is what comes out, and I am careful. Right now, our tailless cat is walking across the piano keys in our living room. I live for stuff like that.
Tell us about upcoming events or opportunities for teachers to connect with you and your work.
You can always find me at my blog, The Poem Farm, where I post poems and lessons two times each week. I also keep a Facebook page for The Poem Farm, full of poems and poem quotes and news about my writing. I’m on Twitter at @amylvpoemfarm and am learning to Skype from the forest right now.
This April 15, I will lead a #WonderChat on Twitter, and I look forward to speaking at IRA and TLA later in the month. In June, I’ll speak at All Write! in Indiana, and in July, I will teach at the Paramus Writing Institute and closer to home in local school districts. I keep a running list of conferences and such at my website.
I love to visit schools, as an author or as a teacher of writing. I am a writing workshop teacher, having studied at and worked for The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and Heinemann, and I recently co-authored POETRY: BIG THOUGHTS IN SMALL PACKAGES (part of the new grade 2 UNITS OF STUDY) with Stephanie Parsons and Lucy Calkins.
As for FOREST HAS A SONG, you can find out lots about the book (read and hear a poem, check out reviews, see development sketches) here, and Clarion has also included my book in the Spring 2013 Poetry Kit. Too, I will be giving away one copy of FOREST HAS A SONG each Friday in April over at The Poem Farm.
Thank you so much, Irene, and all of the Nerdies, for inviting me here today. It is an honor!
Irene Latham is the author of two middle grade novels LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, 2010) and DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook, 2012) as well as two volumes of poetry for adults. Her first collection of poems for children DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST is expected from Lerner in 2014. She would get a whole lot more writing done is there weren’t so many great books to read. Find Irene online at www.irenelatham.com and on Twitter as @irene_latham.