Sunday, August 29, 2010

the yellow breezes . . .of poetry

Many school visits of late and treks around the suburbs and hills reminds me that our native wattle is such a great emblem. What varieties and what blazes of colour.

During my school sessions, I often began using an iddy-biddy poem of mine about wattle. Because it related to the current season, I thought it might help kids become more aware of their environment.

Also it was a fun, interactive way to begin.

The whole poem is:

Yellow breezes

bring the sneezes

all from fluffy, wattle, treeses.

I wrote all but the last three words on the board and left the kids curious, while I talked about yellow breezes. Can we see breezes? Can we see the wind? If not, what can we see? And why a colour breeze? At that point some worked out that wattle trees were somehow involved. I then spoke about choosing the right words for the job. How to tighten the line of a poem by connecting only two main words to create a word picture.

We then moved on to bring the sneezes; the meaning of which they worked out fairly easily. Then rhyme was mentioned.

The last part was interesting. We tapped or clapped the rhythm of the whole poem and I emphasised that we’d need words that were consistent with that pattern. What words could we use? What would be appropriate to the context of the poem? If they gave me a one syllable word, for example, fun, I wrote it up, and read the last line using that word, so the children could hear the difference in beat, before asking for another suggestion. I urged them also to consider the meaning of the poem.

Finally they completed the first two words, fluffy and wattle, but became stuck on the last word. I talked about playing with words and how you can make up words as long as the meaning is not too obscure. When someone offered treeses, there was a mixture of reactions. Some children latched on quickly, others not so fast. But lots of, ‘Ahh! I get it’ or ‘I was going to say that!’

I write both rhyming and non-rhyming poetry, but through this little poem I was able to talk about quite a number of aspects of writing; keeping it tight and simple, using spare, important adjectives, and breaking a rule or two - just for fun!

Monday, August 16, 2010

the tandem camel blog

Link to Dee White's blog to read about the research of my two camel books, Hoosh! Camels in Australia and Columbia Sneezes!
Thanks Dee, for hosting me.

Don't forget to check out my camel blog; . . .then and afterwards

. . .then and afterwards

Every book has its own story. The one the author intended to be read. But what are also fascinating are the countless mini-stories that occur as you, the author, create that one book.

Creating books lend itself to all sorts of serendipitous happenings, in all forms. Have you ever discovered a piece of information that seems to have been sitting around simply waiting for you to unearth it? Has there been an odd comment uttered innocently in an everyday conversation that somehow gave you a whole new slant on your book? Or have you discovered an object that evoked an idea - or was perfect in some other way? Claire Saxby once found a soft toy, blue whale in the gutter. She’d searched seriously in shops and other venues for just such a thing to use in an activity for her picture book, There Was an Old Sailor, but had had no success. What are the chances of that happening?

These mini-stories are endlessly fascinating to us as writers and readers. They’re like barnacles that adhere, one by one, to the main jetty pole, adding to its shape and texture.

But equally intriguing is what happens to our books afterwards? I don’t necessarily mean at the launch or during those rigorous inroads of self-promotion. I mean the ones you don’t expect, the the surprises that add another layer or two to your fully completed written book.

Perhaps you never expected your book to turn up written in Braille? Or that your story would become a film. Or that a letter arrives from a stranger, explaining that your book was the first one their child had read from beginning to end.

My camel books, the award-winning, information book Hoosh! Camels in Australia (ABC Books, 2005) and the picture book Columbia Sneezes! (Omnibus/Scholastic, 2008, illustrated by Gabe Cunnett) now have several such legacies. As such, they have consciously or subconsciously enriched the book for me.

They’ve also demonstrated that while each book itself is tangible and complete, they still pulse with possibilities.

Let me share a couple of afterwards stories with you.

During the research of Hoosh!, I was extremely grateful to the knowledge of Peter Seidel, Executive Officer of the Central Australian Camel Industry Association. He answered zillions of my layman type questions by phone or email, met me in Adelaide for an interview and provided me with industry information and photos. After the book’s publication, Peter proudly offered Hoosh! as a business gift, to many of his clients in US, Japan and Saudi Arabia, buyers of fine, disease-free Australian camels for the prestigious camel racing circuit.

Hoosh! also found a place in a display case in the South Australian Museum travelling exhibition called Australia’s Muslim Cameleers; Pioneers of the Inland, 1860s – 19303. The exhibition has travelled to many capital and regional cities in Australia since 2007 and is still on the move!

A copy of Hoosh! was placed in a little travelling bag, organised by the Quorn School Community Library, to celebrate ‘Reading @round the Region in 2006. The bag also contained other camel bits and pieces such as the picture book, Little Humpty, photos from Pichi Richi Camel Tours and a pattern to knit a little camel, like Clive! This ‘camel bag’ was sent to outback and remote schools and libraries in the far north of SA for children and parents to use in their reading time.

In 2006, Hoosh! brought home an Honour Award in the Eve Pownall section for Information Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

Later young children devised a song with a string of verses, each including a fact discovered while reading Hoosh!

To the tune of ‘Go, Alice, Go!’ the first verse is:

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Go, dromedary, go,

Boom! Boom! Boom!

(lots of fun, especially if you swing your rear from side to side like a camel in the last line!)

And from Hoosh! evolved the picture book, Columbia Sneezes! It grew from a story devised by my grandson and I about a little soft toy camel I’d bought while doing fieldwork at The Voyages Camel Cup in Alice Springs.

Columbia spawned an amazing camel construction made entirely of balloons at the CLIC (Children’s Literature in the Centre) Festival in 2008! And a permanent sculpture is to be made of Columbia and set in a Storyboard Walk in a park in South Australia.

None of these eventualities could’ve been foreseen. But what joy it is to see your work remain malleable and to appear in various ways and venues previously unimagined.

There’s another bonus too. I’ve looked over those happy legacies again. And do you know, they could spark off a few self-promotional ideas for other books!

What are some of your special during and afterwards stories?

Monday, August 2, 2010

a picnic of poetry

Today we welcome poet and children’s author, Lorraine Marwood. Lorraine’s recent poetry highlights have been the publication of the verse novels Ratwhiskers and Me, and Star Jumps. Star Jumps is certainly leaping high! It’s a Notable in the 2010 CBCA Awards, shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Awards and more recently, shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. But today we celebrate Lorraine’s latest publication from Walker Books; an anthology called A Ute Picnic – and other Australian Poems.

Whose idea was it to create this anthology, yours or the publishers? Both, this collection has taken awhile, a few years actually. My publisher is a great fan of poetry and that's the spark to ignite a book like this.

I love the title – taken from one of the poems. Does it have any special significance for you?

Yes 'A Ute Picnic' was one of my first prose/poetry ventures. It was first published in School Magazine and was the forerunner for the style of my latest verse novels 'Ratwhiskers and Me' and 'Star jumps.' It also explored a real occurrence on a farm- during hay harvest when a ute picnic would have to be taken to my husband several kilometres away- no corner stores way out in the country.

We experience many senses when we read your poems. How many senses are in play when you are first collecting ideas?

Now that's an interesting question! I love to find an atmosphere, a perspective that is uniquely mine and the senses provide a way into this especially sound- I also add a sixth sense- emotion- or personal involvement with the topic of the poem- this ensures there's some emotional content for the reader also.

In a recent interview about verse novels with Sally Murphy, you spoke of ‘propelling the bare bones of the story.’ Your poems are rich bare bones. Tell us how you pare down.

I also wanted to be an artist (as well as an author) when I was younger... so making an art work with words is very important. Keeping to the essentials of poetry like strong details, strong nouns and verbs helps paint that spare richness, then it becomes part of my style, my poetic voice. My family often tells me that I say some strange things- its the way my brain works!

In Star Jumps you wanted children to experience the reality of farm life, as opposed to the romantic version. Were you thinking in those terms with this collection as well? Tell us how the collection evolved.

A lot of these poems come from fragments of my writing journal written over a decade and more- I really wish I'd started my journalling a long time before that- but life was hectic on a dairy farm with six kids and I suppressed my writing for so long. Yes I wanted the real touches of life on a farm to come through, the real grit, the real epiphanies, the real thread of umbilical chord tied from farming family to the seasons of dairy farm. One really observes weather, insect life, plant life, changes in a detailed way when one's livelihood and lifestyle are intertwined with the land.

Some poems were just sitting there in my note books, waiting to be plucked- they needed dusting down, shining up to make them convey their own message- others were written from a few words which immediately re-evoked the situation for me- for example- the poem called 'A Joke' was a real incident that happened- well all the poems in this collection are real life incidents.

What is your favourite place for writing poems from your notes or ideas? Now it’s at the kitchen table- wherever inspiration happens- after writing whenever I could with a big family- I can nearly write anywhere. Well nearly.

I must add that the dedication for this book goes to my great writing friends Janeen and Claire- both poets and both great encouragers along the twists and turns of the writing landscape.

Thanks Janeen for such perceptive questions and the opportunity to come and visit your blog.

Thanks Lorraine. We wish you well with this next wonderful, poetry offering. I am a great fan of your work!